Othello: Act 2, Scene 2 & 3 – Summary & Analysis

Othello: Act 2, Scene 2 & 3 – Summary & Analysis

Act 2 Scene 2

A herald reveals that Othello plans to celebrate the Turks’ drowning and his marriage simultaneously that evening.

Act 2 Scene 3

Before leaving to consummate his marriage Othello warns Cassio to show self-restraint during the imminent celebrations. When Othello departs Iago enters; he speaks of Desdemona as a temptress, an allegation Cassio challenges; while they disagree on another topic, sharing drinks, Cassio eventually gives in and goes to gather a group together. Left alone, Iago reveals that a drunken Roderigo will be part of this group, and that Cassio will be fooled into committing an action that will bring shame upon him. Cassio returns with a group, including Montano, and has clearly begun drinking; he grows drunk quite quickly and as soon wanders off. During his absence Iago mentions to Montano the difficulty of Cassio dealing with the responsibility Othello gives to him, due to his drinking problem; Roderigo then enters and is directed towards Cassio by Iago, which soon causes a confrontation. Montano attempts to put a halt to this but is struck and then stabbed by Cassio; Othello enters demanding to know what has occurred (Iago has told Roderigo to go and ‘cry a mutiny’ which has alerted the commander to what has just occurred), but Iago and Cassio claim not to know what has occurred. Montano says his injury makes it difficult to tell, due to the pain, and demands that Iago reveal what has just occurred. Iago presents himself as unwilling to present Cassio as blameworthy, suggesting that he was chasing an unknown man (who he does not identify as Roderigo) who must have upset him somehow. Othello responds as Iago can only have wished, and believes Iago lessened the severity of the story so as to spare Cassio punishment and subsequently fires Cassio from his post. Othello leads Desdemona back to bed, who awoke due to the loud confrontation, leaving Iago and Cassio alone; Iago suggests that Cassio seek the help of Desdemona whose kind nature will lead her to convince her husband to reverse his decision, for she has sway over her husband’s kindness. Cassio then leaves and Iago speaks of the irony that he appears to be helping Cassio, when in fact this is when he is at his worst; Cassio will now spend more time with Desdemona, which will allow the accustation of a relationship between the two and her virtue as ‘pitch’ to be easily plausible. A returning Roderigo is angered as he has suffered a beating and is now penniless, having given Iago all his money for a worthless cause. Iago calms him, telling him to remain in Cyprus, that they have to act with their wits and that all will work itself out. He dismisses Roderigo and tells the audience of the forthcoming events; he will have Emilia convince Desdemona to meet with Cassio, and then have Othello witness this meeting.


Love: Othello’s comment to Desdemona indicates once more that love is controlled by external influences, as he says ‘Come Desdemona, ‘Tis the soldiers’ life/ To have their balmy slumbers walked with strife.’  This comment is apologetic in tone and suggests that their marriage, which should be a time when two individuals are supremely focused on and linked to each other in union, is affected by greatly by circumstances beyond their control, such as the Cypriot situation and the squabbles of those who Macbeth is in charge of. Elsewhere, Iago is once more shown to view love as that which can be manipulated; his comparing of the party to a bridegroom and undressing for bed suggests an enjoyment of preventing the consummation of the marriage. The scene also indicates an ambiguity to love, which may suggest why it can be altered and affected; Othello’s comment to Desdemona ‘Come, my dear love/ The purchase made, the fruits are to ensue./ The profit’s yet to come ‘tween me and you’ may indicate that the marriage has not been consummated as the ‘purchase’ is the wedding and the ‘fruits’ the consummation, or that it has, with the ‘purchase’ being Desdemona’s virginity and the ‘fruits’ the pleasant sex, as opposed to the pain of consummation. The uncertainty of this presents love as not steadfast but rather changeable, and thus why it can be so easily manipulated by individuals such as Iago.

Deception: The strength of Iago’s deceptive qualities are shown here, as while his message is not plausible he is not suspected of wrongdoing, which as mentioned is the technique which ensures the progress of Iago’s plans. He uses terms to describe Desdemona which have no factual basis, such as sexually motivated in being ‘sport for Jove’ and ‘full of game’, yet Cassio does not grow suspicious of his counterpart and is soon convinced by him to gather a group together to share drinks. This is continued later when he is luring Cassio into a potential confronation with Othello but is prevented from being identified as such due to the caring manner in which he suggests such an action to Cassio.

Honesty: The word ‘honest’ is present in the scene, which seems to counter his dishonesty throughout the piece. Iago is honest to the audience but this is so as to emphasize his dishonesty with other characters who have no idea of what he is up to and are misled by him repeatedly. Indeed, he is only honest about being dishonest; he will be soon faciliate the meeting which Othello will see, but without Iago showing himself to play any part in.

Betrayal: Iago again makes the audience aware of his plan to betray Cassio so as to achieve his ultimate end. This betrayal is different from others previously as he has just betrayed Cassio and ruined his repuation, which indicates how heartless and cruel his betayal is, as he has no hesitation in inflicting further hardship on a man who has just lost everything.

Good versus evil: Cassio’s comment that the ‘invisible spirit of winelet us calls the devil’ is to blame for his all indicates that all individuals have some part of the character which is corruptible; this can be seen to indicate that while Iago plays a crucial part in the evil that occurrs in the play, all characters can be held blameworthy also as Iago does not force them to act in the ways that they do.


Iago: Iago shows his ability to manipulate situations to his advantage (as  well as foresight) here. His working of the scene, evidenced in his having the group gather and positioning Roderigo, allow the intended aim of Cassio’s demise to occur. Note how the plan also allows Roderigo to go unidentified; Iago realises all focus will be on Cassio and knows that if this occurs when his level of inebriation is too high then he will not be able to remember that it was Roderigo who caused the state. Othello’s comment when he enters indicates the control Iago has of his world, that he can turn its inhabitants against each other, ‘Are we turned Turks, and to ourselves do that/ Which heaven forbid the Ottomites?’. Indeed, such is Iago’s confidence at his manipulative powers that he plans to transform Desdemona from faithful wife to adulteress, ‘I will turn her virtue into pitch’.

This scene also introduces the commonly held belief that Iago is homosexual; as evidenced in previous scenes his speeches are littered with sexual references and derogatory comments towards females (his comments on Desdemona in this scene contrast him with Cassio who is of honor and will not speak in such terms, ‘a soldier fit to stand by Caesar’), but significantly many of them seem designed to bring a halt to heterosexual relationships and sexual activity, such as when he told Brabanzio of Othello and Desdemona engaging in such in the first scene; this scene indicates similar, with his delight in preventing his commander from experiencing marital bliss. Some argue that Iago is in love with Othello and attempts to stifle his marriage due to this; he frequently exclaims that he loves the general.

Once more Iago also shows his understanding of the world around him; when he realises that his plan will not be successful he will change pace, ‘if consequence do but approve my dream/ my boat sails freely, both with wind and stream’. Iago here is both teaching Othello a lesson and leading him towards his downfall; his presentation of Cassio’s flaws indicates he is not the perfect soldier Othello thought him to be and thus shows Othello the flaws of his self-obsessed state (as said he appointed Cassio for personal reasons), but this will lead to the eventual confrontation between the two, part of Iago’s plan.

Othello: Othello’s self-conscious nature is evident as he has a public conversation with his wife. His use of words such as ‘profit’ and ‘purchase’ indicate an intent to be seen as one with suitable diction, rather than communicate with his wife; this implies that his previously shown focus on the importance of reputation (seen with his lifestory in the court scene in Venice) dominates all aspects of his life, even the marriage realm. He also shows himself as unaware to realise what is going on around him, which can be linked to his focus on his reputation in the same scene; he believes that despite the confrontation all are on the same side, defending Cyprus. This inability to recognize the personal element (which may be the case with love here, as he allows his public persona/ reputation to dominate), with individuals holding certain opinions over others, will ultimately lead to his downfall.

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About the Author

John Ryan

John has a Masters in Modern English Literature and is the founder of RyJoLC, an educational consultancy based in Dublin that provides English language and curriculum resources to educational institutions worldwide.
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