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'Othello' Act 3, Scene 4 Summary

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Act 3 Scene 4

Desdemona asks the Clown where Cassio is, he demonstrates his wit and word-play in his reply; she asks him to find Cassio. Desdemona then asks Emilia if she knows where her handkerchief is, she denies any knowledge of it. Desdemona is very sad she has lost it but speculates that Othello is not the jealous sort so he will probably be ok about it but she is unsure. Emilia say s “Is he not jealous?” Desdemona replies that he is not. She then tells Emilia that she will not leave Othello’s side until he calls Cassio to speak with him.

Othello studies his wife’s hand to try to ascertain her innocence or guilt; he tests her by asking her for her handkerchief. She hands him one but he asks for the one her gave her. Desdemona says she does not have it with her. Othello then explains the history of the handkerchief, how it was given to his mother by an ancient Egyptian and while she kept it her husband would be enamoured with her but if she lost it or gave it to someone else her husband would loathe her and find new fancies. She gave it to Othello on her death bed and told him to give it to his wife and he did so. “To lose’t or give’t away were such perdition As nothing else could match.”

Othello explains that there is magic in the handkerchief and that he truly believes in the myth surrounding it. Desdemona is getting more and more disturbed by the story as Othello asks if it is lost. Desdemona denies losing the handkerchief and tries to change the subject by imploring her husband to receive Cassio. Othello demands to see the handkerchief as she persists with the Cassio tack. As Othello becomes more passionate, Emilia says “Is not this man jealous?” Desdemona says she has never seen him like this before.

Cassio and Iago arrive; Cassio asks how Desdemona’s quest to encourage Othello to see him is going. She tells Cassio that Othello is not being himself and that has made it difficult to persuade him but that she will keep trying. Iago asks if Othello was angry and when this is confirmed he says he will go and see what is troubling him. Desdemona encourages Iago, she thinks his work is making him act in this way but is worried that he thinks she may have done something to anger him.

Emilia says that she hopes it is a work matter and not a fit of jealousy. Desdemona maintains that she has done nothing to inspire jealousy. Desdemona decides to look for Othello and reassures Cassio as she leaves that she will not forget his cause in her quest.

Cassio’s love interest, Bianca enters challenging him about being distant. He apologises saying that he has been preoccupied with trying to get his job back. She gets upset and he offers her Desdemona’s napkin. Bianca asks whether he got it from another woman and demands to know to whom it belongs. He said he found it in his chamber but asks her to take it and leave because he doesn’t want Othello to see him cavorting with women when he should be focussed on his job. Bianca believes this to be a rebuff and leaves.

Looking for the next scene? Please visit our contents page, where you can find a full list of all scene by scene guides to Shakespeare’s Othello. This scene by scene guide is designed to read alongside the play and act as a companion to the original text.

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