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'Othello' Act 3, Scenes 1-3 Summary

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Act 3 Scene 1

Cassio asks musicians to play for him as the clown enters. Cassio offers the Clown money to ask Desdemona to speak with him. The Clown agrees. Iago enters; Cassio tells him that he will ask his wife Emilia to help him get access to Desdemona. Iago agrees to send her and to distract Othello so that he can meet with Desdemona.

Emilia enters and tells Cassio that Desdemona has been speaking in his favour but that Othello heard that the man he hurt was a great man of Cyprus and that that makes his position difficult but that he does love him and can’t find any one else to suit the position. Cassio asks Emilia to get Desdemona to talk to him. Emilia invites him to go with her to a place where he and Desdemona can talk privately.

Act 3 Scene 2

Othello asks Iago to send some letters to the senate and then orders the Gentlemen to show him a fort.

Act 3 Scene 3

Desdemona is with Cassio and Emilia. She promises to help him. Emilia says that Cassio’s situation is upsetting her husband so much that it’s as if he were in that situation.

Desdemona reiterates every one’s belief that Iago is an honest man. She reassures Cassio that he and her husband will be friends once more. Cassio is worried that Othello will forget about his service and his loyalty as more time passes. Desdemona reassures Cassio by promising that she will speak favourably of Cassio relentlessly so that Othello will be convinced of his cause.

Othello and Iago enter seeing Desdemona and Cassio together, Iago says “Ha! I like not that”. Othello asks if it was Cassio he just saw with his wife. Iago feigns incredulity saying he doesn’t think that Cassio would “steal away so guilty like seeing your coming”

Desdemona tells Othello that she has just been speaking with Cassio and urges him to reconcile with the lieutenant. Desdemona explains that Cassio departed so quickly because he was embarrassed.

She continues to persuade her husband to meet with Cassio, despite his reluctance. She is true to her word and is persistent in her insistence that they meet. Othello says that he will deny her nothing but he will wait until Cassio approaches him personally. Desdemona is not pleased that he has not bent to her will; “Be as your fancies teach you. Whate’er you be, I am obedient.”

As the ladies depart Iago asks if Cassio knew of the courtship between him and Desdemona, Othello affirms that he did and asks Iago why he asks questioning if Cassio is an honest man. Iago goes on to say that men should be what they seem and that Cassio seems honest. This raises Othello’s doubt and he asks Iago to say what he thinks believing that Iago is insinuating something about Cassio.

Iago pretends to be hesitant about speaking ill of someone. Othello urges him to speak saying that if he is a true friend he will say. Iago insinuates that Cassio has designs on Desdemona but never actually says it explicitly so when Othello reacts to what he thinks is a revelation, Iago warns him not to be jealous.

Othello says he will not be jealous unless there is proof of an affair. Iago tells Othello to watch Cassio and Desdemona together and to be neither jealous nor secure until his conclusions are made.

Othello believes that Desdemona is honest and Iago hopes that she will be honest forever. Iago is concerned that someone of Desdemona’s position may have ‘second thoughts’ about her choices and may regret her decisions but he maintains that he is not speaking about Desdemona. The inference is that he is a black man and not level with her standing. Othello asks Iago to observe his wife and report on his findings.

Othello is left alone to muse on Iago’s suggestion of infidelity he says “This fellow’s of exceeding honesty…if I prove her haggard…I am abused, and my relief Must be to loathe her.” Desdemona arrives and Othello is distant with her, she tries to comfort him but he does not respond favourably. She tries to dab his forehead with a napkin thinking him ill but he drops it. Emilia picks up the napkin and explains that it is a precious love token given to Desdemona by Othello; she explains that it is very dear to Desdemona but that Iago has always wanted it for some reason or another. She says she will give the napkin to Iago but she has no idea why he wants it.

Iago comes in and insults his wife; she says she has the handkerchief for him. Emilia asks for it back as she realises that Desdemona will be really upset to know she has lost it. Iago refuses saying he has use for it. He dismisses his wife who leaves. Iago is going to leave the napkin in Cassio’s quarters in order to corroborate his story further.

Othello enters, bewailing his situation; he explains that if his wife proves false he will no longer be able to function as a soldier. He is already finding it difficult to concentrate on matters of the state when his own relationship is in question. Othello says that if Iago is lying he will not forgive him, he then apologises as he ‘knows’ Iago to be honest. Then he explains that he knows his wife is honest but doubts her too.

Iago tells Othello that he could not sleep one night because of having toothache so he went to Cassio’s. He says that Cassio spoke of Desdemona in his sleep saying “Sweet Desdemona, let us be wary, let us hide our loves’,” he goes on to tell Othello that Cassio then kissed him on the lips imagining him to be Desdemona. Iago says that it was only a dream but this information is enough to convince Othello of Cassio’s interest in his wife. Othello says “I’ll tear her to pieces.”

Iago then tells Othello that Cassio has the handkerchief belonging to his wife. This is enough for Othello to be convinced of the affair, he is inflamed and enraged. Iago tries to ‘calm him down’. Iago promises to obey any orders his master gives in retaliation for the affair. Othello thanks him and tells him that Cassio will die for this. Iago urges Othello to let her live but Othello is so angry that he damns her too. Othello makes Iago his lieutenant. Iago says “I am your own for ever.”

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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