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'Othello' Act 4, Scene 2 Summary

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Act 4 Scene 2

Othello asks Emilia what she has seen between his wife and Cassio. She admits to seeing them together but that she saw nothing suspicious. Emilia speaks for Desdemona’s honest and constant character. Othello tells Emilia to call Desdemona to him. Othello considers Emilia to be a “simple bawd” and is therefore not convinced by her.

Emilia is dismissed leaving Othello alone with Desdemona. Desdemona remains confused by Othello’s anger and says that if the letter calling him home is the result of her father, then her father is lost to her as well as to him. Othello remains angered; Desdemona asks what she has done. Othello accuses her of being a whore, Desdemona denies any wrongdoing.

Emilia re-enters asking after Desdemona, she is devastated but asks Emilia to bring Iago. Desdemona asks Iago why Othello would call her a whore. Iago denies any knowledge of why he would call her this. Emilia says; “I will be hanged if some eternal villain, some busy insinuating rogue…Have not devised this slander”.

Iago says; “there is no such man. It is impossible.” Emilia is incensed by the idea and wants hideous revenge wrecked on that person for doing such a thing. Iago tries to curtail her but she is adamant that someone has defamed Desdemona and that same person has made Iago doubt her character as well. Desdemona asks Iago to go to Othello as she does not know how she lost him.

Desdemona says that Othello’s unkindness may defeat her life but it will never taint her love for him. Iago says that the business of the state is affecting him so much that he is taking it out on her. Desdemona and Emilia leave.

Roderigo enters feeling that Iago has dealt with him unjustly. He feels that Iago has used him and his money for his own ends. It transpires that Iago has taken jewels from Roderigo to give to Desdemona in order that she will meet with him. Iago has told him that she will meet with him in exchange for the jewels but that Roderigo has never met with her. Roderigo feels that Iago has robbed him.

Iago convinces Roderigo that he is on his side. He tells him that Othello and Desdemona have been ordered not to return to Venice but to go to Mauritania where she will be lost to Roderigo. Unless by some means Othello can be moved to stay in Cyprus, Iago suggests that the only way this could happen is if Cassio is killed. Then Othello would be forced to stay on in his role.

Roderigo quickly ascertains that Iago requires him to kill Cassio. Roderigo does not seem too opposed to the plan but asks to hear more about it.

Othello, Desdemona, Lodovico, Emilia and attendants enter. Othello orders Desdemona to bed and that she must dismiss her maids, while he takes a walk with Lodovico.

Desdemona and Emilia discuss Othello’s disposition as she undresses for bed. Emilia wishes that Desdemona had never met him, while Desdemona insists that she still loves her husband despite his accusations. Emilia has made Desdemona’s bed and Desdemona says; “If I do die before thee, prithee shroud me In one of these same sheets”. Desdemona sings a song about a woman who was forsaken by her true love who went mad.

Desdemona asks Emilia whether there are women who do treat their husbands as Othello imagines she has? Emilia says that there are such women; Desdemona is incredulous so Emilia maintains that these women exist and that they are justified in their actions as they are driven to this behaviour by their husbands.

Emilia says that it does not hurt a husband to know that women have the same needs and imperfections as men; “else let them know The ills we do, their ills instruct us so”. Desdemona rebukes this by saying in witnessing bad behaviour you should learn to be good; “Not to pick bad from bad, but by bad mend.”

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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