Act 4

Act 4: Scene 1

Iago is filling Othello’s mind with more thoughts of infidelity and lusty flesh. Iago has told Othello that Cassio has the handkerchief but “innocently” asks why it should be a big deal. Iago then turns the screws and tells Othello that Cassio has admitting to lying “on” and “with” Desdemona, i.e., that Cassio has admitted to having an affair with Desdemona. It is another outrageous lie. Othello is beside himself and falls into a trance. Iago, in an aside, cries, “Work on, my medicine!” (4.1.54).

Cassio enters and sees Othello fallen. Cassio urges Iago to help Othello by rubbing his temples and easing his head, but Iago, in response, only urges Cassio to depart. Cassio withdraws. This tactical maneuver on Iago’s part prevents Othello, when he rouses himself, from questioning Cassio directly and arriving at the truth of the matter. With Cassio away, Iago is free to manipulate Othello; he now hatches a new plan and tells Othello to hide himself and listen to Cassio as Iago questions him about his affair. What Othello does not know is that Cassio will speak of his relationship with Bianca; Iago knows, of course, that Othello will infer that Cassio is speaking of Desdemona.

Othello withdraws and Iago hails Cassio. He prompts Cassio to speak of his meetings with Bianca. Othello, observing from a distance, sees Cassio laugh and thinks that he himself is being mocked. He approaches more closely at Iago’s signal and overhears only snippets of a meeting between Cassio and a woman who hangs on him. He assumes that it is Desdemona.

Bianca enters. She is once again suspicious of the handkerchief Cassio has given her. She shows it, and Othello sees that it is his. She challenges Cassio about its origin, and he must chase after her to calm her.

Othello emerges and asks Iago, “How shall I murder him, Iago?” (4.1.189). He promises to kill Desdemona, too: “I will chop her into messes!” (4.1.219). Othello calls...

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Essays About Othello