Othello act 3, scene 3 - Part 3
During act 3, scene 3, the full extent of Iago’s evil flourish is realised as he proceeds to have a malignant and cancerous effect on Othello and his relationship with Desdemona - Othello act 3, scene 3 introduction. During this time, he also builds bridges with many of the other characters, before deceiving and betraying them. All of this makes him one of the most evil and wicked characters Shakespeare has ever created, but also, one of the most fascinating and intriguing.
Act 3, scene 3 opens with Desdemona making a promise to Cassio who has jus lost his position as lieutenant because of Iago:
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“But I will have my Lord, and you again
As friendly as you were.”
This statement shows the audience that Desdemona is a loyal and dedicated friend, but it is also signing her own death warrant. When Iago hears of her plans to reunite her husband and Cassio in the army after Cassio’s street brawl, his evil and devilish plan begins to take form and unfold as he corrupts Desdemona’s loyalty, and causes her friendship with Cassio to become immeasurably distorted. Not only does Iago ruin the lives of Othello and Desdemona, but he also tampers with people’s thoughts and feelings. He does this in a number of ways throughout the scene. The main and most calculated is by taking short sentences and phrases and distorting and corrupting them, to give a totally different meaning.
Desdemona’s dedication is persistently portrayed by Shakespeare during her time on stage. He does this to show how good a person, Desdemona is:
“I’ll perform it
To the last article.”
With this, the audience begin to realise the true extent of Desdemona’s loyalty in her duty. Over time she will begin to “intermingle” everything her husband does and says, with Michael Cassio. This is only the start of Othello’s immense jealousy and suspicion.
The way Iago begins his annihilation of Othello, is by putting on a false face, deceiving his wife Emilia:
“I warrant it grieves my husband,
As if the cause were his.”
Not only can Iago deceive his friends, but his wife too. He has her thinking that he is sorry that Cassio lost his position, when in fact, it was his fault. He caused Cassio to drink too much and get drunk. It is the first real sign of his tactical dissembling skills, which in time he will develop to even greater effect, causing the death of Desdemona.
Throughout the play, the adjective, “honest” is consistently used to describe Iago. The single word is heavily tinged with dramatic irony, as only the audience can see how he really is. His honesty is only superficial. Beneath the surface, he is brimming with deceit and evil. His malignant presence will reign supreme for the remainder of the play. Another early phrase in the scene that is filled with irony, is one spoken by Desdemona:
“For thy solicitor shall rather die,”
With her loyalty to serve Cassio on a purely friendship basis, she is resigned to being his solicitor and for this, she will die, at the hands of her husband, owing to the mental powers of Iago. At this point, only the audience can see Iago’s developing cancerous effect and the irony that is present on stage.
Another one of Iago’s skills that set him aside as a consummate dissembler is his ability to take advantage of any situation that may arise and use it to his advantage:
“Hah? I like not that.”
Iago says this as he enters the stage and as Cassio leaves. It shows that he is a great opportunist and he is always alert and attentive, looking for anything to help his cause. Both the audience and most probably Othello know that the reason for Cassio’s departure is because he does not want to talk to Othello after being sacked by him, but Iago adds a new dimension to it. By saying this, he is causing Othello to uncontrollably question him out of curiosity. He wants to know what Iago read from the situation. This is only the start of Iago’s destruction of Othello. He knows that he is an immensely jealous person, so this is planting a seed of doubt and jealousy in his mind. In time, with the influence of Iago, this seed will grow and grow until it flourishes and burns inside the mind of Othello.
Iago also reveals another one of his malevolent qualities in his assumption of Cassio’s departure:
“That he would steal away so guilty-like,
Seeing your coming.”
This shows the audience that Iago is also a great manipulator of words. This is the first, but definitely not the last time the audience will see this in Iago. At the moment, Iago is simply toying with Othello, winding him up, softening him for the final blow, but Othello is not so wise. He cannot see what Iago is implying and this is obvious when he engages in conversation with his wife, Desdemona.
Immediately, a loving, playful, flirtatious relationship is seen between Othello and Desdemona. She begins her duty right away, asking her husband to reinstate Cassio. By this, she is being loyal and doing exactly what she promised. Othello does not read into this too deeply and eventually gives into his wife’s pleas, but Iago remembers something Desdemona says:
“That came a-wooing with you?”
Once again, Iago’s evil mind is seen here as he takes a seemingly meaningless comment, stores it and corrupts it before using later on to his advantage. With everything he does and says he becomes more and more cancerous and malignant. This is causing the audience to become fixated with him. They can see his evil streak, and they are fascinated, eager to find out what his next move will be. It is as if he is playing the characters. They are his pieces and he is moving them wherever and however he likes. Not only does he have an evil effect, but also a domineering, controlling one too. This is what makes him possibly the best character ever created by Shakespeare.
This short exchange of views and feelings between Othello and Desdemona is a pivotal moment in the play. It is the last time the audience will see the immense world of love that they feel for each other:
“Excellent wretch: Perdition catch my soul
But I do love thee: and when I love thee not,
Chaos is come again.”
When she leaves, Othello could not be happier. He shows this by expressing his love for her to Iago. In his words, there is a declaration of total love and it would appear that nobody could ever break that feeling between the two, but in Iago’s mind, he has already started to hatch a plan that will not only tear their relationship apart, but also Othello.
As Iago and Othello begin to talk, Iago uses the statement that Desdemona has just uttered, against Othello:
“Did Michael Cassio
When he woo’d my Lady, know of your love?”
Othello heard his wife say this, only moments ago, but when Iago says it, it is given a whole new feel and meaning. It is confirming the audience’s earlier thoughts and judgements, that Iago had a great way with words and could use them against people in the most malicious ways. It is also showing another one of Iago’s evil virtues. He is a great judge of character and knowing that Othello is a man of few and simple words, he will want a straight answer when he questions Iago about this, but when given an answer he has to contemplate and consider, he is angered – just as Iago wanted. The audience can see this and with every move he makes, they are becoming more and more captivated with his intriguing character. Another thing that Iago knows Othello will not like, is the repetition and echo he is now using:
“Is he not honest?
Honest, my Lord?
Honest? Ay honest.”
Not only is this angering Othello, but also forcing him to become hooked to Iago’s story. He wants to know what Iago is implying, but this is what is worrying Othello. He trusts Iago and everything he says:
“I think thou dost:
And for I know thou’rt full of love, and honesty,
And weigh’st thy words before thou giv’st them
By now, Othello has started to realise that there is something wrong. Maybe he feels that it has been playing on Iago’s mind, tormenting him. It shows once again that Iago has great powers of deceit and treachery. Whatever the problem, Othello wants to know.
With Othello’s questions, Iago is continuously conjuring up new ways of getting at his mind and encouraging that seed of doubt to grow and grow:
“Why then I think Cassio’s an honest man.”
This sentence is filled with distortion and corruption. Iago does this by emphasising the word ‘think’. This give a new idea to the sentence and one that once again forces Othello to wonder, but all the while, Othello is totally trusting in Iago’s judgement and opinion:
“Men should be what they seem,”
The word ‘honest’, once again springs to mind here as a description of Iago. To the characters, this is a genuine feeling and assumption of an honest man, but the audience have realised that Iago is far from honest. At the moment, they are the only ones who can see the cancerous effect that Iago has upon stage and amongst the characters. It is a fascinating effect that Shakespeare has created and one that really captivates the audience and keeps them alert.
By now, Iago has strongly begun to plant the seed of jealousy in Othello’s mind and he increases this seed to another level in Othello’s mind by gradually confirming that he has suspicious thoughts that his wife is having an affair with Michael Cassio:
“Why say, they are vile, and false?
As where’s that Palace,”
Othello is eager to find out the true extent of Iago’s suspicions. The story has hooked him and he is gripped and intrigued. He assures his friend that he wants to know what he suspects:
“Thou dost conspire against thy friend (Iago)
If thou but think’st him wrong’d, and mak’st his ear
A stranger to thy thoughts.”
This statement is filled with dramatic irony. Othello refers to Iago as a friend, but he is far from it. With his great dissembling skills, comes the power of deception and deceit. He is very good at putting on a false face and remaining unsuspected. At the moment, only the audience know what Iago is plotting. He even managed to fool his own wife, Emilia, earlier on in the play. When Iago tells Othello of his suspicions and qualms, he is mentally preparing him for what he is about to hear. He is holding back for now, but there will come a time when there is no holding back and Othello will become mentally crushed with the feelings of colossal jealousy.
Before Iago completely reveals his suspicions about Desdemona and Cassio, he makes an unprecedented move. Iago admits that he has faults and he sometimes looks into things too deeply. This is a very crafty technique used by Iago. He is already making excuses that he could be wrong in his assumptions. Whilst Iago is saying this, Othello is continuously wondering what he means, but soon enough, he will wish to hear the full story from Iago, who is using cruel psychology to keep Othello at bay and in suspense.
Iago is beginning to gain in ascendancy as his cancerous effect is spreading:
“What dost thou mean?”
This follows a long and flowing speech by Iago, which gradually begins to reduce Othello to short, simple utterances. After this, Iago begins again, continuously building up suspense in Othello’s mind. This technique taunts Othello and is mentally preparing him for what he is about to hear. Superficially, it would appear that Iago is reluctant to tell Othello the whole story, but the audience know that he has every intention to crush Othello with his evil mind. It is another aspect of Iago that makes him one of Shakespeare’s greatest ever characters.
Suddenly, Iago throws in the words, ‘jealousy’ and, ‘cuckhold’. He is saying it is better to know your wife is having an affair, than being eaten away by suspicious thoughts and fears that she is with another man. This is also superficially preparing Othello for the bomb-shell that Iago will drop into his life and love for Desdemona, but Othello makes a come back, which completely throws Iago off track.
Following his short statements, Othello regains confidence and hits back at Iago, saying that he does not doubt his wife’s faithfulness because she chose him, although she could have had anyone she wanted. This momentarily fills Othello with hope and puts a dampener on Iago’s plan. This is a very testing time for Iago and will prove to the audience whether or not he can carry out his plan right to the last article, and he does. Just as the audience thought he would, he bounces back at Othello by admitting he has no proof of Desdemona’s affair. He does advise him though, to take note of how Desdemona acts regarding Michael Cassio. At this point, Iago once again gains the upper hand by focusing on Othello’s origin and background:
“I know our country disposition well:
In Venice, they do let God see the pranks
They dare not show their husbands.”
He is African and Iago is Italian, so he claims that he knows more about Venetian women than Othello does. This would make him feel very vulnerable and as if he is an outsider. After temporarily regaining his confidence in Desdemona, Othello once again begins to doubt his wife, imagining that she is taking pride in hiding her temptations and affairs. This is yet another example of dramatic irony used continuously throughout the play. Only the audience know that Desdemona is totally in love with her husband and would never deceive him by having an affair.
Iago is now back on top and got the upper hand on Othello’s mind:
“She did deceive her Father marrying you,”
Earlier on in the play, Iago over heard Brabantio warning Othello about his daughter’s deception that she used to fool him; he stored this, and has used it now. It is the best possible moment to unleash this upon Othello, just as he is regaining confidence and faith in Desdemona, but also, it is heavily filled with irony. The man, who is more deceitful than any other character, is accusing a perfectly innocent woman of an affair that she is not having. It shows that Iago is a great opportunist, but also, revealing his increasingly malignant presence on stage. It has caused Othello to be reduced to short, meaningless utterances, presenting the fact that Iago is dominating the conversation.
Another example of Iago’s powers of manipulation of people and words, is when he takes an ostensibly meaningless word and corrupts to give a different meaning. He does this many times throughout not only act 3, scene3, but the whole play:
“I do not think but Desdemona’s honest.”
Iago fills this word with doubt as he speaks to Othello and it causes him uncontrollably to begin to wonder:
“And yet how Nature erring from itself.”
Othello is questioning Desdemona here; why did she go against her natural instincts and choose him? There are so many differences between the two: their colour, background, age. In a modern day society, these differences would go unnoticed, but in Shakespearian times, people who were so different, were frowned upon. A further example of Iago’s domineering influence on Othello, is the way he starts remembering things that had been said:
“Look to her (Moor) if thou hast eyes to see:
She has deceiv’d her father, and may thee.”
Earlier on in the play, Brabantio had said this. Under normal circumstances, Othello would not have brought this up again, but the fact that he does, is reinforcing the effect that Iago is having on him. All the while though, Othello is ever trusting in Iago. There is a continuous irony upon stage, whenever Iago is concerned.
To the dismay of the audience, Othello’s jealousy turns to hatred towards his dear wife:
“Why did I marry?”
Othello is cursing marriage. Only ten minutes earlier on stage, Othello could not have been happier with life. He had everything he could ever want, but now, following the corrupt, evil Iago, he obtains comfort from loathing Desdemona. It is once again enforcing the cancerous, malignant effect Iago has had on Othello during their short time together on stage.
When Desdemona enters the stage, Othello proclaims that she is fraudulent and that the heavens are mocking themselves making someone so beautiful, so deceitful. He then indirectly accuses her:
“I have a pain upon my forehead, here.”
By this, Othello is implying that Desdemona is having an affair, without actually saying it. An audience in Shakespearian times would have fully appreciated the implications of a man announcing that he has a pain on his head. It was called a, ‘cuckold’ and represented by the actor entering the stage wearing horns. It was a symbol of shame and embarrassment because he cannot satisfy his own wife’s wants so she had to turn to other men.
Desdemona does not realise the presumption of Othello’s words and genuinely believes that he has a pain, and rightly so. She has no reason to think that her husband suspects her of having an affair, but the audience know it. It was obvious very early on in the scene that she is loyal and devoted to her task and in this case, her husband. To try to ease the pain that Desdemona assumes her husband has, she wipes his forehead with a handkerchief:
“This was her first remembrance from the Moor,”
This is no ordinary handkerchief. It was Othello’s first gift to Desdemona, therefore has great sentimental value to her, but unfortunately, she drops it, for Emilia to find.
When Emilia retrieves the handkerchief Desdemona has just dropped, she immediately begins to think of ways in which she could use it to her advantage
“My wayward husband hath a hundred times
Woo’d me to steal it.”
Emilia knows that Iago has always wanted to her to steal the handkerchief from Desdemona, but she could never do it. Now she has it though, and she also knows it would delight Iago greatly to have the handkerchief. He soon finds out that she has it when he enters the stage. At first a playful, flirtatious relationship is seen between the two, just as there was between Othello and Desdeona at the beginning of the scene, but now, he becomes serious:
“A good wench, give it me.”
Iago’s great opportunist skills are depicted here as he instantaneously begins to take advantage of Desdemona’s misfortune, although he knows what he is doing is wrong:
“The moor already changes with my poison:”
The metaphor, ‘poison’, here represents the fact that Iago appreciates what he is doing as wrong, which in a way, makes his crimes seem even more malicious. If he thought that he was doing Othello a favour, then he could at least have some consideration from the audience, but the fact that he knows his actions are wrong, only intensifies the sense of hatred towards him that would have built up in the audience. Iago is not only influencing Othello, but also putting the audience through many states, feelings and emotions.
Othello enters the stage once again, after only been gone for a few moments. It shows that Iago’s words are playing on his mind and unsettling him. The thought that his beloved Desdemona has been having an affair is torturing his mind. Iago has caused all this by planting an innocent seed of doubt in his mind and forcing it to grown and grown. The only person that Othello still has any trust in is the most untrustworthy of all.
Othello portrays his immense sense of upset and anguish by using a demented logic:
“He that is robb’d, not wanting what is stol’n,
Let him not know’t, and he’s not robb’d at all.”
This would really confuse the audience, confirming to them that Iago’s malicious words had taken a mammoth effect of Othello. He continues, by saying he would be happy even if the lowest soldier was the one Desdemona was having an affair with, just as long as he did not know. It is the fact that Othello has the constant picture in his mind of Michael Cassio and his wife, together. It is causing him to become mentally turbulent. The way that Othello uses repetition continues to enhance his feeling of turmoil:
This is causing the audience to become more and more sympathetic towards him which in turn, would develop the feeling of hatred towards Iago amongst the audience. This is a very clever technique that Shakespeare has used throughout the play to capture the attention of the audience. He has created a character that has a most captivating and stimulating persona. The use of repetition also conveys the fact that Othello feels that he has lost everything. Without Desdemona he does not function and his world is incomplete.
Othello is rapidly being destroyed by a fellow human being. It conveys the power of jealous thoughts and the damage they can do, but he has one more threat:
“If thou dost slander her, and torture me,
Never pray more:”
Although Iago’s suspicious thoughts are eating away at Othello, he still needs definite proof even though he has already begun to loathe her. At the moment he is still in slight denial. Only one thing would put his mind at rest and that is visual proof, which of course, Iago cannot give. This is a great test for Iago. He has overcome other obstacles to get this far with his plan, but this would be the toughest of all. He knows that if Othello finds out he has been lying, it is more than his life’s worth, so he must be convincing:
“Would you the supervisor grossly gape on?
Behold her topp’d?”
This is an excellent tactic used by Iago. He puts Othello in a sense of denial by making the idea of proof so repulsive that he shies away from it wishes he never even asked for proof. It provokes the reaction that Iago knew he would see. It shows that he is a great judge of character and alos gives him valuable extra time to fully unravel his malevolent, malicious plan. It also sends Othello into a moment of insanity:
“Death, and damnation. Oh!”
During this pivotal scene, Othello has changed from a happy man, deeply in love, to a tortured, tormented man, who feels no love or compassion for anyone or anything, all due to the mind powers of Iago.
Iago has removed the threat of Othello’s wishes for ocular proof by reducing the thought of something very beautiful to a mere bestial level. He also devises a perfect lie:
“In sleep I heard him say, sweet Desdemona,
Let us be wary, let us hide our loves,”
This is the perfect lie that cannot be disproved. Only he and Cassio were there and Cassio was asleep so no one could say that it was not true. It is yet another example of Iago’s great art of opportunism. He has the ability to turn a bleak situation into one that has caused a complete reversal of fortunes, always in his favour.
There may be no ocular proof, but there is one other thing that Iago can use against Othello; the handkerchief:
“(I am sure it is your wife’s) did I today
See Cassio wipe his beard with.”
This thought would make Othello feel so livid, if anything, purely because it was his beard that he wiped with the handkerchief, the very one that Othello’s mother gave to Othello as she was dying. Iago says this because he knows that it will upset Othello greatly. It is the final blow for Othello, which pushes him over the edge. It is shown with his use of hyperbole:
“O that the slave had forty thousand lives:
One is too poor, too weak for my revenge.”
This is the first time that Othello has mentioned Cassio throughout all of this, but the audience soon see that he also feels intense hatred for him as well as Desdemona.
The scene, that has been pivotal to the whole play, ends in an evil way:
“Oh blood, blood, blood.”
At the time this is being said, Othello is knelt down. Not praying to the gods, but to Satan and the underworld. Then Iago joins him by kneeling down too. This is a mocking parody as ostensibly he is agreeing with Othello with a sense of sympathy and consideration, but within, he is laughing at Othello. Only the audience can see this at the moment. They are the only ones who know how Iago really is. It has been a very ironic scene as Iago has played the honest, faithful, caring friend and to great effect. This putting on of a false face has earned him what he wanted all along: Cassio is wanted dead by Othello, and so too is Desdemona, his fair wife whom he loved so much only a few moments earlier on stage, but Iago has one last chance to show no one but the audience his immense powers of manipulation, opportunism and judge of character:
“But let her live.”
Once again, Iago says this in complete confidence that Othello will strongly disagree, and he does. It is a mere sign for Othello that Iago has been completely reliable and trustworthy and most important of all, Othello now feels that Iago is suffering from guilt that because of his honesty, two people will die.
The ending is bitterly ironic, ending with Iago’s promotion to Lieutenant, which is what he would treasure most and Othello will soon lose the thing he treasures most, Desdemona. Iago exits the stage whilst in the ascendancy, but there will be consequences……
It is therefore obvious, that Iago is a hugely malignant force upon Othello, who has played him just as he wanted and eventually, after overcoming many obstacles, he has left the stage with total domination and authority over everything that happens and is to happen in later scenes throughout the duration of the play.