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The brawl in Act II, scene iii, foreshadows Act V, scene i, where Cassio is stabbed and Roderigo is killed in a commotion outside a brothel. Cassio’s comments about his own drinking, along with Othello’s warning to Cassio at the scene’s opening, show that -Cassio is predisposed to licentiousness, and Iago, always skillful at manipulating human frailties, capitalizes on Cassio’s tendency to get himself into trouble in situations involving pleasures of the flesh. Further evidence of Iago’s skill as a manipulator is his ability to make Roderigo virtually invisible in the scene. Once Cassio has chased him across the stage and stabbed Montano, no one gives a second thought to the man who may or may not have begun the fight. No one seems to have any idea who Roderigo is (even though he is always onstage, even in the court scene of Act I, scene iii), and Cassio cannot even remember what they -quarreled about.
When, in the middle of the commotion of Act II, scene iii, a sleepy Desdemona enters and asks, “What’s the matter, dear?” Othello is the consummate gentle husband: “All’s well now, sweeting. / Come away to bed” (II.iii.235–237). Othello and Desdemona’s marriage appears to be sheltered from outside forces. Othello has just stopped the brawl, punished Cassio, and taken care of Montano; he is now ready to return home with his wife. By way of apology to his new bride for the inconveniences of her new way of life, he says, “Come Desdemona. ’Tis the soldiers’ life / To have their balmy slumbers waked with strife” (II.iii.241–242). This is the last time we will see the couple so happy. The next time Othello sends Desdemona to bed is at the beginning of Act IV, scene ii, when he is preparing to kill her.
At the beginning of the scene, Othello says to Desdemona: “Come, my dear love, / The purchase made, the fruits are to ensue. / The profit’s yet to come ’tween me and you” (II.iii.8–10). This comment seems to indicate that the couple has not yet consummated their marriage—the “purchase” is the wedding, and the “fruits” are the sex. Alternatively, Othello could be saying that he and Desdemona have consummated their marriage—“the purchase” is Desdemona’s virginity, and “the fruits” could be pleasant sex as opposed to the pain of the consummation.
Iago has now interrupted Othello’s conjugal efforts twice. Iago’s speeches clearly show him to be obsessed with sex. For instance, when Othello bursts onto the scene and demands to know what is going on, Iago answers by comparing the party to a bride and groom undressing for bed (II.iii.163–165). He seems to take great pleasure in preventing Othello from enjoying marital happiness. Some readers have suggested that Iago’s true, underlying motive for persecuting Othello is his homosexual love for the general. In addition to disrupting Othello’s marriage, he expresses his love for Othello frequently and effusively, and he seems to hate women in general.
As Othello breaks up the brawl, he demands, “Are we turned Turks, and to ourselves do that / Which heaven hath forbid the Ottomites?” (II.iii.153–54). Othello, himself an “other” on the inside of Venetian society, and one who will ultimately upset the order of that society, calls attention to the potential for all external threats to become internal. It is that potential which Iago will -continually exploit.