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In an effort to win Othello’s good graces, Cassio sends musicians to play music beneath the general’s window. Othello sends his servant, a clown, or peasant, to tell the musicians to go away. Cassio asks the clown to entreat Emilia to come speak with him, so that he can ask her for access to Desdemona. When the clown leaves, Iago enters and tells Cassio that he will send for Emilia straightaway and figure out a way to take Othello aside so that Cassio and Desdemona can confer privately. After Iago exits, Emilia enters and tells Cassio that Othello and Desdemona have been discussing his case. Desdemona has pleaded for Cassio, but Othello worries that Montano’s influence and popularity in Cyprus would make Cassio’s reappointment impractical, no matter how much Othello cares for his former lieutenant. Emilia allows Cassio to come in and tells him to wait for Desdemona.
Iago, Othello, and a gentleman walk together at the citadel. Othello gives Iago some letters to deliver and decides to take a look at the town’s fortification.
This was her first remembrance from the Moor,
My wayward husband hath a hundred times
Wooed me to steal it, but she so loves the token. . . .
Desdemona, Cassio, and Emilia enter mid-conversation. Desdemona has just vowed to do everything she can on Cassio’s behalf when Othello and Iago enter. Cassio quickly departs, protesting to Desdemona that he feels too uneasy to do himself any good. Othello asks whether it was Cassio he saw leaving the room, and Iago responds that surely Cassio would not behave like a guilty man at Othello’s approach.
Desdemona entreats Othello to forgive Cassio and reinstate him as lieutenant. Othello assures her that he will speak to Cassio, but he answers evasively when she tries to set a meeting time. She criticizes Othello for responding to her request so grudgingly and hesitantly, and he tells her that he will deny her nothing but wishes to be left to himself for a little while.
Alone with Othello, Iago begins his insinuations of an affair between Cassio and Desdemona by reminding Othello that Cassio served as Othello and Desdemona’s go-between during their courtship. Othello asks Iago whether he believes Cassio to be honest, and Iago feigns reluctance to answer. Iago plants in Othello’s mind thoughts of adultery, cuckoldry, and hypocrisy, until Othello screams at the ensign to speak his mind. Iago suggests that Othello observe his wife closely when she is with Cassio.
Othello tells Iago to have Emilia watch Desdemona when she is with Cassio. Iago appears to retreat from his accusations and suggests that Othello leave the matter alone. But he has already made his point. By himself, Othello muses that his wife no longer loves him, probably because he is too old for her, because he is black, and because he doesn’t have the manners of a courtier. “She’s gone,” he laments (III.iii.271).
This is perhaps one of Shakespeare's more interesting plays, if you will. In comparison to Macbeth it isn't quite the walk in the park.
I think conceptually it enables the reader to see that characters can influence characters to such a degree that the original traits are masked and changed. Tragedy in this play is definitely a main component - and a great emphasis that perhaps the villain doesn't always find their true defeat. In a way, wasn't the "villain" successful? He lied to everyone and pretty much killed whomever got in his way.
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Just a theory
The role of Emelia in Othello.
Before I begin expounding on this thought, let me first say that I am not a Shakespearean “Scholar”. I am just a teacher who loves teaching Shakespeare on the off-chance that one of my students will get bitten by the bug and want to study and read more of the man than just the set works that he or she has to cover for exam purposes.
Having taught Othello to matric classes for the past 4 years, I have developed a few theories of my own about Shakespeare’s “bit” actors,... Read more→
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Othello was the final play in my effort to read all of Shakespeare before his 450th. It was a great time reading them all, and Othello was one of the most difficult and darkest (so often pitting light against darkness).
While racism in Elizabethan England wasn't the same as that of the 21st century, it certainly was a backdrop to the play, and Shakespeare, this time, seemed to challenge it.
If you're interested, see my blog on Othello: