by: William Shakespeare


How poor are they that have not patience!
What wound did ever heal but by degrees?
Thou know’st we work by wit and not by witchcraft,
And wit depends on dilatory time. (II.iii.)

In response to Roderigo’s frustration with how slowly Iago’s plot is unfolding, Iago stresses the importance of patience. Iago knows that in order for any plan to work, one must be willing to wait for the right opportunities. Being able to spot the right opportunity depends on one’s wit, and wit, Iago emphasizes, “depends on dilatory time”—that is, time that moves slowly. Much like Roderigo, the audience is also subject to Iago’s dilatory time. We, too, must patiently watch as his treacherous plot plays out, and the slowness of its unfolding only makes it that much more tense.


In happy time, Iago. (III.i.)

Cassio utters these words upon Iago’s entrance. Cassio has just asked the Clown to notify Emilia, Iago’s wife, that he would like to speak with her. When Iago appears immediately after the Clown exits, Cassio tells him that he’s come “in happy time”—that is, at just the right moment. Although apparently unimportant, the temporal expression Cassio uses in this line has an ironic significance, particularly given Iago’s previous discussion of the importance of waiting for the right moment to act. It would seem that Iago’s timing is, as always, impeccable, and his impeccable timing proves crucial to his success.

My lord, I would I might entreat your honor
To scan this thing no farther. Leave it to time. (III.iii.)

With Othello fretting over the idea of Desdemona’s betrayal and deception, Iago tells him that he should try to take his mind off the subject. As always, Iago speaks with a concealed sense of irony. He knows that telling Othello to stop thinking about Desdemona will only make him think about the matter even more anxiously. Furthermore, Iago’s suggestion that Othello leave the matter “to time” has a deeply sinister ring to it. Since Iago has a specific vision of how events will play out if they go according to plan, he knows precisely what crisis “time” will bring.