Act III - Scene IV

[Before the castle.]

Enter Desdemona, Emilia, and Clown.

DESD:
Do you know, sirrah, where Lieutenant Cassio lies?
CLOWN:
I dare not say he lies anywhere.
DESD:
Why, man?
CLOWN:
He's a soldier; and for one to say a soldier lies, is stab-
bing.(5)
DESD:
Go to! Where lodges he?
CLOWN:
To tell you where he lodges, is to tell you where I lie.
DESD:
Can anything be made of this?
CLOWN:
I know not where he lodges, and for me to devise a
lodging, and say he lies here or he lies there, were to lie in(10)
mine own throat.
DESD:
Can you inquire him out and be edified by report?
CLOWN:
I will catechize the world for him; that is, make ques-
tions and by them answer.
DESD:
Seek him, bid him come hither. Tell him I have moved(15)
my lord on his behalf and hope all will be well.
CLOWN:
To do this is within the compass of man's wit, and
therefore I will attempt the doing it.

[Exit.]

DESD:
Where should I lose that handkerchief, Emilia?
EMILIA:
I know not, madam.(20)
DESD:
Believe me, I had rather have lost my purse
Full of crusadoes; and, but my noble Moor
Is true of mind and made of no such baseness
As jealous creatures are, it were enough
To put him to ill thinking.(25)
EMILIA:
Is he not jealous?
DESD:
Who, he? I think the sun where he was born
Drew all such humors from him.
EMILIA:
Look, where he comes.
DESD:
I will not leave him now till Cassio(30)
Be call'd to him.

Enter Othello.

How is't with you, my lord?
OTHELLO:
Well, my good lady. O, hardness to dissemble!
How do you, Desdemona?
DESD:
Well, my good lord.(35)
OTHELLO:
Give me your hand. This hand is moist, my lady.
DESD:
It yet has felt no age nor known no sorrow:
OTHELLO:
This argues fruitfulness and liberal heart;
Hot, hot, and moist. This hand of yours requires
A sequester from liberty, fasting and prayer,(40)
Much castigation, exercise devout,
For here's a young and sweating devil here
That commonly rebels. 'Tis a good hand,
A frank one.
DESD:
You may, indeed, say so;(45)
For 'twas that hand that gave away my heart.
OTHELLO:
A liberal hand. The hearts of old gave hands;
But our new heraldry is hands, not hearts.
DESD:
I cannot speak of this. Come now, your promise.
OTHELLO:
What promise, chuck?(50)
DESD:
I have sent to bid Cassio come speak with you.
OTHELLO:
I have a salt and sorry rheum offends me;
Lend me thy handkerchief.
DESD:
Here, my lord.
OTHELLO:
That which I gave you.(55)
DESD:
I have it not about me.
OTHELLO:
Not?
DESD:
No, faith, my lord.
OTHELLO:
That's a fault. That handkerchief
Did an Egyptian to my mother give;(60)
She was a charmer, and could almost read
The thoughts of people. She told her, while she kept it,
'Twould make her amiable and subdue my father
Entirely to her love, but if she lost it
Or made a gift of it, my father's eye(65)
Should hold her loathed and his spirits should hunt
After new fancies. She dying gave it me,
And bid me, when my fate would have me wive,
To give it her. I did so, and take heed on't;
Make it a darling like your precious eye;(70)
To lose't or give't away were such perdition
As nothing else could match.
DESD:
Is't possible?
OTHELLO:
'Tis true; there's magic in the web of it.
A sibyl, that had number'd in the world(75)
The sun to course two hundred compasses,
In her prophetic fury sew'd the work;
The worms were hallow'd that did breed the silk,
And it was dyed in mummy which the skillful
Conserved of maidens' hearts.(80)
DESD:
Indeed! is't true?
OTHELLO:
Most veritable; therefore look to't well.
DESD:
Then would to God that I had never seen't!
OTHELLO:
Ha! wherefore?
DESD:
Why do you speak so startingly and rash?(85)
OTHELLO:
Is't lost? is't gone? speak, is it out o' the way?
DESD:
Heaven bless us!
OTHELLO:
Say you?
DESD:
It is not lost; but what an if it were?
OTHELLO:
How?(90)
DESD:
I say, it is not lost.
OTHELLO:
Fetch't, let me see it.
DESD:
Why, so I can, sir, but I will not now.
This is a trick to put me from my suit.
Pray you, let Cassio be received again.(95)
OTHELLO:
Fetch me the handkerchief, my mind misgives.
DESD:
Come, come; You'll never meet a more sufficient man.
OTHELLO:
The handkerchief!
DESD:
I pray, talk me of Cassio:
OTHELLO:
The handkerchief!(100)
DESD:
A man that all his time
Hath founded his good fortunes on your love,
Shared dangers with you—
OTHELLO:
The handkerchief!
DESD:
In sooth, you are to blame.(105)
OTHELLO:
Away!

Exit.

EMILIA:
Is not this man jealous?
DESD:
I ne'er saw this before.
Sure there's some wonder in this handkerchief;
I am most unhappy in the loss of it.(110)
EMILIA:
'Tis not a year or two shows us a man:
They are all but stomachs and we all but food;
They eat us hungerly, and when they are full
They belch us. Look you! Cassio and my husband.

Enter Iago and Cassio.

IAGO:
There is no other way; 'tis she must do't:(115)
And, lo, the happiness! Go and importune her.
DESD:
How now, good Cassio! What's the news with you?
CASSIO:
Madam, my former suit: I do beseech you
That by your virtuous means I may again
Exist and be a member of his love(120)
Whom I with all the office of my heart
Entirely honor. I would not be delay'd.
If my offense be of such mortal kind
That nor my service past nor present sorrows
Nor purposed merit in futurity(125)
Can ransom me into his love again,
But to know so must be my benefit;
So shall I clothe me in a forced content
And shut myself up in some other course
To Fortune's alms.(130)
DESD:
Alas, thrice gentle Cassio!
My advocation is not now in tune;
My lord is not my lord, nor should I know him
Were he in favor as in humor alter'd.
So help me every spirit sanctified,(135)
As I have spoken for you all my best
And stood within the blank of his displeasure
For my free speech! You must awhile be patient.
What I can do I will; and more I will
Than for myself I dare. Let that suffice you.(140)
IAGO:
Is my lord angry?
EMILIA:
He went hence but now,
And certainly in strange unquietness.
IAGO:
Can he be angry? I have seen the cannon,
When it hath blown his ranks into the air(145)
And, like the devil, from his very arm
Puff'd his own brother. And can he be angry?
Something of moment then. I will go meet him:
There's matter in't indeed if he be angry.
DESD:
I prithee, do so. Exit Iago.(150)
Something sure of state,
Either from Venice or some unhatch'd practice
Made demonstrable here in Cyprus to him,
Hath puddled his clear spirit; and in such cases
Men's natures wrangle with inferior things,(155)
Though great ones are their object. 'Tis even so;
For let our finger ache, and it indues
Our other healthful members even to that sense
Of pain. Nay, we must think men are not gods,
I was, unhandsome warrior as I am,(160)
Arraigning his unkindness with my soul;
But now I find I had suborn'd the witness,
And he's indicted falsely.
EMILIA:
Pray heaven it be state matters, as you think,
And no conception nor no jealous toy(165)
Concerning you.
DESD:
Alas the day, I never gave him cause!
EMILIA:
But jealous souls will not be answer'd so;
They are not ever jealous for the cause,
But jealous for they are jealous. 'Tis a monster(170)
Begot upon itself, born on itself.
DESD:
Heaven keep that monster from Othello's mind!
EMILIA:
Lady, amen.
DESD:
I will go seek him. Cassio, walk hereabout.
If I do find him fit, I'll move your suit,(175)
And seek to effect it to my uttermost.
CASSIO:
I humbly thank your ladyship.

Exeunt Desdemona and Emilia.

Enter Bianca.

BIANCA:
Save you, friend Cassio!
CASSIO:
What make you from home?
How is it with you, my most fair Bianca?(180)
I'faith, sweet love, I was coming to your house.
BIANCA:
And I was going to your lodging, Cassio
What, keep a week away? seven days and nights?
Eight score eight hours? and lovers' absent hours,
More tedious than the dial eight score times?(185)
O weary reckoning!
CASSIO:
Pardon me, Bianca:
I have this while with leaden thoughts been press'd;
But I shall in a more continuate time
Strike off this score of absence. Sweet Bianca,(190)
Take me this work out.
BIANCA:
O Cassio, whence came this?
This is some token from a newer friend.
To the felt absence now I feel a cause:
Is't come to this? Well, well.(195)
CASSIO:
Go to, woman!
Throw your vile guesses in the devil's teeth,
From whence you have them. You are jealous now
That this is from some mistress, some remembrance:
No, by my faith, Bianca.(200)
BIANCA:
Why, whose is it?
CASSIO:
I know not, sweet. I found it in my chamber.
I like the work well. Ere it be demanded—
As like enough it will— I'ld have it copied:
Take it, and do't; and leave me for this time.(205)
BIANCA:
Leave you! wherefore?
CASSIO:
I do attend here on the general;
And think it no addition, nor my wish,
To have him see me woman'd.
BIANCA:
Why, I pray you?(210)
CASSIO:
Not that I love you not.
BIANCA:
But that you do not love me.
I pray you, bring me on the way a little;
And say if I shall see you soon at night.
CASSIO:
'Tis but a little way that I can bring you;(215)
For I attend here, but I'll see you soon.
BIANCA:
'Tis very good; I must be circumstanced.

Exeunt.

Footnotes

  1. Bianca echoes the disgruntlement Emilia often expresses. Emilia operates according to Iago’s orders, and she feels like nothing more than “food” to his “stomach,” to use her metaphor. In much the same way, Bianca feels that she “must be circumstanced,” as if she were a tool or resource to be used.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. At this line, Cassio gives Bianca the handkerchief that has been left in his chambers. Bianca immediately suspects that Cassio has taken another lover, a “newer friend.” It is thus clear that the relationship between Othello and Desdemona is not the only one marked by jealousy.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. Bianca misses Cassio to the point of counting the hours since they have been together: 168 in total. She claims that when lovers are absent, it is as if the hours are multiplied by eight score. Thus, the 160 hours feels to her like 26,880 hours.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. Emilia’s words cut to the heart of the play’s message about jealousy. Jealousy is “a monster/Begot upon itself.” Jealousy does not need to be founded on any external cause; rather, it fuels itself. The audience knows Emilia is correct, for Othello’s jealousy is based on Iago’s fictions. The dramatic irony increases in Desdemona’s response: a plea to “keep that monster from Othello’s mind!” We know it is too late.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. Iago appears stunned by the news of Othello’s temper. He offers an anecdote to illustrate Othello’s typically calm demeanor. In battle, an enemy cannon once killed Othello’s own brother and the general remained undisturbed.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. Desdemona accurately detects that Othello has become divided in his dealings with her. Now that Othello has fallen into Iago’s schemes, he is two-faced like Iago. Thus, Shakespeare reshapes Iago’s signature line: “I am not what I am.”

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. In these lines, Emilia attempts to offer words of consolation to Desdemona. According to Emilia, men reveal their true nature “a year or two” into marriage. To her, men are driven by their appetites and view women as nothing “but food.” Emilia’s perspective tells us more about her personal experience than about marriage in general. Emilia inaccurately projects her frustrating marriage to Iago onto Desdemona’s situation.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. In the ensuing exchange is an acute example of dramatic irony. Each character entirely misreads the other’s intentions. Othello believes Desdemona cares about Cassio’s cause out of love. Desdemona fails to realize that Othello is obsessed with the handkerchief because he is suspicious.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. The text does not make it clear whether the story Othello tells about the handkerchief is true or not. There are good reasons to believe Othello invents the tale and designs it to put Desdemona on the defensive. The notion of the Egyptian who could “read the thoughts of other people” mirrors Othello’s position: he thinks he reads Desdemona’s thoughts accurately. The role of the handkerchief as a symbol of wifely fidelity is suspiciously convenient. His description of the “magic of the web of it” in subsequent lines underscores the superficiality of the story.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. In this exchange, Shakespeare develops a metaphorical duality: the heart and the hand. The heart is the source of truth, whereas the hand is a tool which can either reveal the truth or deceive. Othello refers to the tradition of giving one’s hand as a promise of marriage. He then accuses Desdemona of having given her hand without involving her heart.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. Determined to get to the truth, Othello begins to test Desdemona. By referring to her hand as moist, he is accusing her of being nervous and thus having sweat on her hands. His manner on the surface remains polite—he calls her “my lady” as usual—but his intentions are pointed.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. Othello utters this sentence as an aside to the audience in a moment of dramatic irony. The “hardness” he means to set aside is his “hardness of heart,” a common Shakespearean phrase for ill intent. This moment marks the visible fracturing in the relationship between Othello and Desdemona. When Othello must turn to the audience for solidarity, it is clear his intimacy with his wife is shattered.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  13. This is a passage of intense dramatic irony. If Desdemona had said these words in Act II, the audience would be inclined to agree. In the context of the changes in Act III, Scene III, Desdemona’s miscalculation is enormous.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  14. In a moment of dramatic irony, the audience understands Emilia’s loyalties. Emilia knows precisely where the handkerchief is, for she delivered it to Iago. It is clear that Emilia puts more value in her role as Iago’s wife than her role as Desdemona’s attendant.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  15. As the play’s action escalates, the clown appears again to provide comic relief. In this exchange, he builds puns on the dual definitions of “to lie.” The central idea is that the clown would be lying if he claimed to know Cassio’s location—where Cassio lies. Even in tragedies such as Othello, Shakespeare always includes touches of light humor.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  16. Somerset Maugham criticized the plot of Othello as follows in A Writer's Notebook:

    I don’t know why critics expect writers always to do as well as they should have done. The writer seldom does what he wants to; he does the best he can. Shakespearian scholars would save themselves many a headache if when they come across something in the plays that is obviously unsatisfactory, instead of insisting against all reason that it is nothing of the kind, they admitted that here and there Shakespeare tripped. There is no reason that I can see to suppose that he was not well aware that the motivation in certain of the plays is so weak as to destroy the illusion. Why should the critics say that he didn’t care? I should have said that there was evidence that he did. Why should he have put into Othello’s mouth those lines beginning *That handkerchief did an Egyptian to my mother give . . . *unless it was because he was aware that the episode of the handkerchief was too thin to pass muster? I think it would save a lot of trouble to conclude that he tried to think of something better, and just couldn’t.

    Both Iago's and Othello's motivations are questionable.

    — William Delaney