Act IV - Scene III

[Another room in the castle.]

Enter Othello, Desdemona, Lodovico, Emilia, and Attendants.

LODOVICO:
I do beseech you, sir, trouble yourself no further.
OTHELLO:
O, pardon me; ‘twill do me good to walk.
LODOVICO:
Madam, good night; I humbly thank your
ladyship.
DESD:
Your honor is most welcome.(5)
OTHELLO:
Will you walk, sir? O—Desdemona—
DESD:
My lord?
OTHELLO:
Get you to bed on the instant; I will be returned
forthwith: Dismiss your attendant there; look it be done.

Exeunt [Othello, Lodovico, and Attendants.]

DESD:
I will, my lord.(10)
EMILIA:
How goes it now? He looks gentler than he did.
DESD:
He says he will return incontinent:
He hath commanded me to go to bed,
And bade me to dismiss you.
EMILIA:
Dismiss me?(15)
DESD:
It was his bidding; therefore, good Emilia,
Give me my nightly wearing, and adieu.
We must not now displease him.
EMILIA:
I would you had never seen him!
DESD:
So would not I. My love doth so approve him,(20)
That even his stubbornness, his checks, his frowns—
Prithee, unpin me—have grace and favor in them.
EMILIA:
I have laid those sheets you bade me on the bed.
DESD:
All's one. Good faith, how foolish are our minds!
If I do die before thee, prithee shroud me(25)
In one of those same sheets.
EMILIA:
Come, come, you talk.
DESD:
My mother had a maid call'd Barbara;
She was in love, and he she loved proved mad
And did forsake her. She had a song of “willow”;(30)
An old thing 'twas, but it express'd her fortune,
And she died singing it. That song tonight
Will not go from my mind; I have much to do,
But to go hang my head all at one side
And sing it like poor Barbara. Prithee, dispatch.(35)
EMILIA:
Shall I go fetch your nightgown?
DESD:
No, unpin me here.
This Lodovico is a proper man.
EMILIA:
A very handsome man.
DESD:
He speaks well.(40)
EMILIA:
I know a lady in Venice would have walked barefoot to
Palestine for a touch of his nether lip.

[Sings.]

DESD:
“The poor soul sat sighing by a sycamore tree,
Sing all a green willow;
Her hand on her bosom, her head on her knee,(45)
Sing willow, willow, willow.
The fresh streams ran by her, and murmur'd her moans;
Sing willow, willow, willow;
Her salt tears fell from her, and soften'd the stones”—
Lay by these:—(50)
Sing willow, willow, willow”
Prithee, hie thee; he'll come anon:—
Sing all a green willow must be my garland.
Let nobody blame him; his scorn I approve
Nay, that's not next. Hark, who is't that knocks?(55)
EMILIA:
It's the wind.

[Sings.]

DESD:
I call'd my love false love; but what said he then?
Sing willow, willow, willow:
If I court moe women, you'll couch with moe men
So get thee gone; good night. Mine eyes do itch;(60)
Doth that bode weeping?
EMILIA:
'Tis neither here nor there.
DESD:
I have heard it said so. O, these men, these men!
Dost thou in conscience think—tell me, Emilia—
That there be women do abuse their husbands(65)
In such gross kind?
EMILIA:
There be some such, no question.
DESD:
Wouldst thou do such a deed for all the world?
EMILIA:
Why, would not you?
DESD:
No, by this heavenly light!(70)
EMILIA:
Nor I neither by this heavenly light; I might do't as
well i' the dark.
DESD:
Wouldst thou do such a thing for all the world?
EMILIA:
The world's a huge thing; it is a great price
For a final vice.(75)
DESD:
In troth, I think thou wouldst not.
EMILIA:
In troth, I think I should, and undo't when I had
done. Marry, I would not do such a thing for a jointring,
nor for measures of lawn, nor for gowns, petticoats, nor
caps, nor any petty exhibition; but, for the whole world(80)
why, who would not make her husband a cuckold to
make him a monarch? I should venture purgatory for't.
DESD:
Beshrew me, if I would do such a wrong
For the whole world.
EMILIA:
Why, the wrong is but a wrong i' the world; and hav-(85)
ing the world for your labor, 'tis a wrong in your own
world, and you might quickly make it right.
DESD:
I do not think there is any such woman.
EMILIA:
Yes, a dozen, and as many to the vantage as would
store the world they played for.(90)
But I do think it is their husbands' faults
If wives do fall; say that they slack their duties
And pour our treasures into foreign laps,
Or else break out in peevish jealousies,
Throwing restraint upon us, or say they strike us,(95)
Or scant our former having in despite,
Why, we have galls, and though we have some grace,
Yet have we some revenge. Let husbands know
Their wives have sense like them; they see and smell
And have their palates both for sweet and sour,(100)
As husbands have. What is it that they do
When they change us for others? Is it sport?
I think it is. And doth affection breed it?
I think it doth. Is't frailty that thus errs?
It is so too. And have not we affections,(105)
Desires for sport, and frailty, as men have?
Then let them use us well; else let them know,
The ills we do, their ills instruct us so.
DESD:
Good night, good night. Heaven me such uses send,
Not to pick bad from bad, but by bad mend!(110)

Exeunt.

Footnotes

  1. In Emilia, Shakespeare has created a spokeswoman with a female perspective on the play’s events. In this speech, Emilia calls into question the causes for the supposed failures of women, citing the thoughtless actions of men. Emilia humanizes women too, for women “see and smell/And have their palates for both sweet and sour/As husbands have.” Emilia’s perspectives are central to the play’s approach to gender relations.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. Emilia’s cleverness and pragmatism shine through in this exchange. While Desdemona would not cheat, even if the prize were the world itself, Emilia claims that she would. Her argument is that by gaining the world, one could judge adultery to be moral, thus undoing the crime. This shows us the difference in character between the classical—that is, practical—Emilia and the romantic Desdemona.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. These lines illustrate how innocent Desdemona is—innocent of the crime of adultery and innocent about the ways of the world. That Desdemona doubts whether women are capable of cheating underscores how distant she is from committing such an act.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. The Willow Song sung by Desdemona predates Shakespeare’s play. The earliest record of the song can be found in a book of lute music from 1583. The original song was an eight-verse ballad about a man who dies because his lover abandons him. Elizabethan audiences familiar with the song would have understood the fatal foreshadowing at play.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. Othello’s command to Desdemona to go to bed and dismiss Emilia is suspicious, and it foreshadows events to come. It is curious, too, that Desdemona follows these orders without question despite her recent dispute with Othello. This is evidence of her continued, if unwise, devotion.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff