Act 3 is often called the “temptation scene” as Othello’s trust in Desdemona is seduced away by Iago. It is a pivotal act which builds on previous events and foreshadows future events. The audience can clearly see the development of the character Othello from a calm, noble man to one’s whose jealousy is so strong he pledges to kill his wife. There is also a clear development in the themes that were hinted previously in the play such as jealousy and revenge.
This act represents a clear development in the character of Othello, who in previous scenes was conveyed as an eloquent and powerful figure respected by all those around him. But as Iago plants the seeds of doubt in Othello’s mind about Desdemona’s true motive for defending Cassio, he replaces the security of his marriage with paranoia and jealousy, as well as a trusting alliance with Iago. Othello becomes deeply insecure about his personal qualities and his marriage, as insecurity becomes a theme that weakens his resolve not to doubt Desdemona. Othello uses his black skin as a symbol for how poorly spoken and unattractive he thinks he is.
Iago is quite the opposite of kind, good hearted Othello. A vulgar character, he is completely self-motivated, not having time for a single soul other than his own. Iago, although a terrible character, is clever nonetheless. He holds the key to a weapon that will cut down even the bravest warrior, or be the end to the holiest saint; a conniving tongue. Iago is able to make the strongest man fold under his hand, and believe near anything he says. Granted, it may take some time for his enemy to fold, but as reflected in the passage, Iago is patient.
From the beginning of this Act, Iago has planted the seeds of suspicion in Othello’s mind. At first, it has little effect on Othello; “Nor from mine own weak merits will I draw the smallest fear or doubt of her revolt, for she had eyes and chose me. No, Iago, I’ll se before I doubt.” At this stage of the passage, Othello has stood his ground and not faltered in his belief of his wife’s faithfulness. But as the plot develops in this act, Othello begins to doubt Desdemona’s innocence due to the scheming and medaling of Iago, and becomes obsessed and jealous towards the issue.
Jealousy is a major theme in this Act, especially with regards to Othello, and is addressed specifically by Iago. “It is the green-eyed monster,” Iago tells him, in that now-famous statement; the “green-eyed monster” becomes a symbol representing Othello’s dark feelings, a specter lurking in his mind and beginning to steer his behavior.
The handkerchief, the most crucial symbol and object in the play, first appears in Act 3. The handkerchief, to Desdemona, symbolizes Othello’s love, since it was his first gift to her. Othello thinks that the handkerchief, quite literally, is Desdemona’s love; and when she has lost it, that must clearly mean that she does not love him any longer. The handkerchief also becomes a symbol of Desdemona’s alleged betrayal; Othello takes it as the “ocular proof” of her dishonesty, which is a grave mistake. Act 3 expresses the significant changes in the characters, development of the plot and conveys the major themes on which the play is based. This Act is the turning point for Othello, the lead of a victory for Iago, and the beginning of a fatal tragedy for Desdemona.