Act 3 scene 3 is a Pivotal Scene In The Play Othello

I have been studying the play Othello, written by William Shakespeare. As part of my coursework, I intend to analyze Act 3 scene 3 of the play as a pivotal scene. This lengthy scene is the most significant throughout the play, as it builds on previous events, and foreshadows events still to come.

The leading characters within this spectacular and well written play are Othello: who is also known as “the Moor”, a black African prince living in a European, colour-prejudiced society, who is lead by Iago into thinking that his wife is unfaithful to him.

Desdemona: Othello’s white Venetian devoted wife, however due to a cunning Iago, is suspected of infidelity and killed by her husband. Iago: Othello’s ensign (standard bearer), who deviously plants suspicion in Othello’s mind against his faithful wife. Cassio: Othello’s lieutenant, who is also manipulated by Iago, who wished for the position of “the Moor’s” lieutenant. Emilia: Desdemona’s maid and Iago’s wife, who is loyal to both her mistress and

husband, however she is also killed due to her loyalty to her husband.

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Roderigo: A Venetian, who is also in love with Desdemona, but is systematically cheated by Iago, and Brabantio: Desdemona’s father, who is outraged when he hears of his daughter’s marriage to a black man.

We first come across Act 3 scene 3 building on previous events when Desdemona reconciles Cassio and assures him that she will do everything she can to make her husband reinstate him to his former position as Othello’s lieutenant.

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“Be thou assur’d, good Cassio, I will do all my abilities in thy behalf.”

This is the irony in her character that her sense of goodness will eventually be the cause of her death, as Othello starts to suspect her. This builds on Iago’s soliloquy in Act 1 scene 3, where he reveals to the audience that he intends to create suspicion in Othello’s mind that Desdemona is having a secret relationship with Cassio,

that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio, as she has no other reason as to why she has gone back on her promise.

Othello’s quick decisive nature is revealed as he dismisses Cassio in Act 2 Scene 3, with a few words from Iago as to why Cassio became quarrelsome with Roderigo.

“I know Iago, thy honesty and love doth mince this matter, making it light to Cassio. Cassio, I love thee, but never more be officer of mine.”

Iago’s aim with this incident was to have a cause, for advising Cassio to seek Desdemona’s assistance, so that Othello’ suspicion of their relationship would extend, however now that he is also familiar with Othello’s nature, he builds upon it in Act 3 scene 3, knowing that it would not be difficult to lead Othello to thinking that his wife is unfaithful to him.

Desdemona’s actions at the beginning of Act 3 scene 3, as she parts from cassio, builds upon Brabantio’s words of warning to Othello,

“look to her Moor, if thou hast eyes to see, she has deceived her father, and may thee”

As Iago sees Cassio parting from Desdemona, he prompts Othello, by saying

“Ha! I like not that.”

This instantly reminds Othello of Brabantio’s earlier warning. If she deceived her father, the man who had loved and cherished her all her life, what would stop her from deceiving her husband? From this Othello starts to play into the hands of Iago as he starts to suspect Desdemona, making him see the meaning of Brabantio’s words more logically.

Iago’s devious character begins to unravel, as he informs the audience of his ‘reign of terror’ in his soliloquy, at the end of Act 1 scene 3.

“Set on thy wife to observe”

Othello’s trust for Desdemona totally vanishes throughout Act 3 scene 3, and through the manipulation of Iago. The view that he had that he had before of Desdemona, “Oh my sweet” is now a “Lewd Minx”. Due to his lack of knowledge about her actions his anger builds up and again we can see how Othello has been brainwashed. Othello becomes ignorant to the fact that Desdemona is his wife, as he is not willing to listen to her thoughts however he is adamant to know of Iago’s thoughts. He would normally see nothing wrong in Desdemona’s thoughts, but since Iago had made him begin to doubt he looks for confirmation of his wife’s infidelity everywhere. This shows the downfall of his marriage, as he has no faith left within his marriage and his wife.

Iago puts his plan straight into action at the beginning of Act III scene iii when he and Othello are walking towards their wives. Iago notices Cassio walk away from them, so he uses this meeting to begin to convince Othello of Desdemona’s infidelity

Othello tries to clear his own thoughts of Cassio, by questioning Iago,

Othello: ‘ Indeed? ‘ Ay indeed. Discern’st thou ought in that? Is he not honest?



“…men should be what they seem…”

This is ironic because Iago is preaching about honesty; however he himself does not know the meaning of the word honesty. Once Iago has told Othello he thinks men should be honest he begins to comment on Cassio’s honesty,

“For Michael Cassio, I dare be sworn I think that he is honest”

“why then, I think Cassio’s an honest man”

It also creates the impression that Iago is reluctant to speak ill on the subject of Cassio who Othello thinks to be Iago’s loyal and true friend. Iago again uses repetition to taunt Othello, and urge Othello to question more. Iago uses this device to make Othello see Cassio as an enemy, and himself to be loyal, therefore he may become Othello’s lieutenant.

Iago then advises Othello, to beware of jealousy, however this is ironic as Iago himself planted the seed of jealousy into Othello’s mind, but is also warning him.

“O beware, my lord, of jealousy: It is the green eyed-monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on. That cuckold lives in bliss..”

Iago is again reluctant to speak, as he does not tell Othello straight that his wife is having an affair. Iago mentions “that cuckold”, he is referring to Othello, as a cuckold actually meant a man cheated sexually by his wife, which he hints to Othello. However, Othello asks for proof as he stills think that she may be honest.

Iago comments on the importance of a reputation, (which Othello has),

“Good name in man and woman, dear my lord, is the immediate jewel of their souls……. But he that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him and makes me poor indeed”

Here Iago is threatening Othello’s reputation by saying that a reputation is everything therefore it is his duty to protect that reputation, that jewel, which may be stolen by Cassio. However, this is very ironic as iago himself is stealing the jewel, and destroying Othello and Desdemona’s reputation.

After dropping all the pebbles, Iago, leaves Othello in a state of confusion, jealousy and hatred towards Desdemona, and Cassio. Othello is left alone and reveals in his short soliloquy his emotions and doubts;

“Why did I marry..”

From this soliloquy we can see that iago’s plan seems to be working as planned, as Othello doubts his marriage and love. Here we can see a complete change in Othello’s character, as at the beginning of the scene Othello is completely in love with Desdemona, but by the end of the scene Othello is left regretting the day he married her.

Race and colour were an important issue in Shakespeare’s time, and especially in this play, as Desdemona a white Venetian woman chose to marry a black African prince. Desdemona was not attracted to many other men; however she

Act three scene 3, is a pivotal scene as it builds on previous events which I have already explained, and also foreshadows events that later occur in the play, which I shall explain now.

After Iago’s interference, Othello returns to his bedroom where he is complaining of a headache,

“I have a pain upon my forehead here”

Othello is being ironic here, as he has a headache but not that which Desdemona thinks, the headache is actually due to the false accusations of Desdemona’s infidelity. Desdemona tries to comfort Othello’s pain in his head, however as she is leaving the room with Othello she drops her handkerchief, that which Othello first gave to her. As they leave Emilia, (Desdemona’s mistress) is left cleaning their room when she sees the handkerchief, and keeps it. She gives the handkerchief to her husband Iago, who had been requesting for it, (unaware of Iago’s plan) in desperation of his approval, as he had never accepted Emilia full-heartedly. Iago was in need of the handkerchief as he knew Othello was not set to believe him without proof.

This event foreshadows the destruction of Othello and Desdemona, as this later becomes evidence for what Iago had been saying about Desdemona and Cassio’s affair, and Othello’s suspicion is turned to doubt as Cassio is seen wiping his beard with it, deliberately presented by Iago. Othello (who is outraged) confronts Desdemona about the handkerchief in Act 3 scene 4. Othello demands for the handkerchief, but Desdemona does not have it. She explains to him that she has misplaced it, however Othello does not believe her. Desdemona unknowingly infuriates Othello more, as she again brings up the topic of reinstating Cassio. Othello’s speech is very short and repetitive,

Othello: “Fetch me the handkerchief. My mind misgives”

Desdemona: …..” You’ll never meet a more sufficient man”

Othello: “The handkerchief!”

Desdemona: “I pray, talk me of cassio”

Othello: “The handkerchief!”

As we see here, Othello’s speech is short, and the handkerchief is repeated three times, this shows his uncertainty about the whole situation.

The green-eyed monster which was mentioned by Iago in Act 3 scene 3, foreshadows Othello’s jealous character throughout the rest of the play, as jealousy takes control of him. Iago continues to encourage Othello’s jealousy in Act4 scene1, as Othello overhears Iago deliberately teasing Cassio about some woman, whom Othello assumes to be Desdemona. In Act 4 scene 1 we see Desdemona explaining to Lodovico (a messenger), that Cassio is no longer Othello’s lieutenant, and that she thinks that Cassio should be reinstated, however Othello does not seem to agree,

“..I would do much t’atone them, for the love I bear to cassio”

Desdemona is showing her loyalty to Cassio’s friendship; however Othello is outraged with what she says, and what he had heard earlier, which results in him striking Desdemona. This shows Othello becoming the green-eyed monster, which Iago had already warned him of in Act 3 scene 3.

Emilia was seen to be loyal throughout the whole play, to both her husband and mistress. This loyalty to her husband was the main cause of her death in the final act, as she gave the ultimate proof of Desdemona’s innocence to her husband, in desperation of his approval, and as he had requested for it, which shows that she was being loyal to her husband as she did exactly as he required. This one mistake, which was done unknowingly also led to her mistress’ death, as it was this one piece of evidence which could have saved her from her brutal death.

The hatred we see towards Cassio in Act 3 scene 3 foreshadows Othello’s loss in friends, as cassio was a close friend of many others, therefore when Iago’s real character is unveiled in the final act, everyone takes Othello to be a very low person as he was manipulated by Iago, into thinking that his wife, who was in actual fact innocent, was being unfaithful to him. Roderigo who was also close to Othello was killed due to Iago. Desdemona’s murder was also caused due to the hatred towards Cassio, and this lead to the dismissal of his position, as everyone felt that Othello was not worthy of carrying out his job with respect. Othello’s friends, his wife and his reputation were his life, which he lost due to his insecurities, and manipulation by the deceitful Iago.

In conclusion the fact that so much significant and crucial parts take place in Act 3 scene 3 proves that it is very important to the rest of the play, as it really starts to develop the plot and themes we have seen growing throughout earlier scenes. This is the scene when we see Iago has successfully manipulated Othello into believing that Desdemona has not been faithful to him, this is very significant to the rest of the play as it affects everything Othello feels and says from this point onwards. r.

In Act III Scene 3 Iago convinces a man who loves his wife completely that she is having an affair with one of his most trusted subjects without using one shred of proof or any real basis. This is a man who can make the most innocent of people guilty and the most loved, hated. He uses many tactics to persuade Othello that Desdemona is cheating on him with Cassio, the reason, is revenge. Scene 3 is the most important scene to the rest of the play because it accelerates the plot.

Othello is a black man in the play, of extremely high authority; he is a proud army general who is looked upon with respect by the state and many leading Dukes. He first comes across to the audience as being very composed and a gentle character towards others. However in Act III Scene 3, Othello?s character takes a dramatic transformation, from a loving, considerate man, to a man complete with hatred and full of energy for revenge.

Our first impressions of Iago are that he is a very sly and cunning man. However in Act III Scene 3 we see the true extent of his evil nature and his manipulating skills. Iago is motivated by jealousy. Iago expresses anger and remorse that the learned Cassio is promoted to lieutenant above him by Othello. He considers himself much more worthy of the position because of his superior experience and expresses and intense desire to get his revenge on Othello. Iago tells the audience in one of his soliloquies “I hate the Moor”, and he shows his hatred of Othello in the opening scene of the play. Iago refers to Othello as “the Moor”, and makes many racist comments about him such as “Barbary horse” and “an old black ram”. However Iago uses many techniques to completely transform Othello?s character.

Firstly, Iago plants seeds of suspicion in Othello?s mind, and continues to water and nurture them throughout the whole scene, until he has completely ruined Othello. For instance, Iago?s first words in Act III Scene 3 are: ?Ha! I like not that?. He is clearly trying to imply that something is going on between Desdemona and Cassio. He is doing this in a very sly manor. This clearly illustrates the fact that one of Iago?s techniques is to arouse suspicion.

?I know our Country Disposition well:

In Venice they do let God see the pranks

They dare not show their husbands; Their best conscience

Is not to leave?t undone but keep?t unknown?. Here Iago plays on Othello?s insecurities. He makes a brief statement saying that Venetian women?s consciences don?t tell them that having affairs is morally wrong only that they must keep them well hidden from their husbands. Othello knows all too well that Desdemona is a Venetian woman and Iago is using this to imply that since Desdemona is a Venetian woman, what would excuse her from acting the way the majority do. The only reason this technique is so effective is because Othello does not come from Venice but instead a land far away. He feels like an outsider at this comment and knows little of Venetian custom and tradition. As Iago so boldly states he knows ?our country disposition well? and as far as Othello is concerned he is a trustworthy source of information.?

?Look to her, Moor, if thou has eyes to see

She has deceived her father and may thee?.

Iago says ?She did deceive her father marrying you, and when she seem?d to shake and fear your looks, she?d love them most?. This clearly means to remind Othello of Brabantino?s earlier warning. If she deceived her father, the man who had loved and cherished her all her life, what would stop her from deceiving her husband? The audience at this point suspect that Othello would be quite distraught at this proposition.

By repeating certain words Iago also emphasises their meaning to Othello. ?Honest? is an important word because it is the centre of the conversation. Is Cassio honest? By repeating this word it may seem to Othello that Iago thinks he?s not. ?Think? could also be an important word. Think leaves no room for doubt, you are not certain he is honest.

Iago later behinds to hold back his thoughts and lets Othello try to dwindle him down into saying them. By Iago playing this sly game, it makes Othello more intrigued to know his thoughts; he uses Othello’s curiosity against him. Another technique Iago uses to warn Othello is jealousy.

?Oh beware, my lord, of Jealousy,

It is the green-eyed Monster

which doth mock the meat it feeds on?.

Whilst pretending to maintain his integrity by not telling Othello, Iago now releases monster. He had said nothing that would indicate that Othello should have reason to be jealous, but by warning him now of jealousy, he suggests that there may be something about which to be jealous. Iago does this to show his pretence companionship towards Othello, as if he’s looking out for him when really it’s quite the converse.

This however builds great tenseness towards the audience because the audience don?t know what Othello is thinking right at this moment due to the fact that Iago has planted the seed of jealousy into Othello?s mind leaving him confused.

One of Iago’s final techniques in undermining Othello’s trust in Desdemona is his use of imagery to ‘sicken’ Othello. Iago uses images of “goats” and “monkeys” to represent Cassio and Desdemona and describes them having a sexual relationship together. Iago also is using this speech to think of a way that he can prove to Othello that Cassio and Desdemona are in fact involved in a sexual relationship together. Iago also is using this speech to think of a way that he can prove to Othello that Cassio and Desdemona are in fact involved in a sexual relationship together. Some may describe Iago as ‘Wasting time’ here and planning what he will do and say to Othello next. Iago ‘cooks up’ the perfect plan, this involves Cassio sleep talking. As Iago has Othello’s full trust, Othello does not even consider this not to be true.

Iago confesses to Othello that “in sleep I heard him say ‘Sweet Desdemona’. Iago also tells of Cassio’s sexual advance on him to further anger Othello. Iago has now given Othello the perfect evidence and as Othello now trusts Iago completely he will believe it. The last dramatic device which Iago uses to make Othello feel even worse is add the handkerchief into the agenda. He comments on a handkerchief which he has seen in Cassio’s lodgings, Iago also gives Othello the picture of Cassio using this important gift and family air loom to Othello, also his first gift to his wife Desdemona to “see Cassio wipe his beard with”.

This image angers Othello completely. However this will be a time of great tension for the audience as they wait with bated breath to see what will happen next. They will reflect on how cruel the torturer is being to his victim and be fascinated but appalled by how clever Iago is ?having everything planned so neatly. They would very much want Othello not to jump to conclusions.

This is where Act III Scene 3 abruptly ends, with Iago swearing to serve Othello in everything. The scene finishes with Othello declaring he will kill Desdemona and appointing his newfound companion Iago as his lieutenant:

?Damn her, lewd minx! O, damn her, damn her!

Come, go with me apart. I will withdraw

To furnish me with some sift means of death

For the fair devil. Now art thou my lieutenant?.

This ending is very unexpected and almost infuriating as it leaves the audience in shock because only they know that Othello is making the wrong decision, all due to Iago’s malicious and scheming ways. The scene is also quite upsetting for the audience, as the reality of Desdemona’s deliberate death is just around the corner, and they know she is the innocent, yet a condemned victim. Othello also instructs Iago to kill Cassio too, as in Othello’s mind Cassio is as much to blame as his dishonest wife; they are both works of pure evil.


The key moment in this scene where the audience knows for certain that Othello is convinced is when Iago belittles Othello and Desdemona’s relationship, regarding it in its most instinctive form, a sexual relationship. Othello however approaches it as serious and loving relationship, “? Nor to comply with heat the young affects in me defunct and proper satisfaction; But to be free and bounteous to her mind.” That is why the audience is particularly amazed that Othello resorts to animalistic images too.

Othello refers to Desdemona as “haggard”, a hawk that cannot be tamed. He also refers to himself as a “toad”; this is a far cry from the man who stood in front of the Duke and other important men of Venice declaring his love. Shakespeare uses this technique to show us that Othello has lost his confidence and is no longer self-assured. As he becomes more and more angry his control through his speech begins to slip, no longer does he speak in long flowing sentences but now in exclamations, which hints at his loss of capability to loose his temper. He is also speaking in a similar way to Iago and this may symbolise that he has come to think in the same manner. These images show the audience the depth of Othello’s jealousy, the woman he loved he now criticize.

However the most effective method that Iago uses to convince Othello of Desdemona’s infidelity is by using one of Othello’s most treasured possessions and telling Othello that his wife, Desdemona has given it away to her lover, Cassio. The handkerchief was the first gift he gave to Desdemona, so it possesses enormous sentimental value to Othello. Finding out that Desdemona has given it away shows her as inimical. It must have hurt and angered him, after all the woman he loves and is married to has given away without a care for him, would almost certainly anger him, for in Othello’s mind she has thought the handkerchief to be a meaningless piece of cloth. This is enough proof for Othello to be convinced that Iago is telling the truth and for him to kill both Desdemona and Cassio.

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Act 3 scene 3 is a Pivotal Scene In The Play Othello. (2017, Jul 10). Retrieved from

Act 3 scene 3 is a Pivotal Scene In The Play Othello

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