Othello Act 2, Scene 1 Summary & Quotes

Instructor: Adam Hembree

Adam has an MA in English. He has taught a range of literature and theatre subjects at the university level. He has also worked as a writing tutor and academic advisor.

Act 2, Scene 1 of Othello shows the arrival of Othello, Iago, Desdemona, Emilia, and Cassio to the island of Cyprus after a dangerous storm. This lesson delivers a summary and key quotations from the scene.

Our Wars Are Done!

'I am not what I am,' Iago tells us in Act 1 when we first meet him. The beginning of Act 2 allows us to see Iago in action, proving that enigmatic statement. He outwardly jokes to defuse tension in the group, then immediately transitions into malicious plotting and conspiring when alone with the audience.

Iago is the play's villain or antagonist, a character working in direct opposition to the protagonist, Othello, the central character. Iago tells us specific reasons for his hatred of Othello and weaves his sinister web around the unsuspecting general and those closest to him. Just as Iago himself makes outward displays of friendship and honesty in spite of his hatred, he fools his victims by making them misinterpret the actions of others.

After the Storm

Act 2 dawns after a horrific storm rocks the coasts of Cyprus. We learn from Montano and several other gentlemen that the tempest was so dire that they doubt any ship could have survived. Since both the Turkish fleet and the ships bearing Othello and the rest of the Venetians were all at sea, there is considerable anxiety on shore. When a third gentleman arrives with news that the Turks have been scattered by the storm and Michael Cassio's ship has arrived, there is great relief.

Cassio is Othello's lieutenant, basically his right-hand man. He is also, as he demonstrates quickly in this scene, a very eloquent speaker and smooth-talker with women. Before Desdemona ever arrives, Cassio sings her praises quite poetically:

'He hath achieved a maid

That paragons description and wild fame,

One that excels the quirks of blazoning pens'

Cassio Charms the Ladies

Cassio's silver tongue impresses most people around him. He does not hold back when Desdemona and Emilia arrive, kissing and praising each eloquently. He apologizes smarmily to Iago for kissing Emilia, saying:

Tis my breeding

That gives me this bold show of courtesy.'

This apology may be a thinly veiled jab at Iago's lower social status. Iago is an ensign, a lower rank than Cassio. We already know that Iago wants Cassio's position as lieutenant very much. Iago never lets Cassio know this. Instead, he begins a lengthy and rather impressive run of improvised lewd jokes at the ladies' expense, much to their scandalized amusement. His response to Cassio sets the tone:

'Sir, would she give you so much of her lips

As of her tongue she oft bestows on me,

You would have enough.'

Desdemona Worries While Iago Plots

While Desdemona scolds Iago for his wordplay, she encourages him to continue. The fast-paced comedy serves as an entertaining distraction from her anxiety over Othello's safety in the storm, given that he was travelling on a separate ship. After Iago's grand finish, he steps aside and speaks to himself, narrating Cassio's behavior with Desdemona:

'He takes her by the palm. Ay, well said,

whisper. With as little a web as this will I ensnare as

great a fly as Cassio. Ay, smile upon her, do. I will

jive thee in thine own courtship.'

Iago marks Cassio's actions closely, anything suggesting impure thoughts or actions. Cassio repeatedly touches Desdemona's hands and touches his own fingers to his lips. After several such displays, Iago muses the following:

'Yet again your fingers to your lips? Would they were

clyster pipes for your sake!'

Clyster pipes, incidentally, are used to give enemas. Iago's dirty sense of humor continues into his private moments, even if his affections and loyalties do not.

Iago Preys on Roderigo

When Othello arrives to greet his wife and entourage, their marriage seems an image of perfect joy. Iago is not discouraged in his project, however. When Othello dismisses everyone and sets Iago to bring his things ashore, Iago has a moment with the unfortunate Roderigo, who is hopelessly in love with Desdemona.

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