Othello Act 3, Scene 4 Summary & Quotes

Instructor: Lauren Boivin

Lauren has taught English at the university level and has a master's degree in literature.

This lesson provides an overview of Act 3, scene 4 of Shakespeare's 'Othello'. In this scene, Iago furthers his nefarious plots of envy and malice as he poisons Othello's mind with jealousy.

Helpless Audience

Have you ever felt anxious, even helpless, as the dire events unfold in a movie or in a book? Audiences in the 1600s felt just this way as they were forced to watch helplessly as Shakespeare's characters in Othello became more and more entangled in Iago's evil web.

Comic Relief

Act 3, Scene 4 of William Shakespeare's Othello opens with Desdemona talking with 'Clown.' As one might expect from a character called 'Clown', Desdemona is not given straightforward answers to her questions.

She asks him if he knows 'where Lieutenant Cassio lies'--meaning, 'where does he sleep?' The Clown, however, picks up on the other meaning of the word 'lie' (to tell an untruth) and has some fun at her expense. 'I dare not say he lies anywhere,' the clown begins, meaning he doesn't want to call Cassio a liar.

Desdemona just remains perplexed, however, and so as the audience we are treated to some amusing banter. Desdemona gains nothing and the Clown wanders off the stage.

The Handkerchief

Remember that previously in the play, Desdemona dropped a certain handkerchief that Othello had given her while they were dating. Emilia picked it up and gave it to Iago, her husband, at his request. She isn't sure what he wants to do with it, but we as the audience know it can't be for anything good.

In Act 3, Scene 4, we see that Desdemona is all kinds of distressed that she can't find it. Fortunately, she tells Emilia, her husband Othello is not a jealous man, so there shouldn't be any trouble from him. If she only knew!

Iago's Poison at Work

Moments after Desdemona tells Emilia how her husband is not prone to jealousy, Othello enters and is very jealous indeed. Iago, we will remember, has previously told Othello that he saw Cassio wiping his beard with Desdemona's special handkerchief as part of his plot to make Othello suspect Desdemona and Cassio are having an affair.

Othello is harsh and short with Desdemona, which confuses her, and he demands to see the handkerchief which, of course, she can't produce because Iago has stolen it. Othello is angry and leaves abruptly. Desdemona doesn't know what to make of it. Emilia concludes this as evidence of the fact that men are pigs, 'They are all but stomachs, and we but food,' she tells Desdemona, 'they eat us hungerly, and when they are full, they belch us.'

Cassio and Desdemona

After Othello exits the stage, Cassio enters with Iago. Cassio comes to find Desdemona to ask her again to petition Othello to give him his job of Lieutenant back. Desdemona is innocently and kindly trying to help Cassio, but unfortunately this is all part of Iago's plot. Iago has suggested to Cassio that he go through Desdemona in his efforts to regain his position in order that it would be easier to make Othello think Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio.

Neither of them knows this, of course, so they go on blithely doing ordinary innocent things which are seen as evidence of dastardly deeds beneath. Desdemona goes to find Othello to ask him once more about Cassio's job.

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