Othello Act 4, Scene 1 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 4, scene 1 of Shakespeare's 'Othello'. In this scene, the effects of Iago's evil influence become more severe. We catch a glimpse of where these terrible events may lead!

When Villains Win

Can you remember how you felt when the evil Scar kills the good Mufasa in The Lion King? You knew what was coming before your beloved characters did. The same is true in Act 4, scene 1 of Shakespeare's Othello, and we can only look on helplessly as the villain Iago spins a tale which poisons more and more people.

Lies, Lies, Lies

As the scene opens, we see Othello and Iago walk onstage mid-conversation. Iago is up to the same nasty tricks, trying to get Othello to suspect his wife, Desdemona, of having an affair with his former Lieutenant, Cassio.

Iago kicks it up a notch here, though, resorting to all-out lies instead of just subtle suggestions. This time, Iago comes out and says that Cassio has confessed that he did 'lie...with her, on her, what you will.' To 'lie with' someone means to have sex with that person. Naturally, Othello doesn't like this news. 'O devil!' he cries out, and then he falls into an epileptic fit.

More Conniving

While Othello is busy having his fit, Iago revels to himself at how his plan is working: 'Work on, my medicine, work! Thus credulous fools are caught.' Credulous means gullible. He is quite pleased at the distress and mayhem he is causing. He gets a chance to orchestrate some more as Cassio appears while Othello is unconscious. He craftily tells Cassio to go away before Othello wakes up, but instructs him to come back soon after. Soon we find out exactly why!

Once Othello is revived, we begin to see what further traps Iago has in store. 'Do but encave yourself,' Iago tells Othello, meaning he should hide himself in the room. Then, when Cassio comes back, Iago proposes to 'make him tell the tale anew, where, how, how oft, how long ago, and when he hath and is again to cope your wife.' Here, Iago says he will get Cassio to talk about all the times he has committed adultery with Desdemona while Othello is hidden nearby and can hear. But we, the audience, know that Cassio hasn't actually done these things--so how does Iago plan to achieve this?

False Proof

Iago has another sinister minute to talk to himself while Othello hides, in which he tells us, 'Now I will question Cassio of Bianca, a housewife that by selling her desires buys herself bread and clothes.' Bianca, as we have learned before, is a prostitute and is rather involved with Cassio.

And so, cunningly, Iago gets Cassio to talk about Bianca where Othello can hear him. Othello is busily thinking Cassio speaks of his own wife, Desdemona. It is made all the worse when Bianca shows up with Desdemona's handkerchief which Cassio had found and previously given to her. Of course, Othello takes this as firm proof of the affair and he is spurred into a wild rage.

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