Othello Act 4, Scene 2 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 what happens in Act 4, Scene 2 of Shakespeare's Othello. Here we see Iago continuing in his horrible plots to ruin the lives of many people. The effects of his awful influences become ever more apparent.

Emilia's Defense

Act 4, Scene 2 of Shakespeare's Othello opens with Othello questioning Emilia, Desdemona's attendant and Iago's wife, about Desdemona's supposed relationship with Cassio. Emilia insists she has always been present during their interactions and has never seen anything questionable between them. Emilia swears Desdemona and Cassio have never whispered together, never sent her away while they were together, and never been any more than ordinary, innocent friends. 'I durst, my lord, to wager she is honest,' Emilia insists, 'lay down my soul at stake.' Emilia here is willing to stake her own soul on the goodness of Desdemona. Sadly, Othello's mind is too poisoned to receive this assurance.

Poor Desdemona

When Emilia leaves to fetch Desdemona, Othello dismisses her ardent defense of Desdemona's virtue by saying 'she's a simple bawd that cannot say as much.' A bawd is either someone who keeps a brothel or is a prostitute herself. Either way, it is clear Othello doesn't think much of her or her testimony. When Desdemona enters, Othello tells her she is 'false as hell.' He goes on to call her an 'impudent strumpet' and 'a whore.' Strumpet is another word for whore. Desdemona is heartbroken and confused, but no matter how she defends herself and swears her fidelity, Othello does not believe her.

Desdemona Asks Iago for Help

When Othello leaves Desdemona after calling her awful names and being cruel to her, to whom does Desdemona go for help? Iago! Iago, of course, feigns concern for her and gives her various encouragements, even though he is the one who poisoned Othello's mind with jealousy and orchestrated complex deceits to 'prove' it. 'Oh good Iago,' poor Desdemona says, 'what shall I do to win my lord again?' The evil Iago tells her he must be cranky about work and she shouldn't worry--after which he promptly sets off to orchestrate more awful things.

Roderigo Is Manipulated Again

As Desdemona leaves with Iago's false comfort, Roderigo enters. We have seen Iago manipulating this poor guy since the beginning of the play. He is in love with Desdemona and has been going to Iago for help with this plight. Iago (surprise, surprise) has been hurting rather than helping him. Here, Iago convinces Roderigo to give Desdemona jewels, suggesting this gift would surely convince her to have an affair with him.

We can infer that quite a lot of valuable jewels are involved here, as Roderigo says they would 'half have corrupted a votarist.' A votarist is a nun sworn to chastity. We also learn that Roderigo had given these jewels to Iago to deliver to Desdemona, and Iago has assured Roderigo he has done so. Given what we have seen of Iago so far, it is pretty safe to assume that Iago delivered the jewels to himself rather than Desdemona. Poor Roderigo!

Cassio's Pending Doom

After all of this, Roderigo is finally fed up. He tells Iago he is going to ask Desdemona for his jewels back, apologize for trying to buy sexual favors from her, pack up his things, and go home. Iago, of course, doesn't want this. He would rather have Roderigo stay so that he can continue to slowly steal all of his money. He also probably doesn't want to be discovered for having stolen the jewels in question.

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