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Othello Act 4, Scene 3 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 3 of William Shakespeare's Othello. This is a pretty short scene, but it acts as a prelude to some major action and brings up some important ideas.

Othello Scolds Desdemona

Act 4, Scene 3 of Shakespeare's Othello opens with Othello, Lodovico, Desdemona, and Emilia on stage. Othello proposes to Lodovico that they go for a walk, and then he rather abruptly orders his wife to bed as if she were a naughty child: 'Get you to bed on th' instant. I will be returned forthwith. Dismiss your attendant there. Look 't be done.' Desdemona, ever demure and obedient, answers 'I will, my lord,' because that's what a woman is 'supposed' to do in this time period.

As she goes obediently back to her room to dress for bed, Desdemona makes a few alarming statements--in talking of her wedding sheets, she tells Emilia, 'If I do die before thee, prithee shroud me in one of these same sheets.' Desdemona's melancholy persists as she recalls a sad song her mother's servant used to sing, and she goes on even to justify Othello's ill treatment of her: 'Let nobody blame him; his scorn I approve.' It is painful for the audience to watch Desdemona submit so meekly to such ill treatment!

Naive Desdemona

After being so sad and demure, Desdemona goes on to express disbelief that there could ever exist a woman who would cheat on her husband. Emilia injects some humor and some reality into this conversation.

Desdemona asks Emilia, 'Wouldst thou do such a deed for all the world?' Emilia responds 'Why, would not you?' as if to suggest, of course she would! Who wouldn't? Desdemona goes on to say, 'No, by this heavenly light,' meaning she never would. 'Nor I neither by this heavenly light;' Emilia retorts, 'I might do 't as well i' th' dark.' See what Shakespeare did right there? He's a funny guy.

Emilia Has Some Opinions

All joking aside, Emilia makes some important points in this scene. Most of us in this modern audience have probably been gritting our teeth and seething as Desdemona meekly takes the mistreatment Othello dishes out. Desdemona may have been acting in accordance with the gender role expectations in Shakespeare's time, but through Emilia, Shakespeare is able to call this all into question. These are some pretty progressive lines she speaks:

'Let husbands know /Their wives have sense like them: they see, and smell, /And have their palates both for sweet and sour / As husbands have. What is it that they do / When they change us for others? Is it sport? / I think it is. And doth affection breed it? / I think it doth. Is't frailty that thus errs? / It is so too. And have we not affections, / Desires for sport, and frailty, as men have? / Then let them use us well; else let them know / The ills we do, their ills instruct us so.'

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