Literature Study GuidesOthelloAct 2 Scene 1 Summary

Othello | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 2, Scene 1

Professor Bradley Greenburg of Northeastern Illinois University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 2, Scene 1 of William Shakespeare's play Othello.

Othello | Act 2, Scene 1 | Summary



The play's setting moves from Venice to Cyprus, where Cassio has arrived first. A storm has caused delay and there's concern for the safety of Othello and the others. Next to land is Desdemona, who has sailed with Iago and his wife, Emilia. While they wait for Othello, they banter about women's desire, which gives us a clearer idea of Iago's underlying hostility toward women, whose nature he believes to be fundamentally deceptive. When Iago notices that Cassio and Desdemona are friendly, and that they look like a "natural" couple, he hatches his plan to use jealousy to enact his revenge. Then Othello arrives, greets Desdemona, and announces that the Turkish fleet has been destroyed by the storm.


This scene, in which we leave Venice for Cyprus for the remainder of the play, sets the stage for Iago's plan of vengeance against Othello. The first indication of his strategy is his overt misogyny—that is, his contempt for women. They are dishonest and promiscuous, he insists, speaking playfully but revealing what we've already observed in his asides and behavior. His resentment at being spurned for a promotion by Othello is coupled with his negative attitude toward women.

Present during this witty conversation is Iago's wife, Emilia, who shows no indication that she'll stand up to her husband in order to defend her gender. The banter that precedes Othello's arrival also sets the tone for the sexual innuendo that follows. For Iago's plot of jealousy to succeed, illicit sexual activity has to be implied. Cyprus will not be on the war footing that was anticipated, but rather, as Othello will soon confirm, a place of peace and revelry. This is fertile ground for mischief.

When Iago spots amity between Desdemona and Cassio, in the form of polite hand-holding, he quickly imagines what kind of plot will most effectively torment the storytelling, imaginative Othello. Add to this revenge on Cassio, who has been promoted over him by Othello, and Iago has a plan that will trap all those who, he feels, have wronged him.

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