Literature Study GuidesOthelloAct 2 Scene 1 Summary

Othello | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Othello | Act 2, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

Cassio has arrived on the island of Cyprus and is talking to Montano, who was governor of the island before the war. Cassio and Montano are concerned because the ships carrying the others have not arrived, and there has been word of a storm out at sea. But then the ship carrying Desdemona and Iago lands safely, and Cassio, Iago, Desdemona, and Iago's wife, Emilia, banter together. Iago notices that Cassio takes Desdemona's hand as he talks to her, and this gives him an idea to make Othello dislike Cassio: "With as little a web as this will I ensnare as great a fly as Cassio," he explains. Then Othello arrives, greets Desdemona, and announces that the Turkish fleet is destroyed.

Analysis

This scene serves the plot by getting all the main characters together in Cyprus. Until now, the focus of the story has been on Othello, so this scene allows the audience to get to know the other characters without Othello's presence. It shows that Iago can seem charming even when he is being somewhat crude: women "rise to play, and go to bed to work," he says, to general amusement. The scene also introduces Emilia, Iago's wife. It is important to notice the marriage of Iago and Emilia has some tension in it, but also Emilia goes along with her husband's joking even as he makes fun of her, suggesting she nags him and she annoys him by talking when he wants to sleep. Emilia tolerates and even seems to encourage his joking about women.

This general bantering fleshes out the characters and relationships, so the audience can better understand the material Iago has to work with as he begins his masterful manipulations. By the end of the play, Iago will have manipulated each one of the assembled characters. Desdemona is good and kind; he will exploit that. He will exploit Emilia's willingness to go along with his "games." He will exploit Cassio's fondness for and trust in Desdemona.

More importantly, when he sees Cassio hold Desdemona's hand, Iago seems to find the kernel of the plan that will eventually bring Othello down. Iago sees the friendliness between Cassio and Desdemona, and realizes at once that this can be leverage. It is an epiphany for Iago. First, he plans to use this friendliness to get back at Cassio, but soon this plan will be woven together with his plan to get back at Othello.

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