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Literature Study GuidesOthelloAct 2 Scene 3 Summary

Othello | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 2, Scene 3

Professor Bradley Greenburg of Northeastern Illinois University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 2, Scene 3 of William Shakespeare's play Othello.

Othello | Act 2, Scene 3 | Summary



The celebration gets under way. Iago encourages Cassio to drink, hoping to take advantage of his inability to handle liquor. Though Cassio knows better, Iago persuades him, making him a ripe target. Iago sets Roderigo up to quarrel with him and a brawl breaks out. Cassio beats Roderigo; and Montano, who tries to intervene, is wounded. The fracas interrupts Othello's private time with Desdemona and he arrives angry, swiftly demoting Cassio and casting him from his service.

After Othello returns to his lodging, Cassio complains of his carelessness to Iago. Iago, feigning friendship, reassures him that he can help. He suggests Cassio appeal to Desdemona to intercede with her husband. Thus begins Iago's larger strategy to make it appear that Desdemona and Cassio are having an affair. Cassio, unsuspecting, and having no alternative, readily agrees to appeal to Desdemona.

After Cassio exits, Iago offers a soliloquy in which he suggests that he's only giving advice and that it's Cassio's responsibility to see what kind of trouble it might bring him. The scene ends with Roderigo, disappointed again, beaten, almost out of money, and determined to return to Venice. Iago reassures him his plan has just begun and that he should stay.


Iago begins to turn the screw on Othello and Desdemona. He does this by first compromising Cassio, who he'll use as a wedge to drive between them. It's important to note the indirectness that characterizes his method. He's playing the long game.

Equally important is his strategy of ingratiating himself with those he's setting up. His cultivation of the nickname "Honest Iago" demonstrates how effective he is in getting his adversaries to participate in their own destruction.

Late in the scene, Iago's offers a soliloquy. It begins with: "And what's he then that says I play the villain? When this advice is free I give and honest, Probal to thinking and indeed the course To win the Moor again? For 'tis most easy The inclining Desdemona to subdue In any honest suit: she's framed as fruitful As the free elements." The "inclining Desdemona" refers to her credulousness: she's inclined to believe what she hears, as she did with Othello's tales of adventure. And, furthermore, Cassio is so desperate to return to Othello's good graces that he'll do anything, believe easily a man of Iago's skill. This makes them both ripe for manipulation.

The end of the soliloquy uses the image of a net enmeshing all Iago's victims. This important metaphor foreshadows the way the setting reflects a net, or trap, slowly closing on its victims. Note the constricting movement from Venice, where there's space to roam, to Cyprus, an island with limited space. It proceeds to the fortress, a garden and private rooms within, the bedchamber and, finally, the bed itself, where the net closes.

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