Literature Study GuidesOthelloAct 3 Scene 1 Summary

Othello | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Othello | Act 3, Scene 1 | Summary



Cassio has hired musicians to play in the street near the castle where Othello and Desdemona are staying. But a Clown, Othello's servant, tells the musicians they may play only silent music. Iago has convinced Cassio to ask Emilia, Desdemona's gentlewoman, for help in getting Desdemona to plead his case to Othello. Cassio has done this, by sending a message to Emilia. Iago then tells Cassio he will send Emilia to hear what Cassio has to say in person, and Cassio is very grateful. Iago exits, and shortly Emilia enters, with reports that Desdemona is already speaking to Othello about the situation. Cassio, apparently concerned that this may not be enough, asks Emilia to arrange a meeting between himself and Desdemona. Emilia thinks Iago is just trying to help Cassio. However, with dramatic irony common to Shakespeare, the audience knows that this is to make Othello believe Desdemona and Cassio are secret lovers.


Cassio is trying to make up for his blunder and get back in Othello's good graces by hiring some musicians to play for the newly wedded couple on their first real night together. It doesn't seem to work.

Iago continues to put his plan into motion. He's already convinced Cassio to contact Emilia, and now he sends Emilia to Cassio to report back on his suit in person. Iago knows that his goal of incriminating Cassio will be furthered by a meeting between Desdemona and Cassio (one that Othello could, perhaps, walk in on—which is exactly what happens). But he cannot be the one to set up such a meeting, because there isn't any way he could go directly to Desdemona without giving away his role in the whole plot. At times, he can take direct action—as when he encourages Cassio to get drunk—while maintaining his persona as a trusted friend and fellow soldier, but he can't go in secret to Othello's wife without arousing suspicion. So, he manipulates Cassio in making the first overture to Emilia, then escalates the situation by sending Emilia to Cassio for a meeting where Cassio can speak more freely of what he wants (which is "access" to Desdemona) than he could in a message. The growing gap between what the characters know about Iago's nature and what the audience knows is a stunning example of dramatic irony. The fact is, from the start, Iago has identified himself as the villain of the story and then keeps the audience apprised of all his nefarious plots and plans, which builds suspense. It also causes the audience to wonder who the main character of the play really is: Othello or Iago?

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