Literature Study GuidesOthelloAct 3 Scene 3 Summary

Othello | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Othello | Act 3, Scene 3 | Summary



Desdemona, Cassio, and Emilia are talking about Cassio's desire that Othello give him his rank back when Iago and Othello enter. Cassio leaves in a rush, feeling uneasy about his standing with Othello. Iago remarks that Cassio looks like a guilty man, leaving so quickly.

Desdemona asks Othello to give Cassio his rank back, and Othello seems to agree. Then Iago speaks to Othello alone. He hints that Desdemona and Cassio are lovers, and Othello, who trusts Iago, begins to have suspicions. Iago, still acting like Othello's friend, tells him to watch out for jealousy, "the green-eyed monster which doth mock/the meat it feeds on." But even in warning Othello in this way, he arouses Othello's suspicions. Iago keeps dropping hints until Othello demands to know what he truly thinks. Iago suggests that Othello watch Desdemona and Cassio interact.

Desdemona accidentally drops a handkerchief Othello had given her, and Emilia picks it up it, remembering Iago had asked her many times to get it for him. At first, she plans to get a copy made and give Iago the copy. Instead, Iago takes the handkerchief from her and tells her to say nothing. He plans to drop it in Cassio's room to make Othello believe all the lies.

Meanwhile, Othello becomes increasingly mad with jealousy. Iago tells him he has heard Cassio talk in his sleep about having sex with Desdemona. He also tells Othello he has seen Cassio with Desdemona's handkerchief. Othello takes this as a sign that Desdemona has been unfaithful to him with Cassio. Othello swears he will kill Desdemona. Iago says he will kill Cassio.


This scene is very long and advances the plot dramatically. It includes a "temptation" in which Iago manipulates Othello into thinking Desdemona is unfaithful. It also includes the whole affair of the losing and finding of the handkerchief: Desdemona accidentally drops her handkerchief, and Emilia retrieves it and gives it to Iago. It is this point that will, later, allow Emilia to put two and two together and figure out that her own husband is behind all the suffering. (Also, this is the only time Iago and Emilia are alone together in the play.) The scene ends as Iago and Othello are alone again, with Othello demanding "ocular proof," and Iago acting as trusted partner in avenging this (untrue) betrayal. It is at this time that Othello promotes Iago to lieutenant, rather than restoring the rank to Cassio.

The setting here is very important: the garden of the castle, which is more confining than the island of Cyprus, as Iago's net begins to close. It further parallels the biblical story of the Garden of Eden and Fall of Man. Iago plays the part of Satan, planting the seed of suspicion about Desdemona's fidelity just the way the snake piqued interest in the forbidden fruit and sowed the seeds of temptation in Adam and Eve. In addition, the snake (Satan) in the Garden of Eden uses Eve to get to Adam, just as Iago uses Desdemona to ultimately cause Othello to fall. In Genesis 2:17, God says of the forbidden tree, "in the day that you eat of it you shall die." In fact, Othello murders Desdemona later that evening. In the biblical story, the serpent tempts Eve first; here, "Adam" is the target.

Othello's language begins to contain elements of Iago's animal-infused language in this scene, showing that Iago's poison has begun to take hold. Iago uses a great deal of bestial language from the beginning of the play, and here, Othello begins to mimic this habit. For example, he says of Desdemona, "Though that her jesses were my dear heartstrings,/I'd whistle her off and let her down the wind/To prey at fortune." This is a reference to the jesses, or straps, that hold a trained falcon to its leash, and to the way the falcon owner would direct the falcon's flight. And at the end of the scene, he calls Desdemona a "lewd minx."

Strangely enough, Iago has asked Emilia to do some of his dirty work, and this shows that he trusts she will not betray him. Most of the time Iago convinces people they are doing the right thing, but here, Emilia knows stealing is wrong, even if it seems like a small theft. At the end of the play, Emilia is the only one who has all the pieces of the puzzle. Iago makes himself just a little vulnerable to her, because he needs her to do this task for him. She does ultimately betray Iago with this information, but not in time to save Desdemona.

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