Literature Study GuidesOthelloAct 3 Scene 4 Summary

Othello | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Othello | Act 3, Scene 4 | Summary

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Summary

The next time Othello speaks to Desdemona, he becomes angry because she does not have the handkerchief. She doesn't understand why he is so upset, not realizing he suspects she and Cassio are having an affair, and so continues to ask him to restore Cassio's rank. This only makes Othello even more furious.

Cassio meets his lover, Bianca, and gives her the handkerchief, which he has found in his room but doesn't know is Desdemona's. He asks Bianca to copy the stitching on it.

Analysis

Othello can hardly contain his emotions as he greets Desdemona and holds her hand. His self-control is crumbling quickly, and his language reflects it. As he speaks to her, his eloquence disappears, and he resorts to demands such as "Is 't lost? Is 't gone? Speak, is 't out o' th' way?" "Fetch 't. Let me see 't," and also, the thrice-repeated "The handkerchief!" In addition to this loss of eloquence, and the animal references introduced in the previous scene, Othello refers more often to hell and the devil. For example, he tells Desdemona her hand is a "young and sweating devil ... /That commonly rebels." Iago's influence continues to grow in him.

As he loses his reason and is overtaken by his jealousy, the handkerchief becomes disproportionately important to Othello as a symbol of Desdemona's faithfulness. In his mind, it represents her fidelity to him. By losing it, her infidelity is confirmed.

Desdemona seals her own fate in this scene, as she accepts the help of Iago to help her deal with Othello's increasing anger. This gives Iago an opportunity to appear to help her: He offers, "I will go meet him./There's matter in 't indeed if he be angry." She accepts, making her own deal with the devil: "I prithee do so."

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