Literature Study GuidesOthelloAct 3 Scene 4 Summary

Othello | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 3, Scene 4

Professor Bradley Greenburg of Northeastern Illinois University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 3, Scene 4 of William Shakespeare's play Othello.

Othello | Act 3, Scene 4 | Summary

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Summary

Desdemona is determined to advance Cassio's suit, only to be confronted about her handkerchief. When she tells him she doesn't have it, Othello offers a lengthy explanation of its origins: it was a gift from an Egyptian charmer to his mother, who used it to "subdue" his father. Losing it, Othello emphasizes, would break the spell of love. "There's magic in the web of it," he adds.

After Othello exits, Cassio arrives to plead further with Desdemona. She tells him that she's trying, but that her husband is out of sorts. They speculate about what's going on with Othello, wondering about the cause of his sudden jealousy. At scene's end we learn that Cassio has found the handkerchief in his chamber as he asks his lover, Bianca, to copy the stitching on it.

Analysis

The importance of the handkerchief comes to the fore in this scene. Othello, who in Act 1 dismissed Brabantio's charges of "witchcraft," "charms," and "magic," here succumbs to the idea that this little piece of cloth has power "in the web of it." This demonstrates a further erosion of his self-assurance. We also learn that Iago has planted the handkerchief in Cassio's bedchamber, advancing his plan to provide ocular proof of the affair with Desdemona.

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