Literature Study GuidesOthelloAct 4 Scene 3 Summary

Othello | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 4, Scene 3

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

Othello | Act 4, Scene 3 | Summary

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Summary

Othello tells Desdemona to go to bed and to send Emilia and her other servants away for the night. As Emilia helps get her ready for bed, Desdemona remembers a song her mother's servant used to sing: "a song of Willow," about a woman whose lover left her. Emilia tries to comfort Desdemona, saying men are often jealous and treat their wives unfairly. Desdemona is shocked that wives might be unfaithful.

"Wouldst thou do such a deed for all the world?" Desdemona asks. "The world's a huge thing. It is a great price for a small vice," she replies. In Emilia's long speech that follows, she blames husbands for their wives' infidelity.

Analysis

In this scene, Othello coldly dismisses Desdemona to the bed in which he plans to kill her. In the intimate scene between the two women that follows, Desdemona expresses her confusion about why Othello thinks she could possibly be unfaithful. Emilia, more world-wise, protests that of course women have affairs. She blames this on husbands by calling out the double standard in which only men are allowed to have affairs. She gives a compelling argument for the humanity, equality, agency, and sexual needs of women. She also turns the traditional leadership role of men back on itself, noting that because men are supposed to be leaders, it's no surprise women would learn to have affairs from them.

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