Othello By William Shakespeare Summary and Analysis Act II: Scene 1

Summary

Act II and all subsequent acts take place in Cyprus, in the Venetian fortifications. Montano, Governor of Cyprus, awaits the arrival of the Venetian forces, delayed by a violent storm at sea. A messenger arrives with news that the Turkish fleet has been so damaged by the storm that it no longer threatens Cyprus. Cassio's ship, followed by Desdemona's ship, is the first Venetian ship to arrive. Desdemona's first question is for news of Othello. The two pass the time, waiting for news, and Iago watches, planning to catch Cassio in his own courtesies.

Othello finally arrives, triumphant, and he, Desdemona, and the others go into the fortress. Iago stays behind to tell Roderigo that Desdemona is in love with Cassio and convince him to pick a fight with Cassio to cause mutiny and have him removed. Iago, in his second soliloquy, speaks again of his hatred for Othello. The details are not yet clear, but Iago plans to drive Othello mad.

Analysis

An undefined length of time has elapsed since the scenes in Act I, during which Othello has set sail for Cyprus in one ship, Cassio in another, and Iago, Emilia, and Desdemona in a third. The ships arrive one by one, allowing the arriving members to talk about Othello while waiting for his arrival. Cassio describes to Montano Othello's new wife, Desdemona, with respect and a little awe as "our great captain's captain" (74). His elaborate tones underline both his education and the high expectations many have of benefits on all sides from Othello: "That he may bless this bay with his tall ship, / Make love's quick pants in Desdemona's arms, / Give renewed fire to our extincted spirits" (79-82).

Desdemona, Emilia, and Iago play word games, which show Iago's cynical view of women: " . . . you are pictures out of doors, / Bells in your parlours, wild-cats in your kitchens, / Saints in your injuries, devils being offended, / Players in your housewifery, and housewives in your beds" (108-111). That is, women are models of propriety when they go out, sweet conversationalists with guests, and angry spitfires to their servants. They claim to always be the injured party, fly into a rage at an adverse comment and are idle in matters of housework and penny-pinching with their sexual favors. Iago speaks bluntly, disparaging women, and Desdemona, along with everyone else, makes allowances for the rough speech of "honest" Iago. For balance, Emilia gives a cynical woman's view of men in Act V.

Iago meanwhile watches Cassio, seeking a weakness that he can exploit. He decides to focus on his courteous manners and attentions to Desdemona. " . . . With as little web as this will I ensnare as great a fly as Cassio. Ay, smile upon her, do. I will gyve thee in thine own courtship" (164-165). Shakespeare uses the break in rhythm — from poetry to prose, or visa versa — to denote emphasis or a change in mood. Note Iago switches from the cynically playful tone of the rhymed couplet in the colloquy to the serious prose in the aside.

The reunion of Othello and Desdemona is a happy celebration of their love. Othello greets Desdemona as his equal, his "fair warrior" (174). He has gone through Hell in the tempest and is now in Heaven with his wife and realizes that this is the happiest moment of his life: "If it were now to die, / @'Twere now to be most happy; for I fear / My soul hath her content so absolute / That not another comfort like to this / Succeeds in unknown fate" (181-184). There is also a dark side to his happiness, for he feels that the future cannot match it. Desdemona, however, looks forward — "our loves and comforts should increase, / Even as our days do grow" (186-187).

In an aside, Iago remarks that Othello is now "well tuned" (191) like a lute or guitar and sings sweetly, but Iago will "set down the pegs" (192), loosening the strings and spoiling the music, "As honest as I am." (193). Others, especially Othello, use the word "honest" in earnest when talking of Iago; Iago, however, uses it ironically. This use of an aside links Iago with stage villains in traditional forms of theatre, masques, pantomimes, and puppet shows.

Iago pushes Roderigo in an emotional stampede, overwhelming his idealized view of Desdemona with a flood of disparaging words, abusing her virtue, and besmirching her reputation. He sweeps aside Roderigo's protestations of her virtue: "Blest fig's end! (an obscene oath, a "fig" is the head of a penis) / The wine she drinks is made of grapes" (238), meaning she is just the same as ordinary women. He claims Cassio is already courting her: "They met so near with their lips that their breaths embraced together" (239-245). Iago batters Roderigo with the sheer volume of his abuse until the weak gentleman agrees to do as he is told in the plot to disgrace Cassio. Then Iago, alone on stage, speaks his thoughts.

Iago's second soliloquy is very revealing. It shows him shaping a plan out of the confusion of his emotionally charged thoughts. Iago examines his own thoughts, especially his hatred for Othello: "The Moor, howbeit that I endure him not" (269) and finds a common thread in the "poisonous mineral" of jealousy that still swirls around the rumor that Othello has enjoyed Emilia. Iago could get his revenge by seducing Desdemona: "Now I do love her too . . . / But partly led to diet my revenge, / For that I do suspect the lusty Moor / Hath leaped into my seat, the thought whereof / Doth like a poisonous mineral gnaw my inwards" (272-278). Iago uses the word "love" here in a very cynical way, making it a combination of lust and power seeking. At first he sees his seduction of Desdemona as his revenge: "Till I am evened with him, wife for wife" (280). Then Iago realizes that the unsubstantiated jealousy that torments him is the very weapon he can use against Othello, who will be even more susceptible. Iago will lead Othello, via jealousy, to madness: "Make the Moor thank me, love me, and reward me, / For making him egregiously an ass, / And practicing upon his peace and quiet / Even to madness" (289-293).

Glossary

high-wrought flood (2) heavy sea.

molestation (16) a tumult.

designment halts (22) plan is crippled.

sufferance (23) [Archaic] suffering; disaster.

Veronesa (26) ship fitted in Verona.

paragons (62) [Obsolete] surpasses.

quirks (63) ingenuities.

enwheel (87) encompass.

birdlime (126) a kind of paste.

frieze (126) rough cloth.

white (133) a pun on "wight," [Archaic] a person.

profane … counsellor (164) worldly and licentious.

home (165) to the point, bluntly.

clyster pipes (177) syringes; enema tubes.

conveniences (233) compatibilities.

heave the gorge (234) become nauseated.

pregnant (238) likely, most significant.

humane seeming (241) courteous appearance.

salt (242) lecherous.

incorporate (266) carnal, or fleshly.

sudden in choler (275) quick to anger.

rank garb (310) gross manner.

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