Cassio meets with a group of musicians and a clown (a countryman) whom he sends to find Emilia. Iago sends Emilia out to speak with him, and she reports that Desdemona and Othello are discussing the events of last night. Desdemona has spoken up for Cassio, and Othello, who likes him, has undertaken to bring him back into favor when the right moment comes.
This scene serves as a kind of comic relief — that is, it gives the audience's emotions a brief pause from the tension of the preceding acts and offers the audience some respite before it is plunged into the highly emotional scenes that very swiftly follow. The setting is next morning, outside the castle, where Cassio has arranged for a group of musicians to entertain Othello and Desdemona.
In addition to the musicians, there is a clown, or jester, a figure that appears in many Renaissance plays and could be counted on to entertain the audience with his physical nimbleness and his witty double entendres. Here the clown makes humorous reference to "wind" instruments and purposely confuses "tails" and "tales" in several coarse puns before he pokes fun at the musicians' performance. Othello does not care for the music, and so the clown dismisses them with money and bids them to "vanish into the air, away!" (21).
Cassio then gives the clown a gold piece and instructs him to tell Emilia, "the gentlewoman that attends the [General's wife]" (26-27), that he (Cassio) wishes to talk with her.
Iago enters as the clown exits and notes that Cassio has not been to bed yet. Cassio confirms it; he has decided to follow Iago's suggestion and talk with Emilia and see if she can convince Desdemona to speak with him. Iago is obviously pleased and offers to keep the Moor busy so that the "converse and business" (40) of Cassio and Desdemona "may be more free" (41). The dramatic irony here (the double meaning that the audience recognizes but that the character — in this case Cassio — does not) is that Iago will keep Othello "busy" observing his wife and his courtly ex-lieutenant exchanging serious conversation. Upon Iago's exit, Cassio remarks about him that he (Cassio) "never knew / A Florentine more kind and honest" than Iago (42-43). The irony here is obvious. The audience certainly hopes that many Florentines are more honest than Iago.
Emilia enters and greets the Moor's ex-lieutenant and expresses her disappointment and sorrow at his misfortunes. From her, Cassio happily learns that already Desdemona "speaks . . . stoutly" (47) to her husband in Cassio's defense, but because Cassio wounded Cyprus' governor, a man of "great fame . . . and great affinity" (48-49), Othello cannot yet reinstate Cassio as his lieutenant. Yet Desdemona thinks that there may be some hope, for Othello "protests he loves you, / And . . . [will] take the safest [soonest] occasion . . . to bring you in again" (50-53). The news is indeed good and should satisfy Cassio, but fate makes him too impatient to resume his lieutenancy. Thus Cassio beseeches Emilia to arrange for him to speak with Desdemona alone. Emilia agrees.
quillets (24) quips; puns.
affinity (48) kinship; family.