- Read Act 4 Scene 2 1-180 and answer these nine questions. Then finish reading the scene.
Extension task: read the analysis on this scene here http://www.litcharts.com/lit/othello/act-4-scene-2
And read the summary and ideas below:
- Othello’s questioning of Emilia reveals nothing new, but this, he takes to be evidence of Desdemona’s subtlety;
- Desdemona, confronted with his accusations is puzzled, but he leaves her before she thinks to ask the details of her offence;
- Iago, sent for by Desdemona, affects sympathy, before the women go in for dinner, and he has to pacify Roderigo.
Relationship to the play as a whole
Othello is filled with jealous anger, but has recovered some of his composure and eloquence, as he notes the seeming discrepancy between Desdemona’s physical beauty and (supposed) moral corruption; the audience sees the real correspondence of moral and physical beauty. Desdemona protests her innocence, but does not press Othello to specify the details of his accusation. Were she to do so, Iago’s plot would be exposed by Emilia and Cassio; ironically, Othello does not mention the handkerchief here, so Emilia has no occasion to clear Desdemona on this matter. The audience is keenly aware of Iago’s danger; that he comes so near to discovery, yet evades it, is painful to us. When Emilia suggests that some “eternal villain” has slandered Desdemona, Iago sees how precarious his position is.
Emilia uses the words somewhat loosely, as a conventional epithet for a rogue, but we see how “eternal villain”, as a serious description, is exactly right for Iago. At first, Iago denies that such a man could exist; as she describes his likely conduct, Iago urges her to speak quietly (if Othello heard this, even in his confused state, he might discover his error).
Roderigo’s complaint shows Iago his danger even more clearly: this dissatisfied suitor has only to complain publicly and Iago is lost. Iago sees now the full logic of his position( the expected soliloquy in which he explains it to the audience comes as an aside at the start of Act V): Roderigo, Cassio and Desdemona must all die, and even then he is in danger from his own wife, though managing her silence will appear as the least of his problems. Othello has undertaken to kill Desdemona; now Iago sees how Roderigo and Cassio may both be disposed of, as he offers to be Roderigo’s “second”, in ambushing Cassio (in reality, being on hand to finish off the survivor of the fight).
Shakespeare here conveys a sense of impending crisis, yet Othello’s retribution is delayed until he and Desdemona retire to bed, after the dinner which intervenes (we have no sense of this actually occurring; if we try to imagine it, we wonder how Othello’s conduct will not prompt some disclosure from Emilia; presumably, he bides his time, but wisely the dramatist simply moves forward to the end of the banquet in the next scene).
Desdemona’s kneeling to pray, her reluctance even to repeat Othello’s obscene language, contrasts graphically with the kneeling of Othello and Iago in III, iii: where Iago is a picture of devilish hypocrisy, and Othello the epitome of unwarranted jealous indignation, Desdemona is the embodiment of innocence and beauty, an idea developed in the next scene where she is shocked to learn from Emilia of the wiles of other women; she is also an embodiment of doomed vulnerability. Like Othello earlier, she kneels before Iago and solicits his help; we know that this prayer falls on deaf ears.
Othello is resolute but composed, and he has recovered his rhetorical powers. He attempts to moralize about his situation, to explain how he could endure all sorts of trials, even the world’s contempt, but when he considers his own plight, this, he claims, is too much for the “rose-lipped” face of patience; the right response is his, as he looks “grim as hell”. The device of repetition, which we have met earlier in the play, appears as Othello four times repeats Desdemona’s “committed”. The rhetorical question (conventionally) presupposes the answer is obvious; the audience sees that what is obvious to Othello is neither obvious to Desdemona, innocent both of any offence and of Othello’s meaning, nor true.