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THE STORY - SUMMARY AND NOTES
ACT II, SCENE II
Othello's herald announces a celebration. Because of the retreat of the Turks and the official start of Othello's and Desdemona's honeymoon, everyone is given permission to eat, drink, and be merry (with free food and drink!) from 5 P.M. until 11 P.M.
The party offers Iago the perfect setting for the next phase of his plan.
ACT II, SCENE III
It is nightfall, and the celebration is nearly over. Othello puts Cassio in charge of the guard and orders him to make sure nothing gets out of hand. Now that his wedding night has finally arrived, Othello wants peace and quiet. Cassio indicates that Iago will be around to help him, and once again Othello remarks on his ensign's honesty.
After Othello has gone to bed, Iago gets Cassio drunk. It isn't easy; the lieutenant knows he has a weak head for alcohol and has already had one drink. But Iago plays on Cassio's loyalty to Othello. There are a group of Cypriot soldiers drinking to the Moor's health, how can Cassio refuse?
Things are going smoothly for Iago. He'll soon have Cassio drunk. Roderigo, depressed over Desdemona, is already drunk, and so are the three Cypriots, thanks to Iago. It shouldn't be difficult to stir up trouble. Montano joins the group, and the party becomes loud and boisterous. As expected, Cassio is soon drunk, although he swears he isn't. Iago points him out to Montano. Cassio's a good man, says Iago, but recently his drinking has gotten out of hand. Montano's concerned, and suggests they tell Othello. Iago protests; he says he loves Cassio too much to betray him. But, of course, Iago has already planted doubts about Cassio in Montano's mind.
Cassio goes off but soon returns, with Roderigo chasing him. Roderigo has insulted him and provoked a fight. Montano tries to restrain Cassio, but Cassio, drunk and furious, turns on him and slashes him with his sword. Iago orders Roderigo to sound the alarm, then scolds Cassio for his behavior.
The alarm does just what Iago hoped it would: Othello is awakened and comes out in a fury. Why, he wants to know, has his wedding night been disturbed? When no one will answer him, Iago "reluctantly" offers to explain. Claiming that he wouldn't hurt Cassio for anything in the world, Iago manages to shift the blame to the poor lieutenant. He succeeds, by "defending" Cassio, in getting him fired. Othello has no choice but to use Cassio as an example. Desdemona comes out to see what's wrong. Othello assures her that all is well, and they return to bed.
Othello's behavior in this scene is worth examining. His anger is justifiable. He trusted Cassio to keep order, and Cassio failed. His warning to those present, when no one will step forward to tell him what happened, tells us something new and important about his emotional make-up:
Now, by heaven, My blood begins my safer guide to rule, And passion, having my best judgment collied, Assays to lead the way. If I once stir Or do but life this arm, the best of you Shall sink in my rebuke. Act II, Scene iii, lines 207-12 Othello admits that he has a fierce temper. Even now, his anger is beginning to get the better of his judgment, and he warns that if he's ever given cause to strike out in anger, no one will be safe.
Until now, we've seen Othello remain calm in tense situations: during Brabantio's accusations, the investigation of the Senate into his marriage, and at the threat of war. Now we discover that he does have a temper, even though its fuse is long. And if his temper is tested, as it almost is tonight, the consequences could be dangerous. Its good to keep this aspect of Othello's personality in mind as you read further.
Poor Cassio! One foolish mistake and he loses both his job and Othello's respect. Iago can't understand why Cassio is making such a fuss. A reputation, he says, is something others give to you. It's often won and lost without any good reason. Cassio can win back his reputation, Iago insists, if he tries. He's only a loser if he calls himself a loser, according to Iago.
Cassio won't be consoled. He's lost everything he prizes for the sake of a few drinks! How can he face Othello now? We feel sympathy for Cassio when we remember that he only agreed to drink out of kindness to his Cypriot hosts and his loyalty to Othello.
Naturally, Iago has words of advice. Go to Desdemona, Iago says. She is so good and so generous that she'll sympathize. Since Othello can't refuse her anything, Cassio, according to Iago, will have his job back in no time. Cassio is grateful for Iago's help and promises to see Desdemona in the morning. How can Cassio know that he's playing the fly to Iago's spider? Cassio unwittingly helps seal the doom of two people he loves.
Alone, Iago pretends innocence. Who could consider him a villain? he wonders. He's just offered excellent advice to Cassio. Where is the evil in that?
But his mask quickly falls. Devils, Iago says, cover their most evil deeds with honest intentions. His plan takes a more concrete shape. He'll tell Othello that Desdemona isn't pleading for Cassio out of kindness,
but because she loves the lieutenant and is sleeping with him. The more Desdemona defends Cassio, the more Othello will see it as proof of her adultery. Iago will use Desdemona's goodness to trap everyone in his net. It doesn't seem to bother him that Desdemona will be an innocent victim of his plot.
Roderigo enters, more discouraged than ever. What a pitiful figure he makes! His money is almost gone, he's been beaten up by Cassio, and he has no hope of winning Desdemona. He might as well return to Venice. If Roderigo were not being cruelly used by Iago, he would be comical. As it is, he's just a sad pawn in an ugly game.
Iago convinces Roderigo that things are going well. Just as they planned, Cassio is out of the picture. Roderigo must be patient. Once again, Roderigo accepts what Iago tells him.
Alone again, Iago plots his two immediate objectives: 1) to get Emilia to speak to Desdemona on Cassio's behalf and 2) to make sure that Othello sees Cassio asking Desdemona for the favor. With his ability to think quickly and to seize opportunity where it presents itself, Iago seems to have a clear path ahead of him.