Desdemona assures Cassio that she will do everything possible to regain favor with Othello. He soon enters, and Cassio departs as he is too nervous to argue his case suitably. Iago declares that Cassio would not act akin to one who is guilty, while Desdemona once more argues Cassio’s case, which causes Othello to agree to meet with him at an unspecified time. Desdemona criticizes such procrastination but he assures her he will do anything she wishes, and that he wishes to be left alone. Left alone, Iago suggests that Cassio and Desdemona had an affair while Cassio acted as a messenger for the two during the time Othello courted his wife. Iago suggests hypocrisy and adultery on Cassio’s part when he is asked if he believes Cassio to be honest, and when pressed warns Othello to watch his wife closely when Cassio is in her presence. In response Othello commands Iago to have Emilia keep watch on Desdemona and despite Iago’s attempts to lessen the weight of his accusations Othello believes he has lost his wife due to his age, race and lack of manners, lamenting ‘Haply for I am black/ And have not those soft parts of conversation/ That chamberers have; or for I am declined/ Into the vale of years – yet that’s not much -/ She’s gone’. Desdemona and Emilia then enter to go to dinner but Othello announces he has a pain in his head; when Desdemona attempts to put a handkerchief to his forehead he pushes it away and it drops to the ground. As the two leave Emilia notes that it is the handkerchief her husband wanted her to steal, ‘This was her first remembrance from the Moor,/ My wayward husband hat a hundred times/ Wooed me to steal it’ which Iago is delighted by. Iago then plans to frame Cassio by planting the handkerchief in his room but is interrupted in this thought by a returning Othello, who is angered by the previous accustations and demands proof of Desdemona and Cassio engaging in sexual activity. Iago says this is impossible but reveals that while sharing a bed with Cassio that he kissed Iago, called out Desdemona’s name and warpped his leg around Iago’s thigh. Despite asserting that this was only a dream, Iago then remarks that he saw Cassio wiping his beard with a handkerchief which was Othello’s first gift to Desdemona; this enrages Othello who vows to heaven that he will enact revenge on Cassio and his wife. Iago kneels with him and as he pledges allegiance to this cause is appointed lieutenant by Othello.
Love: The scene suggests that the love between Desdemona and Othello is not steadfast as was suggested earlier. Here there is the first true conversation Desdemona and Othello have; previously Desdemona has interjected into events and discussions without having much influence, whereas here she asserts her presence. However, Othello does not respect her wife for having independence or strength in her convictions; rather he is troubled by her requests, which seem a chore to fulfil. Later, when there is the slightest suggestion of her being unfaithful Othello immediately seizes on this; he admits that he is only given doubt by Iago, ‘be once in doubt/ Is once to be resolved’ but this is enough to create a divide. Othello needs to be able to trust Desdemona, which he no longer can as he she has lost the handkerchief which he believes is indicative of her lack of love. The ease at which Othello finds difficulty in their marriage contrasts sorely with earlier declarations of the strength of his love, such as when he declares ‘Perdition catch my soul/ But I do love thee, and when I love thee not,/ Chaos is come again’; this serves to show how the marriage is not as strong as Othello presents it.
Appearance and reality: While Othello believes Cassio’s possession of the handkerchief is ‘occular proof’ of Desdemona’s betrayal, this is not the case. Once again appearance does not reflect reality and when this is viewed by someone as single-minded as Othello, it is even more effective; this is an important part of how the play will progress towards its conclusion.
Deception: Again Iago manages to deceive another without concrete evidence or proof of what he is saying. This is in part due to his technique; much like with Cassio earlier his demeanour makes him plausible, as Othello returns angry but is calmed and appeased due to Iago’s declared allegiance to him. Such deception also serves to provide a commentary on Othello; he must take some part in the blame if he is willing to accuse his wife of unfaithfulness despite no concrete proof. Or, it may be taken that this is illustration of human character in general, which is naturally affected by insecurity and doubt.
Order and chaos: If such events were occurring in Venice, the duke would have intervened to restore calm. However, there is no semblance of order present; the highest ranked individual in Cyprus (Montano) is recovering after being stabbed (which may be seen as a plot device to remove any possibility of order encroaching on the events of the play and also symbolic of chaos’ superiority in this world) while the individual with most influence from the group of outsiders, Othello, is as affected and invested in proceedings as all others, hurtling towards his tragic conclusion.
Othello: This scene allows for much criticism of Othello. Most significantly is the quick change in loyalty to Desdemona, who he considers unfaithful without any proof and simply due to Iago suggesting that her faithfulness can be doubted. This suggests that he has trust issues, which means that he will never be able to have a suitable marriage as such a relationship requires blind trust; with this in mind it appears as the marriage came about due to Desdemona’s appreciation of Othello’s lifestory and thus was an ego trip of sorts. Now, when there is the suggestion that his wife is not faithful Othello believes it an attack on his lifestory, character and reputation which he prizes above all due to his self-obsessive nature; this can cited as the reason for his fierce response to Iago’s supposed revelations. This is why he does not confront Desdemona; it is not out of cowardice or convenience, but rather as such is the level of Othello’s self-obsession that any doubt in his wife’s faith is as bad as adultery, hence his reaction without Iago initially providing any concrete evidence (indeed such is the level that Othello believes Iago is presenting him with a censored version due to his love for him). Of note is that he demands this momentarily, but can be read as a temporary respite and desire to come to the aid of his bruised ego, however when he is met with further evidence of his wife’s betrayal his ego goes into overdrive and ignores all alternatives other than to defend itself.
This scene is pivotal in the course of the play as a whole as Othello aligns himself with Iago rather than Desdemona, which is confirmed with a marriage ceremony of sorts to Iago; their kneeling resembles a position of both members during them marriage ceremony. Convinced of his wife’s betrayal Othello enters into a union with another, however the irony is that what he believes he is departing from is actually what he is embracing (emphasized with Iago’s declaration of ‘I am your own forever’); Othello believes his wife is betraying, deceptive and distorts reality, whereas he is joining forces with the individual who is central to these forces in the world of the text, who will deceive and betray him further, while not allowing him any semblance of truth. The reason for this choice can be located in Iago’s speech about the ‘green-eyed monster’; this conventionally refers to jealousy, which in turn reflects insecurity. Othello’s insecurity now manifests, believing in his own worthlessness due to Desdemona’s supposed betrayal of him which also challenges the impressiveness of his life story, which caused her to fall in love with him. Of note is that Othello loses control of his language from this moment on, with Iago relied upon in this area; as said Othello used language earlier to create an aura around himself, which he can no longer do as his insecurity has created self-doubt.
Desdemona: Desdemona’s intent to right the previous wrongs only serves to further Othello’s false suspicions, which symbolizes the world of the play where truth cannot prosper as when truth is pursued incorrect conclusions and perceptions result. Her attempt to reconcile Othello and Cassio, to ‘intermingle everything Othello does with Cassio’s suit’ only furthers Othello’s jealousy and heightens his mistaken belief in her infidelity. There are a number of further reasons why this causes her downfall; Othello does not appreciate her involvement in public affairs which indicates the ambiguity of love, simple unluckiness as Othello misreads her calling Cassio a ‘suitor’ as a term of affection, while she gambles on Cassio’s reputation saying if he is wrong ‘I have no judgement in an honest face’, when his downfall is inevitable due to Othello’s rage and Iago’s manipulative powers.
Iago: Iago reveals Othello’s insecurities through mere conversation and dialogue; this indicates once more that he has a heightened sense of others’ conditions as well as his machiavellian ability to have others do his bidding for him, as he allows Othello to feel insecure and grow angry towards Cassio and Desdemona of his own accord. After initially making Othello feel uneasy, remarking of Cassio that ‘I cannot think it that he would steal away so guilty-like’ and remarking ‘I like not that’ of his exit, Iago then focuses in on questions that arouse suspicion, such as wondering if Desdemona and Cassio had known each other for a while. Elsewhere he focuses on issues such as Cassio’s flaws and the handkerchief, all of which arouse Othello’s suspicion further, which he knows the commander’s insecurity will increase; indeed, such is Iago’s accuracy with this method that Othello declare ‘Thou ecoest me, as if there was some monster in thy thought, too hideous to be shown.’ The reasoning for this method is to allow Iago to then condemn Desdemona through suspicion alone, as Cassio (the other element in the plan) has already suffered a fall; when Othello’s suspicion and insecurity is at a peak even mere doubt is sufficient evidence (this is made possible by Iago presenting himself as loyal with declarations such as ‘My lord, you know I love you’, which contrast with Desdemona’s supposed faithlessness), with the ‘occular proof’ willingly discarded as Iago asserts it is impossible (when it is not) and the supposed dream and Cassio’s possession of the handkerchief considered damning by Othello.