Discussion questions from Othello Act 2
What sort of person is Cassio? What happens to him, and how does Iago plan to use the situation in his plan against Othello?
Answer: The picture of Cassio we get from his Act 2 appearance is that he is Othello’s loyal, cultured and speaks in a civilized manner. He speaks of Othello and Desdemona with honor and when it comes to the ladies, he is very courtly and courteous; formal and yet very pleasant. Sometimes it also appears like he is trying to keep everyone around him pleased which a sly person like Iago would interpret as a vulnerability to be exploited. He is on the lookout for such spots in others’ characters and to him Cassio may appear like a ladies’ man. However, Cassio clearly means to impress others and of course, the ladies are the most important to him. He is slightly weak when it comes to ladies, which also gets clear from his romance with Bianca. Whenever he mentions Othello and Desdemona, he speaks of them with the utmost respect. Desdemona’s beauty is divine according to him, one of God’s masterpieces and he wishes all good for Othello. Another thing that gets clear from his speech is that he is good at lending company to others and would love to disappoint no one. His speech is encouraging and he speaks to inspire confidence in others. He is sometimes chirpy as a bird and before the ladies sings like a lark which can ignite flames of jealousy in Iago’s heart. Iago is a skilled villain and he knows how to trap a fish.
If you spoil the water, fish start running in every direction and it becomes easier to catch them. He spoils the situation to create more confusion than anyone can see through and then traps the fish he wants to. He does the same in the case of Cassio and Othello. However, Cassio is the smaller fish whom Iago uses to trap the shark, Othello. The kind of impression Cassio builds, leaves Iago happy that he has found the bait he can use to wreak havoc in Othello’s world. Iago gets Cassio drunk who then gets caught in a fight with Roderigo and for having caused all this mess is subjected to punishment. Iago uses Montano to build the case against Cassio and together they fill Othello with whatever mischief Cassio has made and Iago exaggerates his part very well to leave Othello angrier. Iago is clever to not let Cassio know of the role he has played in the situation and then when Cassio has received the punishment and lost his rank he comes back to console him. Now, he has initiated the next part of his plan which is to use Cassio to corrupt Desdemona’s public image. In this way, you can see Iago making Cassio a scapegoat and using him in his plot against Othello.
What more do we learn about the nature of Iago in act 2? What is the effect of having him share his thoughts and plans with us through his soliloquies? Pay attention to the language used in Iago’s soliloquies. What sorts of descriptive language does he use? How does it contribute to the picture of Iago that Shakespeare is drawing?
Answer: The picture of Iago that Shakespeare is trying to draw is that of a sly demon who would kill anyone for the sake of his joy. He is ready to make a scapegoat of anyone if that benefits him and can use any situation to his own benefit. Shakespeare has drawn a complex and yet engaging and interesting character in Iago who despite being a villain can be amusing and that like in case of Shylock adds depth to the character. Shakespeare has used soliloquies to make his point clearer about Iago. Without these soliloquies some of the flavour in the drama might have gone missing. Readers get a clear glimpse of how mean and selfish he is in the second act of the drama. He is using everyone and anyone around him like Cassio, Roderigo and even Desdemona. His weakness is also clear; he cannot help seeing people’s vulnerabilities and manipulating them. He uses highly ornamental language in his soliloquies as if he is thinking out aloud to himself. His language and speech makes clear how bad he is feeling about the Moor and the depth of hatred in his heart for Moor and his wife.
“For that I do suspect the lusty Moor
Hath leaped into my seat. The thought whereof
Doth, like a poisonous mineral, gnaw my inwards,
And nothing can or shall content my soul
Till I am evened with him, wife for wife”.
His hatred for Othello makes his mind imagine silly things. He believes Moor has cast a shadow on his wife and has entered his bed. The situation is quite comic when readers understand Iago’s weakness and why it is difficult for him to stop envying the Moor. His soliloquies give us a deeper picture of his character and how sly, mischievous, comic and full of hatred Iago is at his heart.
Sparknotes – Othello
Gradesaver – Othello Act 2 summary.