Othello Bothered II (3.3.40-120)
Stoking Othello's Insecurity
Cassio, then, is on Othello's mind. Iago has both comforted and discomforted Othello in his response. 'It probably wasn't Cassio,' Iago opines, 'or else he wouldn't have stolen away so "guilty-like" when he saw you arrive, Othello.' Iago's method combines withholding information, which worked for Iago in 2.3, and tantalizing hints or suggestions.
An Insistent Interruption
But Othello cannot deal with his concerns about Cassio directly because his wife enters and immediately takes over the conversation. "How now, my lord?/ I have been talking with a suitor here,/ A man that languishes in your displeasure (3.3.41-43)." Or, better said, she confronts Othello with news about Cassio but not from the perspective that he would have liked. He wants to know why it was that Cassio was there and why he left so abruptly. Desdemona, oblivious to her husband's concerns or interests, plunges right in and begins to badger him about reinstating Cassio. This fulfills her promise she made to Cassio that she would pursue his claim to the uttermost. "My lord shall never rest,/ I watch him tame, and talk him out of patience;/ His bed shall seem a school, his board a shrift,/ Ill intermingle every thing he does/ With Cassio's suit (3.3.22-26)." Othello is rather overwhelmed by the onslaught and meekly tells his wife that he "will deny her nothing (3.3.76)," but then, as a sign of his discomfort, he asks her three times to leave him alone. The combined effect of Cassio observed (Othello), Cassio denied (Iago) and Cassio defended (Desdemona) generates a moderate apprehension in the meticulous commander.
Resuming the Conversation with Iago
So, Desdemona leaves, and Othello, perhaps saying more than he knows, reflects briefly on the chaos to which his life would return if he no longer loved Desdemona (3.3.90-92). For a brief, flitting moment the idea of not loving her anymore entered into his mind. But then it was gone, as evanescent as a wisp of prairie wind on a summer day.
The conversation hangs only momentarily. Iago plunges back in, "My noble lord....Did Michael Cassio, when you woo'd my lady,/ Know of your love (3.3.93-95)?" I have argued that the repeated reference to Cassio in Iago's speech in 2.3, despite its apparent goal to exonerate Cassio, actually functioned to convict Cassio. In this scene Iago will deftly drop Cassio's name several times and introduce a new word--jealousy-- to further destabiliize Othello's mind. "Cassio" and "jealousy" become the mental bookends of Othello's increasingly tormented psyche.
Iago's reintroduction of Cassio in the conversation, this time in the context of an intimate relationship, leads to more revelations by Othello. He reveals, in language full of double entendre that he "went between us very oft (3.3.100)" in the past. To which Iago responds, cryptically, "Indeed! (3.3.101)." Iago's apparent withdrawl into the secret world of interjections and partial information makes the Moor more uneasy. He says, in a thought taken right from Jesus' words to Peter in the Fourth Gospel, that if Iago loves him he should divulge his thoughts (3.3.115-116). Rather than divulging his thoughts, he responds with the precise answer Peter gives, "My lord, you know I love you (3.3.117--cf. John 21:15-17)." Peter uses these words to reverse, as it were, his earlier threefold betrayal of Jesus. Iago uses these words as a subtle token of betrayal. Maybe, however, there is a truth in them. Iago does love Othello. He then is just acting as a betrayed suitor. Divinity of hell....
Othello the Interpreter
Iago's will have achieved the first step towards his goal of unsettling Othello's mind when Othello goes beyond the role of revealing bits of information to being the interpreter of Iago's mind. In other words, as long as the conversation is concerned with Iago's reticence or his withheld information or Othello's revealed information, Iago cannot truly "poison" Othello's mind. He must get Othello to the place where he is the active interpreter, the bold searcher for truth, the one who places his own construal on events. The first 'mini-breakthrough' in this regard is when Othello 'interprets' Iago's reticence. "By heaven, thou echo'st me,/ As if there were some monster in thy thought/ Too hideous to be shown. Thou dost mean something (3.3.106-108)." The last words tell it all. Othello will figure out what Iago's silence, provocative hints and reticence mean.
But before Othello even gets to the "meaning" of Iago's silence or bland repetition of his words, Othello will give an overarching meta-explanation of Iago's conduct. Iago "weigh'st thy words before thou giv'st them breath,/ Therefore these stops of thine fright me the more;/ For such things in a false disloyal knave/ Are tricks of custom; but in a man that's just/ They're close dilations, working from the heart/ That passion cannot rule (3.3.119-124)." Iago's reticence, in Othello's mind, is the expression of "close dilations" of the heart, or the kind of intimate thoughts that one hesitates to reveal because they are so closely linked to the heart and are kept back to protect the questioner from the results of the "truth." Iago is "honest," and his vacillating responses mean that he is trying to "protect" Othello from the truth. But, Othello is big enough to know the truth.
Armed with this insight, Othello will gladly, though unwittingly, go forward to his own destruction.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long