Iago reels in Othello

Act 3 Scene 3 – Key Scene

In this scene, Iago begins to poison Othello’s mind into believing that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio. At first, Othello cannot believe that Desdemona would behave in such a way, but slowly Iago makes suggestions that get into Othello’s imagination and he begins to believe it could be true.

Take a look at an extract from the scene and watch it in performance here. Using the following steps, remember to look at it line by line and, if you’re looking at the scene for the first time, don’t worry if you don’t understand everything at once.

  • Look

    Take a look at the scene. Who has the most lines? Are they using prose or verse? Actors at the RSC often put the language into their own words to help them understand what they are saying. We’ve added some definitions (in green), questions (in red) and paraphrased some sections (in blue) to help with this. You can click on the text that is highlighted for extra guidance.

    But I do see you’re moved.
    I am to pray you, not to strain my speech
    To grosser issues, nor to larger reach
    Than to suspicion.

    Please don’t read too much into what I have said and think I meant something more important or more unpleasant, or anything more than just suspicions.

    I will not.
    Should you do so, my lord,
    My speech should fall into such vile success
    Which my thoughts aimed not. Cassio’s my worthy friend.
    My lord, I see you’re moved.

    achieve a really bad outcome

    No, not much moved:
    I do not think but Desdemona’s honest.
    Long live she so! And long live you to think so!

    Why do you think Iago mentions Desdemona’s life? What affect does this have?

    And yet, how nature erring from itself—
    Ay, there’s the point: as, to be bold with you,
    Not to affect many proposèd matches
    Of her own clime, complexion and degree,
    Whereto we see in all things nature tends,

    Foh! One may smell in such a will most rank,
    Foul disproportion, thoughts unnatural.
    But, pardon me: I do not in position
    Distinctly speak of her, though I may fear
    Her will, recoiling to her better judgement,
    May fall to match you with her country forms,
    And happily repent.

    She didn’t care about the many offers of marriage from men more like her in terms of their background, what they look like and their social status, which is what most people prefer in a partner.

    Rank has a lot of meanings including rebellious, corrupt or disgusting.

    Farewell, farewell.
    If more thou dost perceive, let me know more.
    Set on thy wife to observe. Leave me, Iago.
    My lord, I take my leave
    IAGO starts to leave
    Why did I marry? This honest creature doubtless
    Sees and knows more, much more, than he unfolds.

    How has Iago’s use of language made Othello think that he knows more than he is telling?

    IAGO Returns
    My lord, I would I might entreat your honour
    To scan this thing no farther. Leave it to time.

    Although ’tis fit that Cassio have his place,
    For sure he fills it up with great ability,
    Yet, if you please to put him off awhile,
    You shall by that perceive him and his means

    My Lord, please don’t think about this any more. Let’s just see what happens next.

    Cassio deserves to get his job back because he does it so well, don’t give it back just yet and see what he does to try and get it back.

    (Text edited for rehearsals by Iqbal Khan)
  • Listen
    Read the scene aloud. Who do you think has the most power in this scene? How do you think the lines might be spoken? Are there any words or lines that particularly help you to think about the relationship between these two characters?

  • Watch
    Take a look at the actors performing this scene. How do the characters come across in this version?
  • Imagine
    Explore some images from past interpretations of Iago and Othello at the RSC. Which sets and staging choices for this scene feel right to you?