In Act 3 Scene 3, how does Iago persuade Othello of Desdemona s supposed infidelity?
Act 3 Scene 3 is, arguably, the most important scene in the entire play, for it is the point of no return. It is as if for the entire beginning of the play you were pushing a huge boulder up a steep mountain, and in this scene you reach the top, and push it down the other side, helpless to stop it. This is how I see the action in Othello. Iago spends the whole time plotting, and conspiring with the audience, and in this scene you can actually pinpoint the line where he finally pushes Othello over the edge. Iago manages this in several ways, through imagery, sewing the seed in Othello s mind, and reverse psychology. However all of these ways boil down to one thing, Iago, throughout the play, plays on Othello s own insecurities about race, and Desdemona.
Iago s language throughout the scene is very rich and amazingly descriptive so much so that it actually acts as a projector, projecting vivid, clear pictures into the audience s, and more importantly, Othello s mind. This is more evident in the later part of the scene, and there is one particular speech I wish to isolate. Iago s speech, lines 407 to 423, is where the richest image is created in the scene. He is describing a night through which he lay with Cassio, and witnessed a so-called dream. In this dream, Cassio is meant to have said Sweet Desdemona / Let us be wary, let us hide our loves. He then goes on to describe how Cassio began to kiss Iago, and laid his leg / Over my thigh. This imagery is so strong because it places Iago in Desdemona s position, and which somehow makes it more real. Also, the tale suggests that Cassio and Desdemona have already slept with each other. However, the main point of this specific use of imagery, is that the image it creates is a homosexual one, which takes the image to a new level, and makes it even more disgusting to Othello.
Another method used by Iago is the suggestion of an event, or feeling, and then the denial. This covers his tracks, but very cleverly he knows that once an idea has been put into Othello s head, that no matter what Iago says, Othello will pursue that idea. The speech, lines 407 to 423 is an excellent example of this as well as imagery. Firstly he paints the picture of Cassio and Desdemona together, as I have already explained, but then he denies the value and truth of his story by saying, Nay, this was but his dream. He has sewn the idea into Othello s mind, and Iago knows that although this line was necessary to protect himself, it would have no effect on Othello s faith in his tale.
Similar to the previous method, Iago uses a little reverse psychology in this scene. A clear example of this is toward the very end of the scene. Iago and Othello are discussing the murder of Cassio, but then Iago says, but let her live, (471) referring to Desdemona. They have not yet said anything about her, but that phrase will make Othello think about killing her, and will encourage him to do so. More examples of this are found earlier, when he first introduces the alleged adultery into the scene. He says, I see this hath a little dashed your spirits, (212) and later, In faith, I fear it has. (214) Iago is obviously right; Othello is much affected by Iago s news, but the fact that Iago points it out, twice, in a way makes Othello feel even worse. So one the outside, he seems caring, saying supportive, but really, he knows that what he is saying is making things worse.
However, all of these three methods are related to Iago s main, core target, Othello s own insecurities about his colour and his relationship of his skin. An obvious example of this is Iago s speech, lines 226 to 236. This speech is a response to Othello s previous line, And yet, how nature erring from itself. What he means is that Desdemona s supposed adultery is very unnatural, and strange, and Iago appears to agree. However, what may seem Iago s attack on Desdemona, i.e. that she is strange and unnatural, is actually a backward attack on Othello and his colour. He calls their relationship rank, / Foul disproportion, thoughts unnatural. We see the effects on Othello, of Iago s comments and speeches at the very end of the scene. All through the play there have been comments about Othello in relation to race, and here he is finally swept away by them. When he is told about the handkerchief he reacts in a dramatic, violent storm of words and promises. Phrases such as Arise black vengeance, from hollow hell (444) and references to the Black Sea later on suggest racial undertones, and also the pairings of black and white to evil and good are more prevalent now than before in the play, and they come from Othello.
Iago wields a lot of power over all the characters throughout the whole of the action, but in this scene, he is at his most powerful. He uses very clever methods of persuasion, but they all are subsidiaries of the same thing; Othello s own insecurities and doubt about his colour and his relationship with his wife. Iago s brilliant cunning sees these insecurities and brings them out, using imagery, putting in ideas, and reverse psychology. None of these methods are inherently responsible for the persuasion of Othello, but they all have a part to play in the exposition and emphasis of Othello s insecurities and doubts.