Cassio, Othello's Lieutenant

When he is telling Roderigo how he was passed over for promotion to lieutenant, Iago describes the man chosen as "a great arithmetician, / One Michael Cassio, a Florentine, / (A fellow almost damn'd in a fair wife), / That never set a squadron in the field" (1.1.19-22). This is the only mention of the wife of Cassio, and scholars have guessed that Shakespeare originally thought of Cassio as married, but then changed his mind, but not the line. Whatever, we get the picture. In Iago's eyes, Cassio is the effete geek from Florence. [Scene Summary]

When Iago is telling Othello that Brabantio is coming after him, a group of men with torches appear, and Iago thinks it's Brabantio, but it's Cassio with a message for Othello: "The duke does greet you, general, / And he requires your haste-post-haste appearance, / Even on the instant" (1.2.36-38). Othello steps inside the inn, probably to say goodbye to Desdemona. Cassio asks Iago what's going on, and Iago tells him that Othello is married, but doesn't have time to say to whom before Othello returns. [Scene Summary]

When Brabantio brings his charges against Othello before the Senate, Cassio is present but says nothing. At the end of scene, when Iago is hatching his plan, he reflects that "Cassio's a proper man" (1.3.392). By "proper" Iago means "handsome," which in Iago's jealous mind is one more strike against Cassio. If he could get Cassio's job while tearing down Othello, that would double his pleasure. He turns things over in his head a little more, and then everything comes together: "After some time, to abuse Othello's ear / That he [Cassio] is too familiar with his wife" (1.3.395-396). This plan pleases Iago and he goes back over the elements that will make it work. Cassio is handsome and charming, the kind of man who naturally tempts women. [Scene Summary]

Upon his first arrival in Cyprus, Cassio says to Montano and some other Cypriot gentlemen, "Thanks, you the valiant of this warlike isle, / That so approve the Moor!" (2.1.43-44). Cassio is the first of the Venetians to arrive in Cyprus, and while they are all waiting for the rest, Cassio praises Desdemona to the skies. Later in the scene he is extremely gallant to Desdemona, and when he takes her by the hand and smiles, Iago comments, that "with as little a web as this will I ensnare as great a fly as Cassio" (2.1.168-169). [Scene Summary]

At the opening of the scene in which Cassio gets drunk, gets into a fight, and loses his job, Othello is reminding him to not let the festivities get out of hand. He says, "Good Michael, look you to the guard to-night: / Let's teach ourselves that honourable stop, / Not to outsport discretion" (2.3.1-3). Cassio replies that he's already told Iago what to do, but that he will also look to things himself. However, he succumbs to Iago's application of peer pressure and drinks much more than he can handle, which he knows is very little. Then, when Iago sends Roderigo to provoke him, Cassio beats Roderigo, and when Montano tries to intervene, Cassio starts to fight with Montano because Montano tells him he is drunk. Cassio wounds Montano and then Othello stops the fight and fires Cassio. The fight sobers up Cassio and he bemoans his loss of reputation, saying, "Reputation, reputation, reputation! O, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial. My reputation, Iago, my reputation!" (2.3.262-265). Cassio is ashamed of himself, but Iago persuades him that he can get his job back by having Desdemona plead his case. Cassio thanks Iago for his advice and says that he will approach Desdemona the first thing in the morning. After he has gone, Iago says that while "this honest fool / Plies Desdemona to repair his fortunes" (2.3.353-354), he will convince Othello that Desdemona wants Cassio reinstated "for her body's lust" (2.3.357). [Scene Summary]

The morning after he loses his job, Cassio brings some musicians to Othello's residence and gives them instructions: "Masters, play here; I will content your pains; / Something that's brief; and bid "Good morrow, general" (3.1.1-2). Apparently Cassio means to soften Othello up, but a servant of Othello sends the musicians away. Cassio then sends the servant to ask Emilia to come out and speak to him. Just then Iago comes by and promises Cassio that he will send Emilia right out and that he will keep Othello out of the way. Cassio is grateful to Iago and reflects, "I never knew a Florentine more kind and honest" (3.1.40). When Emilia appears she reassures Cassio that Desdemona is already urging Othello to reinstate him, but Cassio still wants to have a private conversation with Desdemona, and Emilia invites him in. [Scene Summary]

When Act 3, Scene 3 opens Cassio has apparently already made his request to Desdemona, who is saying, "Be thou assured, good Cassio, I will do / All my abilities in thy behalf" (3.3.1-2). Desdemona sees Cassio as Othello's friend, and she is sure that she can restore their friendship. She tells Cassio, "be you well assured / He shall in strangeness stand no further off / Than in a politic distance" (3.3.11-13). Something is "politic" if it is dictated by policy, and it is good policy for Othello to hold Cassio at arm's length, since just the night before Cassio got drunk on duty and wounded a prominent citizen of Cyprus. Cassio knows all of this, but he's too weak to take his medicine like a man. He's afraid that if he's out of sight Othello will give his job to someone else and forget him.

Pity for Cassio leads Desdemona to make a bold promise, saying "before Emilia here / I give thee warrant of thy place" (3.3.19-20). A "warrant" is a legally binding promise, and that's why Desdemona says "before Emilia here." Emilia is the witness that Desdemona has personally guaranteed that Cassio will get his job back. Shortly after this, Othello and Iago appear. While they are still out of earshot, Cassio hastily excuses himself. Desdemona wants him to stay and hear what she has to say on his behalf, but as he is leaving he answers, "Madam, not now: I am very ill at ease, / Unfit for mine own purposes" (3.3.32-33).

As Cassio hurries away, leaving Desdemona to do his talking for him, Iago and Othello are still out of earshot of the women, and Iago takes the opportunity to do a little fishing. In a barely audible voice, as though he didn't really mean to say anything, Iago says, "Ha! I like not that" (3.3.35). Othello asks him what he said, and Iago answers that it's nothing, in the way that people do when they want you to drag something out of them so that it can be your fault if you don't like what they have to say. Othello then asks if it wasn't Cassio that they just saw, and Iago replies, "Cassio, my lord! No, sure, I cannot think it, / That he would steal away so guilty-like, / Seeing you coming" (3.3.38-40).

Othello, however, doesn't have a chance to take the bait, because now Desdemona says to him, "How now, my lord! / I have been talking with a suitor here, / A man that languishes in your displeasure" (3.3.41-43). When he asks whom she's talking about, she replies, "Why, your lieutenant, Cassio" (3.3.45). The politics of the situation count for little with Desdemona. She thinks that Othello should restore Cassio to his position because he is "one that truly loves you" (3.3.48). She argues that Cassio "errs in ignorance and not in cunning" (3.3.49); in other words, he's not a bad man, he just made a stupid mistake. Then she says that Cassio is penitent and that his mistake is "not almost a fault / To incur a private check" (3.3.60-67). A "private check" is quiet little talking-to, and for "not almost" we would use the word "scarcely" or "hardly." Desdemona is saying that what Cassio did was not bad enough to make him lose his job in the first place. Since Cassio was an officer of the peace who got drunk on duty and wounded an innocent civilian, Othello almost certainly disagrees with Desdemona, but he doesn't say so, perhaps because she doesn't give him a chance.

When Othello won't give Desdemona a definite answer, she exclaims, "What! Michael Cassio, / That came a-wooing with you, and so many a time, / When I have spoke of you dispraisingly, / Hath ta'en your part" (3.3.70-73). This is the first time we've heard that Cassio helped bring Othello and Desdemona together, but there's no reason to doubt it.

After Desdemona has gotten Othello to agree to talk with Cassio, Iago asks Othello, "Did Michael Cassio, when you woo'd my lady, / Know of your love?" (3.3.94-95). This innocent-looking question is the first of a series of psychological tricks by which Iago leads Othello into the belief that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio.

Much later in the scene, when Othello exclaims, "Give me a living reason she's disloyal" (3.3.409), Iago concocts a story about a dream. He says that when he was sleeping with Cassio, Cassio said in his sleep, "Sweet Desdemona, / Let us be wary, let us hide our loves" (3.3.419-420). Then, says Iago, Cassio repeatedly gripped Iago's hand, and kissed Iago hard, and laid his leg over Iago's thigh, and cried out, "Cursed fate that gave thee to the Moor!" (3.3.426).

Iago then supports this lie with another. Iago asks, "Have you not sometimes seen a handkerchief / Spotted with strawberries in your wife's hand?" (3.3.434-435). Othello says that it was his first gift to Desdemona, and Iago replies that earlier in the day he saw Cassio wipe his beard with that very handkerchief.

Of course we know that Cassio has never had that handkerchief, and that Iago now has it in his pocket, and that Othello should remember that Desdemona tried to bind his head with it, but Othello is so blinded by jealousy that he accepts Iago's lie as the strongest possible evidence. Othello's rage now flowers into vows of revenge. He wishes that Cassio had forty thousand lives because killing him just once wouldn't be enough. [Scene Summary]

Desdemona sends her servant to summon Cassio because she believes she will have good news for him. Then, when Othello appears Desdemona says to Emilia, "I will not leave him now till Cassio / Be call'd to him" (3.4.32-33). But though Desdemona is looking forward to the successful conclusion of her campaign to restore Cassio to his position, Othello has something else on his mind. He makes insinuations that Desdemona has given her love away, but she doesn't catch the insinuations, is confused, and tries to turn the conversation to Cassio. Othello then asks her for her handkerchief and becomes enraged when she tells him she doesn't have it, but it's not lost. Again, she tries to turn the conversation to Cassio, telling Othello that he is "A man that all his time / Hath founded his good fortunes on your love, / Shared dangers with you" (3.4.93-95). This, however just adds to Othello's rage, and he rushes away.

Soon after, Cassio arrives, accompanied by Iago, who is encouraging Cassio to appeal again to Desdemona. Cassio does as Iago says, and he is even more pathetic than before. He says that he honors Othello, but adds, "I would not be delay'd" (3.4.114). He wants a definite answer, and now. He hopes that Othello will restore him to his position because of his past service, because he is sorry for what he has done, and because he plans to do a better job in the future. But, Cassio continues, if he can't have his job back, it will be best to know it. If that's the case, he says, "So shall I clothe me in a forced content, / And shut myself up in some other course, / To fortune's alms" (3.4.120-122). "Fortune's alms" are the occasional handouts of small change that fortune tosses to beggars. Cassio is feeling rather sorry for himself. Desdemona, still reeling from Othello's anger, tells Cassio, "My advocation is not now in tune; / My lord is not my lord; nor should I know him, / Were he in favour [appearance] as in humour [attitude] alter'd" (3.4.123-125). In other words, now is not a good time to talk to Othello; he's not himself, and if his appearance had changed as much as his attitude, she wouldn't recognize him. She goes on to tell Cassio that she has done all she can for him, and will keep trying, but he must be patient. To Cassio's credit, he respects Desdemona enough to shut up.

After a while, Desdemona decides to go find Othello, and she tells Cassio to wait because she will again plead his case to Othello, if Othello is in the right mood. As Cassio waits, Bianca shows up. She's Cassio's girlfriend, and a prostitute. Cassio is surprised to see her, and he doesn't want to be seen with her if Othello should come back to speak with him. The first thing he says to her is "What make you from home?" But then he remembers that he probably should be nice to her, and tells a sweet lie: "How is it with you, my most fair Bianca? / I' faith, sweet love, I was coming to your house" (3.4.169-171). Cassio is supposed to be Bianca's lover, and she is finding it hard to understand why he has been away so long. Cassio explains that he's had things on his mind, but that he'll soon make everything up to her. In the meantime, he'd like her to copy a handkerchief for him. It is, of course, Desdemona's handkerchief, though Cassio doesn't know it. The sight of a woman's handkerchief gives Bianca an attack of jealousy. Cassio is offended by this, and tells her that not only is the handkerchief not a love token, he doesn't know whose it is. He says he found it in his chamber, and we know that Iago has carried out his plan to leave the handkerchief where Cassio would find it. Despite Bianca's complaints and jealousy, Cassio seems to be sure that there's not much that could scare her off; he tells her curtly, "Take it, and do't; and leave me for this time" (3.4.191). Bianca takes the handkerchief, but naturally she wants to know why Cassio doesn't want her around. He explains that he's waiting for Othello and it wouldn't be helpful "To have him see me woman'd" (3.4.195). When she asks why that is, he answers that it's not because he doesn't love her. Bianca doubts that he's telling the truth, but she talks him into walking with her a little way, so that they can plan their next meeting. Reluctantly, Cassio agrees. [Scene Summary]

After boasting of his bad work in using insinuations to make Othello fall into a trance, Iago starts yelling at Othello to wake him up. Then Cassio enters.

Or perhaps Iago spots Cassio a moment before we do, and is only pretending to be trying to wake Othello. Cassio asks what's the matter, and Iago says, "My lord is fall'n into an epilepsy. / This is his second fit; he had one yesterday" (4.1.50-51). Cassio suggests that Iago rub Othello's temples, but Iago says that if he doesn't sleep it off, he will foam at the mouth and go mad. Then Othello begins to stir, and Iago persuades Cassio to withdraw and wait for him, because he has something important to tell him. Cassio does as he's told.

A little later Iago plays another trick on Othello. Iago knows that Cassio is nearby, waiting to talk with him, so he tells Othello to hide himself "And mark the fleers [sneers], the gibes, and notable scorns, / That dwell in every region of his [Cassio's] face" (4.1.82-83), as he makes Cassio "tell the tale anew: / Where, how, how oft, how long ago, and when / He hath, and is again to cope your wife" (4.1.84-86). "Cope" means "encounter," but as Iago uses the word, it's clear that all the encounters are sexual.

Once Othello has hidden himself and is out of hearing, Iago tells us, "Now will I question Cassio of Bianca, / A huswife that by selling her desires / Buys herself bread and clothes: it is a creature / That dotes on Cassio" (4.1.93-96). He predicts that talking of Bianca will make Cassio laugh, and that Othello, thinking they are talking about Desdemona, will go mad. Everything goes according to Iago's plan. Cassio laughs at the idea that he might marry Bianca, and tells a funny little story about how just the other day at the seabank "thither comes the bauble, and, by this hand, she falls me thus about my neck" (4.1.134-135). The "thus" indicates that Cassio embellishes his story by demonstrating just how she flung her arms around him and tried to drag him away with her. Then, as Cassio is laughing at his own story, Bianca shows up with Desdemona's handkerchief. She has decided that she was a fool to agree to copy the handkerchief, and a fool to accept Cassio's story that he found it in his room. She throws it back at him, tells him that he should give it to the whore he got it from, and declares that no matter where he got it, she's not about to copy it. Then Bianca storms out, though not before telling Cassio that he can come to supper at her place if he wants. Cassio, not wanting to lose his girlfriend or his supper, follows her.

Later in the same scene, Lodovico arrives with messages from the Venetian Senate, including the news that Othello is to be called back to Venice and Cassio is to stay in Cyprus as governor of the island. Before we hear about this, Lodovico inquires about Cassio, and Iago says that he "Lives, sir" (4.1.223), as though Cassio is subject not to be discussed. Desdemona, however, is eager to talk about Cassio. She says to Lodovico, "Cousin, there's fall'n between him and my lord / An unkind breach; but you shall make all well" (4.1.224-225). And when she hears that Cassio is to be governor of Cyprus Desdemona exclaims, "By my troth, I am glad on't" (4.1.238).

We can understand why Desdemona is glad. As she sees it, she hasn't been able to make any progress on Cassio's problem because Othello has been bothered by some problem in Cyprus. Therefore the news that Cassio has been appointed governor of Cyprus solves everything. Cassio will have a position, and she will go with her husband as he leaves Cyprus and its problems behind. Othello, on the other hand, thinks that she has been parading her love for Cassio in public, and he slaps her. [Scene Summary]

In the dark of the night Iago tells Roderigo, "Here, stand behind this bulk; straight will he come. / Wear thy good rapier bare, and put it home" (5.1.1-2). Roderigo is supposed to hide behind the bulk, his sword out, then jump out and stab Cassio before he knows what's happening. Iago urges Roderigo to hurry and to keep his courage up. Then Iago stands aside and comments: "Now, whether he kill Cassio, / Or Cassio him, or each do kill the other, / Every way makes my gain" (5.1.12-14). If Roderigo lives, Iago says, he'll want those jewels that were supposed to be given to Desdemona, and if Cassio lives, "He hath a daily beauty in his life / That makes me ugly; and, besides, the Moor / May unfold me to him" (5.1.19-21). In other words, Iago is just plain jealous of Cassio, and if Othello should happen to confront Cassio about the things that Iago has said, Cassio's side of the story could cast serious doubt on Iago's truthfulness.

Cassio appears and Roderigo makes a thrust, but cuts only Cassio's coat. Roderigo isn't so lucky; Cassio draws his sword and wounds Roderigo so badly that he cries out, "O, I am slain!" (5.1.26). At this moment Iago is behind Cassio, but he doesn't have enough courage, or presence of mind, or whatever it takes to do what he needs to do. He swings his sword at Cassio, cutting his leg, then runs away.

As Iago is running away from the carnage he has caused, both Roderigo and Cassio are crying out in pain. Now Othello appears in the dark and identifies Cassio by his voice, saying, "The voice of Cassio: Iago keeps his word" (5.1.28). Believing that Cassio is dead, Othello praises Iago and goes to kill Desdemona. Othello is so intent on killing Desdemona that he leaves before he hears Cassio cry out, "What, ho! no watch? no passage? murder! murder!" (5.1.37). Cassio wants help, and he is hoping that the night watchmen (the "watch") or passers-by ("passage") will come to his aid. Two passers-by, Lodovico and Gratiano, have heard him, but they also hear Roderigo, and they are afraid to follow the voices into the dark.

As Lodovico and Gratiano are trying to decide what to do, Iago reappears, looking as though he has just gotten out of bed, and goes to Cassio, who tells him that he has been set upon by villains, and that he thinks that "one of them is hereabout, / And cannot make away" (5.1.56-57). Cassio is referring to Roderigo, whom he has severely wounded. Roderigo then makes the mistake of calling out for help. Iago answers Roderigo's appeal by rushing over to him, shouting "O murderous slave! O villain!" (5.1.61), and killing him.

(Why didn't Iago kill Cassio, too? Probably because the witnesses, Lodovico and Gratiano, are closer to Cassio than to Roderigo. Also Cassio, even though he is crippled by his wound, would have put up more resistance than Roderigo.)

After finishing off Roderigo, Iago makes a show of looking for more villains and calling out for help. Then he asks Lodovico and Gratiano who they are. Lodovico identifies himself, and they begin to tend to Cassio's wound. Just then, Bianca having heard all the noise, enters. As soon as she sees the wounded Cassio, Bianca cries out, "O my dear Cassio! my sweet Cassio! O Cassio, / Cassio, Cassio!" (5.1.76-77). As she tries to comfort Cassio, Iago tends to his business. He binds Cassio's wound, calls for a chair (the kind that is carried as we carry a stretcher), pretends to be surprised that Roderigo is the dead villain, and tries to throw suspicion on Bianca. When the chair that Iago called for arrives, Cassio is taken away. [Scene Summary]

When Emilia delivers the news that Cassio has killed Roderigo. Othello asks if Cassio has been killed too, and when Emilia says that he hasn't, Othello says, "Not Cassio kill'd! then murder's out of tune, / And sweet revenge grows harsh" (5.2.115-116). A few minutes later Othello says that Iago told him that Cassio had sex with Desdemona, but Emilia refuses to believe it. However, when Iago appears, Emilia asks him if he said what Othello said he said, and Iago says he did. Emilia responds, "You told a lie, an odious, damned lie; / Upon my soul, a lie, a wicked lie. / She false with Cassio!--did you say with Cassio?" (5.2.181-182). Emilia's exclamations seem to indicate that she believes in Cassio's innocence as strongly as she believes in Desdemona's. Also, when Othello says he saw the handkerchief in Cassio's hand, Emilia reveals the truth: "She give it Cassio! no, alas! I found it, / And I did give't my husband" (5.2.230-231)

Later in the scene Cassio appears with Lodovico. Because of his leg wound, Cassio is carried in a chair. Lodovico questions Othello about the events and asks Othello if he conspired with Iago to kill Cassio. Othello answers simply, "Ay" (5.2.298). Cassio says, "Dear general, I never gave you cause" (5.2.299). Othello reassures Cassio that he believes him, and asks his pardon. Minutes later Othello asks Cassio how he came to have the handkerchief. Cassio answers that he found it in his chamber, and that Iago has already confessed that he dropped there as part of his plot.

After Othello commits suicide, Cassio has the last word about him: "This did I fear, but thought he had no weapon; / For he was great of heart" (5.2.360-361).

In the last speech of the play, Lodovico gives Cassio, the new governor of Cyprus, the responsibility of torturing Iago (presumably to death). [Scene Summary]