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Welcome to my web site, now under development for more than twenty years.   
-- Philip Weller, November 13, 1941 - February 1, 2021
Dr. Weller, an Eastern Washington University professor of English and Shakespearean scholar for more than 50 years.


Detailed Summary of Othello, Act 3, Scene 1

Page Index:
Enter Cassio and some Musicians:
Cassio, showing the way to some musicians, says "Masters, play here; I will content your pains; / Something that's brief; and bid "Good morrow, general" (3.1.1-2). The general is Othello, so it appears that Cassio's idea is to present him with a little musical gift in order to soften him up for Desdemona's appeal to restore Cassio to his position. Since Cassio doesn't know for sure that Desdemona will speak for him, and since it's very early in the morning, this idea of Cassio's may not have been a very good one.

As soon as the musicians begin to play, a clown enters. He doesn't have a red nose or floppy shoes; "clown" means "bumpkin" or "fool." This particular clown is a servant to Othello, and probably the most tedious clown in all of Shakespeare. He makes a joke about the nasal quality of the music, and he makes a fart joke, and then he tells the musicians that if they can play any music that can't be heard, they should play that. Otherwise, they should pack up and move on, because Othello doesn't want to hear any more from them. Taking the hint, the musicians leave, and then Cassio gives the clown a gold coin so that he will go ask Emilia to come and speak with him.

The clown agrees to carry Cassio's message to Emilia, and just as he goes in the house, Iago appears and says to Cassio, "You have not been a-bed, then?" (3.1.31). Cassio answers that day had already broken when they last saw one another. This implies that Iago hasn't gone to bed, either, and is moving quickly to put his evil plan into effect.

Cassio goes on to explain that he has just asked to speak to Iago's wife, to ask her to let him speak to Desdemona. Iago promises to send Emilia to him and also tells Cassio that he'll find a way to make sure that Othello is out of the way. As Iago leaves, Cassio remarks to himself, "I never knew a Florentine more kind and honest" (3.1.40). Iago is a Venetian; Cassio is a Florentine. Cassio is grateful that Iago is treating him like a fellow countryman.

Enter Emilia:
Emilia comes right out, full of sympathy and reassurance: "Good morrow, good Lieutenant: I am sorry / For your displeasure; but all will sure be well" (3.1.41-42). "Your displeasure" is the displeasure of Othello into which Cassio has fallen. Emilia explains that Desdemona is already speaking up for Cassio's reinstatement. Othello has been saying that Montano is a prominent citizen of Cyprus, and that at the moment it's politically impossible for Cassio to be reinstated, but Othello has also been saying that "he loves you / And needs no other suitor but his likings / To take the safest occasion by the front / To bring you in again" (3.1.47-50). In other words, Othello is ready to reinstate Cassio as soon as it's politically safe to do so.

If Cassio could be satisfied with this, everything might be well. But Cassio is not satisfied. Stepping into Iago's trap, Cassio asks to speak to Desdemona alone, and Emilia invites him in.