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William Shakespeare


Act 2, Scene 1
lines 42 - 285
Iago begins his plotting!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 22 January 2014
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The setting for this scene is Cyprus. Everyone is awaiting anxiously the arrival of Othello.

A massive storm has swept the Mediterranean and the Turkish fleet has been destroyed. The threatened Ottoman invasion is therefore over.

First to arrive is Iago, bringing Desdemona and Roderigo with him. Then Othello reaches the island. Iago immediately sets in motion his plan to revenge himself on his enemy.


The Turkish threat to Venice appeared to be enormous, and yet it was so soon over. What then was its purpose in the overall plot of the play?

Othello was a Moor or outsider who had control of the Venetian defences. He was good at his job as a soldier but was insecure when it came to the complicated Venetian customs and etiquette.

As long as he was in Venice, however, he always had others whom he could serve and who, in turn, would guide him, thus keeping his insecurities in check.

The Turkish threat served to take Othello out of his safety zone and expose his insecurities. It was necessary to the plot, therefore, because it removed him from Venice to the island of Cyprus.

While there was still a war, on the other hand, Othello would have known how to behave but no sooner had he set sail for Cyprus than the Turkish threat dissipated. All their ships were destroyed in the storm.

Suddenly, therefore, Othello found himself in a new and quite unaccustomed position as Governor of Cyprus. It would be a largely civilian role in which he would be out of his depth.

Indeed, he was now the highest ranking officer with no-one to guide him. As a result, he was quickly placed at the mercy of his lesser officers -- and leaned heavily upon the conniving Iago.

He therefore found himself at the mercy of Iago's evil machinations. He needed strength of character, but his weaknesses were mercilessly exploited by Iago.

The storm -- the instrument for the destruction of the Turkish threat -- then becomes a metaphor in its own right: an image of the storm unleashed by Iago which will quickly destroy Othello and all about him.

Othello and his entourage are ripped to pieces by the waves of Iago's cunning, just as the Turkish warships had been ripped apart by the waves of nature.

Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:

"His bark is stoutly timber'd, his pilot
Of very expert and approved allowance;
Therefore my hopes, not surfeited to death,
Stand in bold cure."
  • What was a "bark"? (2)

[Need help?]

  • What was the pilot's role in a "bark"? (2)

[Need help?]

In Macbeth -- another of William Shakespeare's tragedies -- one of the witches says, "Though his bark cannot be lost, Yet it shall be tempest-tost."
  • To what extent could this prediction by the witch be equally applied to Othello? (10)

[Need help?]

Has had most favourable and happy speed:
Tempests themselves, high seas, and howling winds,
The gutter'd rocks and congregated sands --
Traitors ensteep'd to clog the guiltless keel, --
As having sense of beauty, do omit
Their mortal natures, letting go safely by
The divine Desdemona."
  • Iago's swift arrival is explained in terms of "The divine Desdemona". Explain the logic of this reasoning. (4)

[Need help?]

  • Is there not another diabolical interpretation for Iago's swift arrival? (4)

[Need help?]

Sir, would she give you so much of her lips
As of her tongue she oft bestows on me,
You'll have enough."
  • What does Iago mean by these harsh words? (6)

[Need help?]

  • Comment on the ungentlemanly manner in which Iago berates Emilia. (4)

[Need help?]

[Aside] He takes her by the palm: Ay, well said, whisper. With as little a web as this will I ensnare as great a fly as Cassio. Ay, smile upon her, do. I will catch thee in thine own courtesies."
  • The irony is that Iago is perfectly correct in the assumptions which he expresses in these lines. Explain how this is so. (4)

[Need help?]

Now, I do love her too;
Not out of absolute lust, though peradventure
I stand accountant for as great a sin,
But partly led to diet my revenge,
For that I do suspect the lusty Moor
Hath leap'd into my seat; the thought whereof
Doth, like a poisonous mineral, gnaw my inwards."
  • Explain Iago's desire to gain revenge on Othello. Has Othello in fact done anything wrong? (6)

[Need help?]

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