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William Shakespeare


Act 4, Scene 2
lines 174 - 231
Roderigo is enlisted for the final act!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 22 January 2014
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Othello launches a throughly disgusting attack on Desdemona, invoking the most outrageous language to describe her. Yet never at any point does he attempt to answer any of her legitimate questions.

Desdemona again invokes Iago to intercede on her behalf but, instead of doing so, Iago reunites with Roderigo to bring the fiendish plot to its conclusion.


Roderigo always makes his appearance in the company of Iago. Always he is Iago's puppet, is always willing to do Iago's dirty work and all for the promise of a few impossible crumbs. And he is always paying Iago for something. What is going on here?

If you have not yet read the note on Elizabethan courting rituals and gifts, then please do so now. What follows is based on it. [Click here to see it: refer to the left column of the linked worksheet.]

Courtship rituals were complicated, involving gifts which were taken to the woman by a Go-Between. In Roderigo's case, the woman is Desdemona, while the supposed Go-Between is Iago.

When the play opens, we find that Roderigo is already using Iago as his Go-Between for his hoped-for courting of Desdemona. He appears to have already paid lots of money.

In a real courtship ritual, the gifts did not usually involve money. No, indeed. We know that Othello gave Desdemona an intricately embroidered handkerchief whereas most men gave an embroidered garter for the woman to wear.

Why then was Roderigo making cash payments and jewels? Well, because Iago was ripping him off! Indeed, he was making no approach at all to Desdemona but was merely pocketing the gifts himself. What would Iago have done with a lady's handkerchief or a lace garter?

When Desdemona married Othello, however, one would have thought that Roderigo would have given up on his quest. She could, after all, not get divorced. What therefore did Roderigo hope to achieve by continuing?

The answer, it would seem, lay in Roderigo's entrapment to Iago's voiced opinions. All Venetian women, Iago claimed, were happy to have extra-marital affairs. Marriage was therefore not the end of the courting game.

In Valmont, the classic 1989 movie set in 18th century France, the manipulating Merteuil tells her naive protege, Cecile, that one did not marry the person one loved: one made him a lover.

The reason was simple: society marriages were arranged affairs, organised for either political or financial ends. People almost never married for love. If the woman had a real lover, therefore, there would be plenty of time after the wedding to meet with him clandestinely.

Iago claimed that this was almost universal in Venetian marriages. Cassio, he told Othello, was Desdemona's clandestine lover. It would seem, therefore, that he convinced Roderigo that he could become Desdemona's lover, and Iago personally would bring that about by acting as Go-Between.

The courtship to become a lover would have been identical as a marital courtship, involving gifts. And so Roderigo was convinced to "Put money in thy purse" -- and he continued to put money and jewels in Iago's pocket in the belief that Iago would take them to Desdemona.

Roderigo was, therefore, probably not plotting to marry Desdemona. Indeed, that was impossible. Nevertheless, Iago had convinced him that he could still become Desdemona's lover, for which he needed to pay dearly by way of monetary gifts and jewellery.

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

"Every day thou daffest me with some device, Iago; and rather, as it seems to me now, keepest from me all conveniency than suppliest me with the least advantage of hope. I will indeed no longer endure it, nor am I yet persuaded to put up in peace what already I have foolishly suffered."
  • What is Roderigo's "hope"? How is it at all possible to be achieved? (4)

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  • What is Roderigo's complaint against Iago? (2)

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"I have wasted myself out of my means. The jewels you have had from me to deliver to Desdemona would half have corrupted a votarist."
  • What is the purpose of "the jewels"? (2)

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  • Why does Roderigo speak of corrupting "a votarist"? (2)

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  • What happened to the jewels? (2)

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"I will make myself known to Desdemona: if she will return me my jewels, I will give over my suit and repent my unlawful solicitation."
  • Why does Roderigo expect Desdemona to return the jewels? (4)

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"If thou the next night following enjoy not Desdemona, take me from this world with treachery and devise engines for my life."
  • Do any of Iago's above-mentioned proposals come true? (4)

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  • What does Iago want Roderigo to do for him now? (2)

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Try another worksheet?

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