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.
A LOOK AT RODERIGO
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
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
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
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?