My class labelled the temptation scene “BROs B4 HOEs”. Basically, faced with the choice of trusting Iago or trusting Desdemona, Othello trusts his longterm friend over his new wife, hence the bros before hoes reference!
However, that doesn’t answer the question of how the hell Othello transforms from trusting his wife completely to deciding to murder her, in the space of a single scene?
At the beginning of the Temptation Scene (Act 3, scene 3), Desdemona assures Cassio that she will not rest until he regains his former position. In her own words, she says “if I do vow a friendship, I’ll perform it to the last article” and she even states “thy solicitor shall rather die than give thy cause away“. True to her word, when Othello enters she tries to cajole him into calling Cassio back and when he refuses saying “some other time“, she continues pressing the matter, questioning repeatedly “shall it be soon?” “shall it be tonight at supper?” “Tomorrow dinner then?” “Why then tomorrow night; or Tuesday morn; or Tuesday noon, or night; or Wednesday morn”. This is undoubtedly Desdemona at her most irritating, yet Othello finds her behaviour cute, not nagging. Immediately after she leaves, he looks after her fondly, claiming that he loves her deeply and that without her his world would be in tatters “Perdition catch my soul but I do love thee! And when I love thee not, chaos is come again“. However, by the end of this scene, Othello is plotting her death!
Here are the tactics Iago uses to convince Othello that Desdemona is cheating on him:
- “Hah! I like not that!” There’s something really bothering me but I’d rather not say. “Utter my thoughts? Why say, they are vile and false?“
- Why is your wife so obsessed with Cassio getting his job back?
- Didn’t ye all hang out together when you were wooing her? I’m not sure you can trust him…
- You don’t know this because you’re not from around here, but Venetian women cheat on their husbands all the time! They’re just really good at hiding it!
- Didn’t Desdemona “deceive her father, marrying you? And when she seem’d to shake and fear your looks, she loved them most” In other words, she’s a pretty good actress you know!
- Isn’t it a bit weird that she married you, a black man? She rejected “many proposed matches of her own clime, complexion and degree” for no good reason. “One may smell in such, a will most rank, foul disproportion, thoughts unnatural”. [At this point Othello claims “I do not but think that Desdemona’s honest” but he also orders Iago to “set on thy wife to observe“, laments giving up his single status “why did I marry?” and concludes “She’s gone, I am abused, and my relief must be to loathe her. O curse of marriage! That we can call these delicate creatures ours and not their appetites. I had rather be a toad and live upon the vapour of a dungeon, than keep a corner in the thing I love for others uses“. He keeps contradicting himself; as he sees her approach he says “If she be false, O! then heaven mocks itself. I’ll not believe it“. Desdemona is full of concern for her beloved “Are you not well?” and accidentally drops her handkerchief as she attempts to bind his sore head. Emilia picks it up, gives it to Iago. Then Othello returns and threatens Iago “If thou dost slander her and torture me, never pray more; abandon all remorse; on horror’s head horrors accumulate” who fakes disgust at his ‘mistreatment‘ claiming “to be direct and honest is not safe“. Iago then mocks the idea that Othello will ever get absolute proof commenting sarcastically “would you, the supervisor, grossly gape on; behold her tupp’d?”… “It is impossible you should see this” but instead he promises circumstantial evidence of Desdemona’s betrayal. So, let’s keep going with Iago’s ‘proofs’]
- Oh yeah, by the way Othello, Cassio was moaning about Desdemona in his sleep, and he laid his leg over my thigh and sighed and kissed me and said “Cursed fate, that gave thee to the Moor!” so he must be shagging your wife if he’s moaning things and groping her in his sleep.
- Also, you know that handkerchief you gave Desdemona? “Such a handkerchief – I am sure it was your wife’s – did I to-day see Cassio wipe his beard with“.
At this point Othello says “Now do I see tis true“, then he falls to his knees proclaiming “All my fond love thus do I blow to heaven: ‘Tis gone. Arise black vengeance from the hollow hell! Yield up, O love! thy crown and hearted throne to tyrannous hate“. Iago also swears a solemn vow “Witness you ever burning lights above!…that here Iago doth give up the execution of his wit, hands, heart, to wrong’d Othello’s service!” and at this point Othello swings into battle mode, ordering Iago to kill Cassio, planing a “swift means of death for the fair devil” Desdemona and finally giving Iago the promotion he wanted all along “Now art thou my Lieutenant“.