Waiting to be attended to by Iago’s wife, who alone can facilitate a conference with Desdemona, Cassio pays a musician to play (to keep him distracted) only to be opposed by a clown who pays accordingly to have the musician stop playing and leave the premises entirely. The musician takes the money and runs as does the clown when Cassio pays the clown to remind Emilia of his--Cassio’s--presence. Iago emerges to rectify the situation, however, and by and by Emilia attends to Cassio. He is told not to worry, that his prospects for reinstatement are good.
Having ordered Iago to deliver his report of the Turkish wars to a pilot who is to sail to Venice to deliver Othello’s report to the Senate, Othello offers his Cyprian hosts his expertise with regards the coastal nation’s defensive fortifications.
Desdemona assures Cassio that she will plead on his behalf when Othello’s approach compels Cassio to withdraw. When asked if the man leaving his wife is Cassio, Iago, who is with Othello, remarks that such a guilty aspect is not at all like Cassio. By and by, Othello questions Desdemona who confirms that the man she was with was in fact Cassio. She goes on to advocate Cassio’s plea (to be reinstated), reminding Othello that it was Cassio who had vouched for Othello when Desdemona had had her doubts regarding Othello during their courtship. Citing his hectic schedule, Othello promises to get around to Cassio’s petition on the condition that Desdemona stop insisting. Desdemona obliges and leaves.
Alone with Othello, Iago insinuates the occurrence of an impropriety. When Othello entreats Iago to speak his mind and Iago balks, citing proverbs about reputation and jealousy instead and concluding with the maxim, ’Ignorance is Bliss,’ Othello rebukes Iago for thinking that rumors and gossip can ruin a man. Emboldened, Iago makes explicit his suspicion that Cassio’s intention with respect to Desdemona may not be altogether honorable. With suspicion firmly planted in Othello’s mind, Iago advises Othello to act as if everything is normal until proof of some substance is produced. Iago leaves. Alone, Othello is plagued by the notion that his happiness is an illusion when Desdemona comes upon him. She senses Othello’s distress, and when told it’s a headache she tries to apply his head with a tourniquet like press with a handkerchief which proves too small for the purpose and is inadvertently discarded as a result. The handkerchief is recovered by Emilia who realizes that this is the very item that her husband had often prodded her to steal though for what reason she could not fathom. Nonetheless, she lets him have it though not without protest.
It turns out, that the handkerchief, which is embroidered with strawberries, was Othello’s first gift to Desdemona. Iago is reveling in the fact that he is in possession of it when Othello comes upon him and warns him to stop suspecting his wife of dishonor and infidelity based on groundless generalizations lest Iago feel the brunt of Othello’s wrath. Iago recoils as if he had received an undeserved wound. He curses the ways of the world that would crucify honesty of which he is the exemplar. Othello’s anger ebbs, but he is adamant that Iago stop insinuating unless he has proof. Iago provides one, a made-up account of Cassio conspiring with Desdemona against Othello, while talking in his sleep. To infuse his bold-face lie with plausibility, Iago cautions Othello not to draw hasty conclusions, to consider the possibility that Cassio was merely revealing a subconscious fantasy. Alas, there’s no persuading Othello otherwise now; he is convinced that Cassio and Desdemona are cheating behind his back. And as such they are as good as dead. Iago vows to help.
Othello emerges as Desdemona is lamenting the loss of her handkerchief to Emilia. Taking Desdemona by the hand, Othello insinuates that she is guilty of licentiousness. The insinuation is so craftily worded that Desdemona can’t make heads or tails of it. Dismissing it, Desdemona reminds Othello of his promise to reinstate Cassio to which Othello, citing his failing health, requests for Desdemona’s handkerchief. That she doesn’t have it causes a quarrel that has Othello harping on the value of the handkerchief and Desdemona harping on Othello’s promise to reinstate Cassio. They part on bad terms when Cassio, accompanied by Iago, arrives to find Desdemona and Emilia at a loss as to the general’s peevish mood. Iago leaves to attend to the general as does Desdemona, advising Cassio to be patient for she will try again to have Othello fulfill his promise even if it’s the last thing she ever does. By and by, Cassio is joined by his love interest, Bianca, who complains that Cassio has been neglecting her of late. Cassio assures her that he will make up for it but to leave him, and while she’s at it to make a copy of the handkerchief that he found lying in his room, as he has pressing matters to settle at the moment.