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Shakespeare: Othello

16. Act 4, Scene 1: Eavesdropping

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About this Lecture


In this module, we look at Act 4, Scene 1, in which Othello – still ranting and raving – is persuaded by Iago to eavesdrop on Cassio. In particular, we think about: (i) the distinction, once again, between words and actions (“It is not words that shake me thus”, 41-2); (ii) the idea of Iago as the devil incarnate; (iii) the use of a traditionally comic device (e.g. eavesdropping) in a tragic context; (iv) the character of Bianca, who – of the three major women in the play (Desdemona, Emilia, Bianca) appears to be the most realistic about love and sex; (v) the arrival of messengers from Venice and the emergence of the conflict between Othello and Desdemona into the public sphere; and (vi) the impact of Othello actually striking Desdemona.


In this twenty-one part course, Professor John McRae (University of Nottingham) explores Shakespeare’s Othello. We begin with a broad introduction to the historical, political and intellectual context of early 17th-century England, before going through the play scene-by-scene, providing close reading and detailed analysis, with commentary on character, plot, themes and motifs, language, symbolism, and more.

Note: We used the Arden edition of the play (Third Series, Revised Edition, ed. E. A. J. Honigmann). Students using a different version of the play may encounter slight differences in both the text and line numbers.


John McRae is Special Professor of Language in Literature Studies and Teaching Associate in the School of English at Nottingham University, and holds Visiting Professorships in China, Malaysia, Spain and the USA. He is co-author of The Routledge History of Literature in English with Ron Carter, and also wrote The Language of Poetry, Literature with a Small 'l' and the first critical edition of Teleny by Oscar Wilde and others.

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APA style

McRae, J. (2019, January 27). Shakespeare: Othello - Act 4, Scene 1: Eavesdropping [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

McRae, J. "Shakespeare: Othello – Act 4, Scene 1: Eavesdropping." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 27 Jan 2019,

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