A storm has dispersed the Venetian fleet so that Cassio arrives first, anxious for Othello's safety. Desdemona is relieved by Othello’s arrival and the joyful party depart, leaving Iago with Roderigo.
In this key passage (2.1.191–254), Iago persuades Roderigo that Desdemona loves Cassio.
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Shakespeare shifts the action from Venice to Cyprus. Iago notices Cassio's courteous manner towards Desdemona and resolves, 'with as little a web as this will I / ensnare as great a fly as Cassio' (2.1.164).
Iago’s true intentions are never revealed to other characters – it is only through sneaking asides and hate-filled soliloquies that we are given access to his plots.
In this manner, we are colluders, silent witnesses of his evil, failing to intervene.
His speech plays upon stereotypes, revealing the dangerous underbelly of his earlier misogynistic ‘jokes’.
His language is heavily ironic, repeatedly calling Cassio a ‘knave’, though we know this is the role Iago himself gleefully identifies with.
Iago’s co-conspirator, Roderigo, has less access to his diabolical plans than we do, despite Iago posing as his benefactor with astonishingly little effort: 'Pish! Iago is portrayed, through Roderigo's compliance, as masterful and persuasive, laying the ground for the ease with which he later poisons Othello's mind. Iago portrays Desdemona as lustful, desperate to trade Othello for a more refined Cassio. Iago refers to Othello not by his name but as 'the Moor', calling him 'the devil' (2.1.216) and 'defective' (2.1.220), a racist portrayal which makes Desdemona's unfaithfulness more believable to Roderigo.
Iago's misogyny has been plain earlier in the scene and builds here: young women are portrayed as foolish, having an innately sexualised 'nature' (2.1.222–23) and whorish for touching hands, even for thinking.