A Plot Hole in Othello?

Over on Shakespeare Answers, somebody asked Why Iago asks Roderigo to kill Cassio. In writing up my answer, I noticed something that strikes me as an odd gap, almost like Shakespeare did it on purpose.

Check out the end of Act 4, Scene 2:


Why, by making him uncapable of Othello’s place;
knocking out his brains.


And that you would have me to do?


Ay, if you dare do yourself a profit and a right.
He sups to-night with a harlotry, and thither will I
go to him: he knows not yet of his horrorable
fortune. If you will watch his going thence, which
I will fashion to fall out between twelve and one,
you may take him at your pleasure: I will be near
to second your attempt, and he shall fall between
us. Come, stand not amazed at it, but go along with
me; I will show you such a necessity in his death
that you shall think yourself bound to put it on
him. It is now high suppertime, and the night grows
to waste: about it.


I will hear further reason for this.


And you shall be satisfied.

Iago has stated to Roderigo that to keep Othello and Desdemona for leaving for Mauritania, they need to remove Cassio from the picture (since he would be the one left in charge). When Roderigo asks why he has to do it, Iago says “I’ll show you why he has to die, and you’ll be in such agreement that you’ll want to be the one to do it.”

When we next see them, however?


I have no great devotion to the deed;
And yet he hath given me satisfying reasons:
‘Tis but a man gone. Forth, my sword: he dies

I must be missing something, because on this rainy Monday morning that reads almost comically to me – I envision Iago putting his arm around Roderigo, walking off stage saying “Let me explain it to you…” and then 2 seconds later them coming back on stage with Roderigo saying, “Oh, ok, I understand, that makes sense.” It’s like Shakespeare didn’t really have a good answer to that question so he phoned that one in.

What am I missing?

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6 thoughts on “A Plot Hole in Othello?

  1. Hey there,

    Here are a couple reasons Shakespeare may not have felt the need.

    One, anything else he could have said would have been secondary to what he did already say and what we did already see as an audience. Iago tells Roderigo he can kill him if he doesn't have Desdemona the next night- strong words.

    You must remember Roderigo is at a point where he's willing to go through with this but not without writing a couple letters just in case. He isn't 100 percent bowled over by Iago's lies anymore. Iago is losing his tightening grip on the situation, he being pulled into his own growing fire.

    Also, just from a writer's stand point. We as an audience know Iago is going to simply spin more lies, so there's no need to hear every little thing said. Pacing Bill realized anything more would have killed the flow of the story into the end of Act 4 and into Act 5. He chooses to be as succinct as possible, giving credit to his audience.

    And it's most likely several hours later between their leaving the stage and returning for the street fight.

    So you are correct when you say it's something he's done on purpose.

  2. I think it is tenuous at best. This is Iago slipping. If Desdemona leaves, Roderigo has zero chance. That's the best Iago can do anymore. He can't see how his actions will effect all of the different lies he has going on.

    It's not a plot hole so much as a character flaw. A necessary character flaw. This is the point in which his story turns against him. The pieces he's put together so skillfully fall away. Cassio doesn't die, he even second guesses himself before doing it – should it be Cassio or Roderigo? 'This is the night that either makes me or undoes me quite.'

    The question would then be, why does it get out of hand for him? Which isn't a plot hole, but part of the character study. Often killers and sociopaths make mistakes so they will get caught, the glory of people knowing who it was. Maybe it's the fact that he's not as clever as he thought. Maybe he let's Desdemona get to him in the scene before Roderigo comes in. And it's probably a little of all of these.

    Not a plot hole so much as Shakespeare allowing his characters to have complicated human psyches.

  3. You bring up an interesting point, Phillip – does Iago ever connect the "kill Cassio == you get Desdemona" thing? Seems tenuous at best. I get "kill Cassio = Desdemona doesn't leave", but it seems like there's a big gap there.

  4. I agree with Phillip that the detail at this point is unnecessary. When you isolate a moment like this and dissect it, you forget that it's part of a greater pageant.

    At this point, the play is screaming down the hill into complete chaos. We don't need any more examples of Iago's cleverness now. We want to get to the confrontation. That Iago can come up with a plausible explanation for the likes of Roderigo does not strain anyone's credulity at his point.

    Roderigo is caught inexorably in Iago's orbit now; he seems to know he can't resist his power. The letters are a balm to his conscience, perhaps, as much as an example of his mistrust of Iago.

  5. It also might be a darkly humorous bit. In the production I was in, Roderigo's voice was just tremulous enough on "satisfying reasons" to make the audience laugh ruefully – because obviously, there are no satisfying reasons to give, and the fact Roderigo's has been convinced by Iago yet again plays up the character's utterly gullible nature.

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