Othello Commentary provides a comprehensive description
of every act with explanations and translations for
all important quotes.
Act I. Scene I. - Venice. A Street.
Roderigo to Iago: "Thou told'st me thou didst
hold him in thy hate."
Iago, a soldier under Othello's command is
arguing with Roderigo, a wealthy Venetian. Roderigo
has paid Iago a considerable sum of money to spy on
Othello for him, since he wishes to take Othello's
girlfriend, Desdemona as his own.
Roderigo fears Iago has not been telling him enough
and that this proves Iago's real loyalty is to
Othello not him. Iago tells us of his hatred towards
Othello for choosing Cassio as his new lieutenant and
not him as he had expected.
To regain Roderigo's trust, Iago and Roderigo
inform Brabantio, Desdemona's father of her relationship
with Othello, the "Moor" which enrages Brabantio
into sending parties out into the night to apprehend
Othello for what must obviously be in Brabantio's
eyes, an abuse of his daughter by Othello...
The play begins at night in a street of Venice. Roderigo,
a prosperous Venetian Gentleman is arguing with Iago,
He explains that Iago has had his purse (been paid
by him) to keep him informed of Desdemona's activities,
a women whom Roderigo is in love with (made clearer
later in the text).
He complains that it angers him that Iago has not taken
his duty to Roderigo seriously enough and instead has
acted as if he owned Roderigo's purse (wealth)
"As if the strings were thine [as if the strings
were yours]," (Line 3) not telling him immediately
that Desdemona had married Othello (Lines 1-5).
Iago complains that Roderigo is not listening to him.
In response, Roderigo says he thought Iago hated Othello
who like Desdemona is yet to be mentioned by name.
By implication, Roderigo is trying to figure out whose
side Iago is on, his or Othello's for not informing
him immediately of Desdemona's marriage.
Roderigo says "Thou told'st me thou didst
hold him [Othello] in thy hate" (You told me you hated
him), (Line 7).
Iago replies that Roderigo should "Despise me
if I do not" explaining now his hatred of the still
unnamed Othello (Line 8) .
Iago explains that he was expecting to be made Othello's
lieutenant since he knows that he is experienced or
as Iago says "I know my price [worth]," (Line
11) but after dodging the issue Othello told him that
he had already chosen his new officer (Line 16).
This angers Iago immensely since his replacement is
a "great arithmetician," by the name of Michael
Cassio, a Florentine (Line 19).
What does this man who has "never set a squadron
in the field, / Nor the division of a battle knows"
have that Iago does not? (Line 22).
In Iago's eyes this man is a fool, knowing little
"More than a spinster;" adding that unless
it is in a book, this man knows nothing of war unlike
the battle-hardened Iago (Line 24).
Yet this man who is "mere prattle, without practice,"
has been judged better than Iago and made lieutenant
instead of him (Line 26).
But, adds a very disgruntled Iago, Cassio "had
the election [choice]; / And I-of whom his [Othello's]
eyes had seen the proof [experience] / At Rhodes, at
Cypress, and on other grounds [battlefields]" missed
out (Line 28).
Iago finishes his loathing by grumbling that he must
remain "his Moorship's ancient" a lower
position in the army (Line 33).
Roderigo now answers, by saying he would rather be
his hangman (executioner), (Line 34) but Iago says this
is no remedy (solution) for his problems (Lines 34-36).
Iago explains that "Preferment [promotion] goes
by letter and affection [who you know and favoritism],
/ Not by the old gradation [working up the ranks], where
each second / Stood heir to the first [each man would
eventually succeed his superior]" (Lines 35-39).
Iago now adds that by his service, he must still "love
the Moor" who is of course Othello (Line 39).
Iago now tells us his views on the order of things,
explaining that he must appear to act "for love
and duty," (Line 59) when in reality he is pursuing
his own peculiar ends (Lines 40-64).
Iago now gains Roderigo's trust by suggesting
they wake up Desdemona's father and tell him what
has happened (Lines 68- 72).
Soon after, Roderigo and Iago make a racket outside
the Brabantio's house to awaken Brabantio, Desdemona's
father and a Senator, warning Brabantio of "thieves!"
repeatedly (Line 80).
Getting Brabantio's attention, Iago tells Brabantio
that "sir, you are robb'd;" (Line 87)
Iago seeming to deliberately enjoy upsetting Brabantio
by continuously using emotive language and imagery to
rile up Brabantio, explaining quite crudely and famously
that "your daughter and the Moor [Othello] are
now making the beast with two backs (are intimate)"
Brabantio naturally calls Iago a villain.
Roderigo explains that Desdemona on this "this
odd-even and dull-watch o' the night," (odd night),
(Line 124) with just the help of a "knave [lowly
person] of common hire," (Line 126), and a gondolier
(venetian boat), left Brabantio's house to run
"To the gross [disgusting] clasps of a lascivious
Moor,- [Othello]" (Line 127) whom Brabantio knows,
explaining that both he and Iago have committed no wrongs
since Brabantio will soon learn that what they say is
true (Lines 120-141).
Brabantio now grabs a taper (torch) to find out if
this is true and Iago decides to make a sly exit, whilst
Brabantio discovering the truth, decides to feel sorry
for himself, that he has to suffer in his eyes such
a terrible fate as to lose his daughter to a "Moor."
The scene ends with Brabantio organizing "special
officers of night" to find his daughter, telling
them to bring their weapons and thanking Roderigo for
his pains or troubles (Line 183).
Act I. Scene II. - Another Street.
Iago now speaks with Othello, the man he angered
Brabantio against earlier by implying Othello had abused
his daughter, Desdemona. Iago lies that Roderigo and
not himself, was responsible for angering Brabantio
against Othello, telling Othello that he should watch
out for Brabantio's men who are looking for him.
Othello decides not to hide, since he believes his good
name will stand him in good stead.
A group of men now greet Othello, Iago warning Othello
to flee, but we learn it is Cassio, Othello's lieutenant
who has arrived, telling Othello that he has been called
away over some matter in Cypress. We learn that Othello
has married Desdemona.
Brabantio and Roderigo arrive, Brabantio accusing
Othello of using magic on his daughter. Othello stops
a fight before it can happen but Othello is called away
on the Cypress matter to the anger of Brabantio who
wants justice for what he believes Othello has done
to his fair Desdemona.
Iago is now speaking to Othello; the very man he told
Brabantio had stolen his daughter earlier. Iago explains
to Othello that "in the trade of war I have slain
[killed] men, / Yet do I hold it very stuff o' the conscience
/ To do no contriv'd murder: I lack iniquity /
Sometimes to do me service" adding that "Nine
or ten times / I had thought to have yerk'd [lashed
out, hit] him here under the ribs" (Line 1).
By this, Iago means that in his profession as a soldier
he has often killed men, but he considers it very important
for his good conscience that he commit nothing that
could be seen or "contriv'd" as murder
explaining that this sometimes is a weakness for him,
but so angered was he that Roderigo spoke badly of Othello
(when we know it really was Iago) that he almost forgot
himself and wanted to hit Roderigo under the ribs nine
or ten times in punishment.
Othello is now introduced to us with the words "'Tis
better as it is" meaning it is better that Iago
did nothing (Line 6).
Iago now explains to Othello how Roderigo "spoke
such scurvy and provoking [insulting] terms / Against
your honour / That, with the little godliness I have,
/ I did full hard forbear him" (did not easily
or happily listen to him), (Line 8).
Iago now asks Othello if he is married yet, assuring
Othello that Desdemona's father will try to have his
daughter divorce Othello or create as much trouble as
he can within the powers of the law (Lines 12-16).
Othello replies "Let him do his spite: / My services
which I have done the signiory / Shall out-tongue his
[Brabantio's] complaints" by which Othello means
let Brabantio (Desdemona's father) do his worst
since his services as a soldier will outspeak any criticism
of him for marrying Desdemona (Line 18).
Othello also adds that knowing boasting is an honor,
when he must do so, he will fetch his life and though
he may be a Moor, he comes from a line of Moor royalty
which will stand him in good favor adding that he loves
Desdemona and would not confine this "unhoused
free condition" for all the sea (Line 26).
'Tis yet to know, / Which when I know
that boasting is an honour / I shall promulgate, I fetch
my life and being / From men of royal siege, and my
demerits / May speak unbonneted to as proud a fortune
/ As this that I have reach'd; for know, Iago,
/ But that I love the gentle Desdemona, / I would not
my unhoused free condition / Put into circumscription
and confine / For the sea's worth. (Lines 19-28)
Othello now notices some lights asking "But, look!
what lights come yond?" (But, look! what lights
come closer?), (Line 28).
Iago warns the trusting Othello that "Those are
the raised [angered] father [Brabantio] and his friends:"
adding that it would be wise for Othello to make a quick
exit (Line 29).
Othello, in an insight into his character says: "Not
I; I must be found:" explaining that "My parts,
my title, and my perfect soul / Shall manifest [justify
/ stand] me rightly" asking "Is it they?"
Iago tells us it isn't, "By Janus, I think
no" and Cassio and several officers bearing torches
now appear (Line 33).
We quickly learn from Cassio that the Duke greets Othello
and requires his immediate appearance, Cassio explaining
that the issue is "Something from Cyprus, as I
may divine [figure out]" (Line 39).
He adds that it involves "a business of some heat
[urgency / importance];" explaining that "the
galleys / Have sent a dozen sequent messengers / This
very night at one another's heels," and that several
men are discussing matters with the Duke already (Lines
We also learn that the senate sent "several quests"
to search out Othello's whereabouts and so we get some
idea of Othello's importance as a soldier (Line
Iago and Cassio talk and Cassio learns from Iago that
Othello has "boarded a land carrack;" saying
"If it prove lawful prize, he's made forever"
(Line 50), by which Iago means Othello has wed Desdemona
and if the marriage is not revoked, Othello is set for
life since he is married.
Cassio does not understand and Othello enters when
another "troop" or man meets Othello (Lines
Iago says it is Brabantio and warns Othello that he
comes with hostile intentions or as Iago puts it, "General,
be advis'd; / He [Brabantio] comes to bad intent"
Roderigo announces that he has found the "Moor",
Brabantio calling him a "thief!" and both sides
(Brabantio, Roderigo and officers and Othello, Iago
and Cassio) draw their swords on each other.
Iago tells Roderigo that "I am for you" meaning
he wants to fight Roderigo but Othello stops the fight
in another insight to his character. He says "Keep
up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them"
adding that Brabantio whom he calls "Good signior,"
out of respect will command Othello more from his years
(age / seniority) than his weapons (Line 60).
Brabantio now insults Othello suggesting Othello used
magic, immobilizing drugs or minerals to enchant his
daughter Desdemona who until now completely shunned
marriage even to the most wealthy and eligible men of
After insulting Othello's race; "the sooty bosom
/ Of such a thing as thou [you, Othello];" (Line
70), Brabantio orders his guards to hold Othello whom
he intends to punish, telling them to subdue Othello
at his peril if he resists (Lines 63-80).
Othello tells the guards to stop. He will not resist;
if this were going to be a fight, Othello would know
it without such prompters he explains.
He also diplomatically asks Brabantio where he should
go to answer these accusations.
Brabantio answers prison until "fit time / Of
law and course of direct session / Call thee [you] to
answer " (a court trial), (Line 86) and now Othello
asks how the Duke who was called him for a meeting will
be "satisfied," if he goes to prison as Brabantio
wishes and not to the Duke immediately (Lines 87-90).
An officer confirms the Duke's urgent request
and Brabantio explains that he does not believe the
Duke would be in council at this time of night, adding
that his injustice is great indeed, saying no one can
feel this wrong for if the Duke ignores this matter,
"Bond-slaves and pagans shall our statesmen be"
(bond slaves and pagans both lowly people will be our
statesmen / if nothing is done about my daughter our
society will decay), (Line 98).
Act I. Scene III. - A Council Chamber. The Duke
and Senators sitting at a table. Officers attending.
Cassio: "The Moor is of a free and open nature,
/ That thinks men honest that but seem to be so, / And
will as tenderly be led by the nose / As asses are."
The Duke is in council with several senators discussing
their enemy, the Turks (Turkish people). Othello not
Brabantio is first greeted by the Duke in an indication
of just how well regarded Othello is by the Duke.
Brabantio complains to the Duke that Othello bewitched
his daughter and had intimate relations with her. Othello
confirms that he and Desdemona are married. Desdemona
is brought in to settle the matter, Othello meanwhile
explains how he and Desdemona fell in love. Desdemona
confirms this and the Duke advises Brabantio that he
is better off to accept the marriage than to complain
and change nothing.
The Duke now orders Othello to Cypress to fight
the Turks, with Desdemona to follow, accompanied by
the trusted Iago. Roderigo despairs that his quest for
Desdemona is over, but Iago tells him not to give up
and earn money instead, soon Desdemona will bore of
Alone, Iago reveals his intention to continue using
Roderigo for money and his hatred of Othello (Othello
picked Cassio and not Iago for his lieutenant). He explains
that his plan is to suggest to Othello that Cassio is
sleeping with his wife.
The Duke and several senators are discussing reports
of the Turkish fleet strengths. The Duke believes their
enemy numbers one hundred and forty galleys, the First
Senators' reports suggest one hundred and seven,
the Second Senator believes it is two hundred (Lines
A sailor from one of their galleys brings a report
suggesting the Turkish forces will head for Rhodes and
further discussion follows as to whether this really
is the case (Lines 13-32).
A Messenger soon arrives; suggesting the Turk's goal
is Cyprus (Lines 33-47).
Brabantio, Othello, Iago, Roderigo and several "Officers"
The Duke immediately greets Othello, warmly saying
"Valiant Othello, we must straight employ you /
Against the general enemy Ottoman" (Valiant Othello,
we must use you at once against the Ottoman enemy),
After greeting Othello, the Duke greets Brabantio telling
him that he did not at first see him and mentioning
that he could have used his help tonight in his war
council (Line 50).
Brabantio now lets loose his "particular grief"
(Line 55) or dispute with Othello (Lines 53-56). He
explains that his daughter in his eyes is dead being
"abus'd [abused], stoln' [stolen] from
me, and corrupted / By spells and medicines" and
the Duke asks who is responsible (Line 60).
Brabantio explains that the man responsible is "this
Moor;" Othello who is now standing before him because
of the Duke's special mandate for state affairs which
has brought him here (Lines 70-72).
Othello answers to the Duke by first addressing the
Duke and Brabantio as "Most potent, grave, and
reverend signiors, / My very noble and approv'd
good masters," explaining that it is true, he has
taken away Desdemona and he has indeed married her (Line
Othello explains how he has seen no service other than
war asking as he says "by your gracious patience,"
(Line 89) that he may tell his tale of how he met Desdemona
calling it "my whole course of love;" in which
he intends explaining "What conjuration [conjuring],
and what mighty magic, / For such proceeding I am charg'd
withal [with], / I won his daughter" (what conjuring
and what mighty magic that I have been accused of did
I use to win Desdemona), (Lines 89-92).
Brabantio is convinced of foul play, explaining that
his daughter who "Blush'd at herself; "
(Line 96) could not possibly happily love "what
she fear'd to look on!" or the Moor Othello
The Duke argues there is no proof for spells or witchcraft
and at the First Senators questioning, Othello explains
how Desdemona fell in love with him (Lines 110-113).
Othello asks for Desdemona to brought to them to tell
her side of the story, the Duke agreeing (Lines 115-119),
Othello tells Iago to help fetch Desdemona and in the
meanwhile explains his romance.
Othello explains that "Her father [Brabantio]
lov'd me;" and "oft [often] invited me;"
to talk and "Still question'd [asked]" Othello
about the story of his life from year to year across
the many sieges and battles Othello had fought yet Desdemona
increasingly "with a greedy ear [increasing curiosity]"
would devour his stories listening ever more inquisitively
The two came to share feelings, Othello saying that
Desdemona at the end of his stories "gave me for
my pains a world of sighs:" (Line 159), wishing
she had not heard Othello's stories yet wishing
"That heaven had made her such a man;" as
Othello (Line 163).
Othello adds that Desdemona told him "if I [Othello]
had a friend that lov'd [loved] her, / I should
but teach him how to tell my story, / And that would
woo [court / win over] her" (Line 165).
On this hint, Othello acted, explaining that "She
lov'd me for the dangers I had pass'd, / And I
lov'd her that she did pity them" (Line 168)
explaining that this is the only witchcraft he used
and seeing Desdemona, tells the Duke to ask her for
proof (Lines 129-170).
The Duke answers that he thinks this story would win
his "daughter too", telling Brabantio to make
the best of this tangled matter (Line 173) adding, "Men
do their broken weapons rather use / Than their bare
hands" (Men often fight against what they cannot
fix rather than seek obvious alternatives), by which
The Duke is hinting that Brabantio would be wise to
accept that his daughter is now married), (Line 173).
Brabantio wants Desdemona to speak, pledging destruction
on his own head if she was half the "wooer,"
(if she loved Othello) (Line 176).
Desdemona now tells Brabantio that what Othello said
is true. She loves her father but has duties of love
to her new husband as well (Lines 181-189).
Brabantio realizing he cannot change anything with
the Duke is angry saying he would rather adopt a child
(by his own will) than get one (a son-in-law). Nonetheless
he reluctantly accepts the situation and asks the Duke
to now turn his attention to matters of state (Lines
The Duke says "When remedies are past, the griefs
are ended" (Line 202) adding that "To mourn
a mischief that is past and gone / Is the next way to
draw new mischief on" (to mourn an unpleasant event
that has already past and cannot be changed is the next
way to bring a new mischief or problem on), (Line 204).
The Duke urges Brabantio accept the marriage, wisely
remarking that "The robb'd [robbed] that smiles
steals something from the thief; / He robs himself that
spends a bootless grief" (the robbed who smiles,
steals something from the thief, while he who spends
his time in unnecessary grief is the one who is truly
robbed), (Line 208).
Returning to the Turkish problem, the Duke sends Othello
by ship to Cyprus to fight the Turkish fleet, we can
presume are already at sea (Lines 210-240).
After some discussion, Desdemona who neither Othello
nor Brabantio want at Brabantio's house is at her
own urging allowed to follow Othello to Cyprus under
the protection of Iago whom Othello trusts (Lines 248-288).
The Duke leaves, trying to console Brabantio that "If
virtue no delighted beauty lack, / Your son-in-law is
far more fair than black" (Line 292).
The First Senator wishes Othello well, saying "Adieu
[good-bye], brave Moor!" telling Othello to "use
Desdemona well" (Line 293) and Brabantio darkly
warns Othello to "Look to her, Moor, if thou [you]
hast [have] eyes to see: / She has deceiv'd [tricked]
her father, and may thee [you as well]" (Line 293).
Othello departs with his wife telling her he has but
an hour to spend with her before he leaves, leaving
Iago alone now with Roderigo.
Roderigo wishes to drown himself in despair that he
will never have the hand of Desdemona since she is now
married to Othello (Lines 304-322). Iago tells him this
is ridiculous and encourages Roderigo to believe all
is not lost. Iago continuously tells Roderigo to make
These Moors, Iago explains are changeable in nature;
what will taste "as luscious as locusts,"
will soon be "as bitter as coloquintida" adding
that Desdemona's affections will also soon change;
she will again favor youth, adding how silly it would
be for Roderigo to drown himself instead of trying to
win Desdemona's affections (Lines 338-370).
Iago once again tells Roderigo to make money explaining
once more his hatred of Othello, the "Moor"
when Roderigo asks for reassurance (Lines 370-380) and
Roderigo leaves a new man, pledging to not kill himself
and to sell all his land (Lines 381-388).
With Roderigo gone, we learn Iago's real plans...
He will make Roderigo which he calls his fool, his
own purse or source of money which he will use both
for sport and profit adding that he does indeed hate
Cassio decides that since Othello trusts him, his plan
is likely to succeed. First he intends to suggest to
Othello that Cassio is "too familiar [sleeping]
with his [Othello's] wife:" (Line 402).
Iago adds that "The Moor [Othello] is of a free
and open nature, / That thinks men honest that but seem
to be so, / And will as tenderly be led by the nose
/ As asses are" (The Moor Othello is a free and
open, trusting man who thinks people are honest if they
appear to be and will easily be led by the nose or fooled
as donkeys are), (Line 405).
Iago intends to manipulate Othello just like an ass