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Othello Commentary - Act I.

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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, a soldier.

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)" (Line 116).

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?" (Lines 30-32).

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 36-46).

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 46).

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 52-54).

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" (Line 55).

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 their nation.

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 Othello.

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 1-12).

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" arrive.

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), (Line 48).

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 77).

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 (Line 98).

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), (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 (Lines 128-149).

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 189-196).

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 money.

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 the Moor.

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 (donkey)...

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