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THE STORY - SUMMARY AND NOTES
ACT I, SCENE II
After everything we've heard about him, it's something of a shock to see Othello for the first time. Where is the raging demon that Iago and Brabantio have been talking about? Othello, even under pressure, is cool and reasonable.
Outside of the inn where Othello and Desdemona are staying, Iago lies to Othello. He tells the Moor how much he wanted to stab Roderigo for what he was saying about the general. Iago boasts of having defended the Moor's good name.
Iago is trying to stir Othello's anger, lying about Roderigo, and warning him of Brabantio's power. He doesn't succeed. Othello is confident that his record of bravery and achievement will outweigh anyone's doubts. Othello is of royal blood (although he isn't considered royalty in Venice), and feels he deserves the honors he's been awarded. These are not idle boasts. We'll soon see how valuable he is to the Venetian government.
We also feel his love for Desdemona. He says that his love for her is the only reason he would ever sacrifice his freedom, more valuable to him than the wealth of the sea.
Othello's refusal to hide when he thinks Brabantio is nearby is further proof of his bravery. He says,
I must be found. My parts, my title, and my perfect soul Shall manifest me rightly. Act I, Scene ii, lines 34-36 Do you admire Othello's self-assurance at this point, or do you find him arrogant? Can anyone claim to have a guilt-free conscience? After all, wasn't his elopement with Desdemona unfair to Brabantio?
Shouldn't Othello feel some guilt for having run off with Desdemona without a word to her father?
The truth, as so often happens in real life, is to be found between two extremes. Othello is neither completely guilty nor perfect. But his decision to face Brabantio is honorable and right. Othello seems worthy of our respect, and the more we respect him, the worse his eventual fate will seem.
Someone besides Brabantio wants to see Othello. Cassio and his men come to tell him he's needed at the Senate chambers for an emergency war council. Without complaint (and don't forget that this is Othello's honeymoon night!) Othello goes inside, probably to tell Desdemona where he is going.
He returns to face Brabantio's fury. Advising both sides to put away their swords, Othello remains calm while Brabantio accuses him of using "foul charms," "drugs or minerals," to seduce his daughter. The old man says that there's no other way Desdemona could have chosen Othello over the handsome young men of Venice. And to punish Othello for his sorcery, Brabantio wants to send him to prison.
How calm could you be in such a situation? Anyone might be tempted to return insult for insult, but Othello simply wonders aloud how the Duke will react, since he is waiting right now for Othello in the Senate chambers.
By not reacting, Othello has put Brabantio on the defensive. For all of the old man's power, he can't fight the Duke's wishes. Brabantio can only hope that the Senate will see his personal crisis as he sees it-as Desdemona's kidnapping. If not, Brabantio says, the government might as well be run by slaves and non-Christians-an obvious reference to Othello's background.
By the end of the scene, our opinion of Othello is more balanced than it was. We still don't know the circumstances of his marriage, but we do see him act admirably in a crisis, and when his honor and reputation are at stake, Othello chooses peace where others might fight.