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THE STORY - SUMMARY AND NOTES

ACT I, SCENE III (continued)

BRABANTIO

We first see Brabantio as a furious father, bent on revenge. By the end of this scene, his last appearance in the play, he is bitter and exhausted from his efforts to get his daughter back.

Brabantio, too, has been fooled by the line between appearance and reality. To his eyes, Desdemona feared to even look at Othello. Brabantio never suspected that she was secretly in love with the Moor.

Brabantio doesn't accept defeat gracefully, saying that he'd imprison any other child he might have rather than see her escape from him, as Desdemona has done. He even refuses to let Desdemona stay with him while Othello is in Cyprus.

Brabantio's parting warning to Othello will come back to haunt the Moor:

Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see, She has deceived her father, and may thee. Act I, Scene iii, lines 292-293 These are Brabantio's final lines. By the end of the play he is dead, probably of a broken heart.

How do you feel about Brabantio? Is he just an unpleasant old man, spoiling his daughter's happiness? Or is he showing the feelings of many parents facing loneliness and fearing that their child has made an unsuitable match?

Remember that some of Shakespeare's audiences would have sympathized with Brabantio. The age, social, national, and racial differences between Othello and Desdemona would have made Elizabethans just as uneasy as Brabantio. Blacks were often seen in 17th-century England-as soldiers and traders-but they were considered exotic, mysterious, different. An audience of Shakespeare's day might have been moved by Othello and Desdemona's love but it would have been doubtful that such a match could succeed.


Brabantio is a product of his time. No matter how much he respects Othello as a soldier, he considers him his social inferior. Brabantio's prejudices are easy to recognize. There are people today who would react in a similar way.

IAGO

Iago steps forward again at the end of the scene. Roderigo is ready to drown himself now that Desdemona is married, but Iago has nothing but contempt for such an idea. Why kill yourself because of another person, he wonders. Iago insists that a man must control his fate. The trouble with people, he insists, is that they don't treat themselves well enough.

Iago reveals a strong will and a powerful cynicism. When Roderigo says that he can't change the way he feels about Desdemona, Iago is scornful. He compares man's body to a garden that can be sown and cultivated by the force of his will. We have power over our fates, he implies, so Roderigo can get over his love if he so chooses. Love, according to Iago, is merely lust, a sexual itch that needs to be scratched. Roderigo would be better off, Iago tells him, by making money to ensure Iago's help in winning Desdemona, not sighing over what might have been.

Iago advises Roderigo to follow Desdemona to Cyprus, where his success with her will be assured. How will this happen? Iago assures him that Moors are known for their changeable sexual tastes and that Desdemona will soon tire of Othello and look for a younger man. Iago easily exploits Roderigo's ignorance of Othello's race and the common consensus that the Moor is too old for Desdemona. Roderigo, his hopes high again, rushes off to sell his land.

Left alone, Iago speaks his first soliloquy. Because Shakespeare is always careful to have his characters speak their true feelings in soliloquies, it is important to look at these speeches carefully.

No one is safe from Iago's scorn. He thinks of Roderigo as a fool, an easy mark. But Iago's hatred of Othello is foremost in his mind. In the first scene, Iago has told Roderigo that he was angry at Othello for appointing Cassio as his lieutenant. Now Iago says:

And it is thought abroad that 'twixt my sheets Has done my office. I know not if't be true. Act I, Scene iii, lines 405-406

Iago has heard rumors of an affair between Othello and Emilia. Is this what motivates his hatred?

NOTE:

Some readers point out that Iago does not say he hates Othello because of the rumor. He says he hates him and he's heard the rumor. The use of and instead of because suggests that the rumor doesn't represent the major cause of Iago's hatred, but is an additional aggravation. It's clear that even a suspicion of wrongdoing on Othello's part is enough to feed Iago's hatred.

A pattern begins to emerge in Iago's reactions. His reasons for hating Othello (some of them mentioned only once in the play) begin to seem like excuses for a general hatred that even Iago doesn't fully understand. We'll see as the play continues that he hates the human race, and delights in seeing people's joy turn to pain. In contrast to Othello, whom Iago describes as having a "free and open nature," and who trusts everyone until he learns otherwise, Iago trusts no one. And those he sees as good and noble, he moves to destroy.

His plan against Othello unfolds in front of our eyes. Now, though, it's just a seed to be nurtured in Iago's malignant brain. He begins with the idea of using Othello's trusting nature and his good opinion of Iago.

Then his plan grows to include Cassio-why not see him disgraced, too, and inherit his job? Cassio is handsome, and Iago could suggest that the young lieutenant is too friendly with Desdemona. As trusting as Othello is, it will be child's play for Iago to lead him-"By the nose/ As asses are"- to jealousy.

Iago pledges himself to the demonic in his last two lines:

I have't. It is engendered! Hell and night Must bring this monstrous birth to the world's light. Act I, Scene iii, lines 421-422

NOTE:

Shakespeare often uses night to represent disorder and chaos. (Both Acts I and V of this play are set at night.) Daylight usually brings reason and restoration of order. Here Iago sees night and hell as the parents of his plan. He knows very well that his plan is evil, but he moves to put it into action-and does it with gusto!

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