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Free Study Guide-Othello by William Shakespeare-Free Online Booknotes
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Act I, Scene 3

Summary

The Duke and the Council are disturbed by the rumors that the Turkish fleet is planning an attack on the island of Cyprus. They are discussing a plan to send Othello there to defend it when Desdemona’s father accuses his son-in-law of witchcraft. Othello suggests that his wife should be called to address the Council. While he and the Senators are waiting for her to arrive, Othello describes how he wooed her. He would come, invited by her father, to her house and tell about his adventures, of traveling through strange deserts and high mountains, and all the terrors he had endured. Desdemona loved him for his courage and sympathized with his pains; he loved that she could show pity.

Desdemona enters. She is made to choose between her husband and her father before the Council. She has been carefully reared to become a suitable wife to some Venetian gentleman, but all her gentleness and love have reached out for Othello. It does not matter to her that he is an older man of a foreign race. When she is asked who her sovereign lord is, she does not choose her father, to whom she has always been obedient and to whom she will always feel a sense of duty. But she chooses Othello, her husband. Hearing her words, her father admits defeat, knowing there is nothing else that he can do; but he openly disclaims his daughter.

The talk turns from the private affairs of Brabantio to matters of state. Othello is to go at once to Cyprus. Othello accepts the order, stating that public duty is more important than his private desire for a honeymoon. Since Brabantio will not allow Desdemona to stay at his house during Othello’s absence, she will follow her husband to Cyprus, under the care of Emilia, her maid, and Iago, who is Emilia’s husband. Othello assures the Council that the fervor of his love will not get in the way of the serious business he must handle in Cyprus. The Duke tells Brabantio that his son-in-law is "far more fair than black."


The Council adjourns, and everyone leaves the room except Iago and a dejected Roderigo. Since Roderigo has lost Desdemona, he is prepared to go out and drown himself, but Iago laughs at the idea, advising him to drown cats and blind puppies instead. Iago assures Roderigo that the marriage of Desdemona and Othello is an unnatural one and will never last. When the marriage breaks up, Roderigo will be free to woo Desdemona for himself.

Since Iago wants to destroy both Othello and Cassio, he comes up with a brilliant plot. It is based on Othello’s trusting personality, for "the Moor is of a free and open nature" and can be easily deceived. He will use Cassio as the instrument to destroy the perfect and loving marriage between Othello and Desdemona.

Notes

In this scene, which is popularly known as the Council Chamber scene, the Duke and the Venetian Senators are discussing the news of the Turkish threats of war against Cyprus, a Venetian colony that is instrumental to the safety of Venice. In the midst of the Council’s uncertainty about the size of the Turkish fleet, a sailor brings news that the fleet is now sailing towards Rhodes; however, the Duke and Senators agree that the Turks intend to attack Cyprus. A messenger from Montano, the Governor of Cyprus, brings more news regarding the Turkish fleet, which has grown in size and is now directed at Cyprus. The Duke prepares for war and discusses battle tactics with the Senators.

Discussion of war tactics is interrupted by the arrival of Brabantio and Othello. The Duke addresses Othello immediately, showing his respect for the man while ignoring Brabantio. Desdemona’s father, however, insists on being heard. With turbulent emotion, Brabantio publicly accuses Othello of winning his daughter through magic and drugs, leveling a charge of witchcraft against him. Othello’s denial is given with power and dignity, and he proudly explains how he has won the love of Desdemona. He also suggests that Desdemona herself should be summoned to give her feelings and testimony.

Desdemona enters and speaks, stating her loyalty now belongs to her husband. She even plans to follow him to Cyprus. Brabantio must accept defeat. His sad acceptance of his loss is a contrast to the Duke’s clumsy effort to offer general comfort as a balm for Brabantio’s pain. Brabantio also sows the first seeds of doubt in the mind of Othello. He warns, "She has deceived her father and may thee".

It is important to notice that Othello stands up well before public scrutiny. As always, he handles himself wisely and eloquently in front of the Council, and the audience (or reader) is made to sympathize with him. In sharp contrast to Othello, the despicable nature of Iago continues to unfold. Iago reduces everything to the barest physical and material terms. Love is merely "a lust of the blood and a permission of the will;" The noble passion of Othello and Desdemona is no more than a black old man’s lust for a young white girl. He even suspicions that Othello has slept with his wife Emilia. He continues to lay his plan for destroying his archenemy. In the final soliloquy of this Act, he makes his thoughts perfectly plain. He associates with Roderigo for his own selfish motives, not because he feels any affinity with him. Secondly, he declares that he hates the Moor and will have his revenge on him through Cassio. Finally, he proudly boasts that he has a great talent for spotting the weaknesses of others.

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