Act 1 Scene 3

Synopsis of Act 1 Scene 3

Othello and Desdemona in Venice by ChasseriauAfter some confusion amongst the Duke’s advisers, it becomes clear that a large Turkish fleet is sailing to attack Cyprus. Othello and Brabantio arrive together and Brabantio accuses Othello of stealing his daughter. In his own defense, Othello states that he hasn’t the gift of smooth words that would woo a high-born lady, but was several times invited to Brabantio’s house where he recounted his adventures and frightening near-death experiences. Desdemona was entranced with his tales and hinted that she would love to marry such a man. So he proposed and she accepted. He asks the senators to ask Desdemona herself. When she arrives, she freely states her wifely loyalty to Othello, so Brabantio has to admit defeat. 
The Duke commissions Othello to lead a naval force to face the Turkish forces and defend Cyprus. The Venetian fleet must leave that very night and Desdemona asks to accompany her husband. Othello orders Iago to escort her to Cyprus, where he will meet her. When everyone else has left, Iago reassures Roderigo that Desdemona will soon tire of her husband and then will fall for Roderigo’s advances as long as he keeps giving money to her via Iago. Alone, Iago again states how he hates Othello and plans to make Othello think that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio.

Commentary on Act 1 Scene 3

She is abus’d, ..witchcraft could not – Another reference to Brabantio’s belief that Othello could only persuade Desdemona to marry him by magic spells or witchcraft. He clearly has no belief in Othello’s integrity.
mountebanks – Charlatans.
antres vast and desarts idle – Large caves and empty deserts.
Anthropophagi .. heads .. beneath their shoulders – These exotic myths would be familiar from the tales told by other Renaissance travellers.
You are the lord of duty, .. Due to the Moor my lord. - Desdemona here is showing the traditional transfer of allegiance from her father to her husband when she marries. The Bible makes it clear that children were to obey their parents in the Ten Commandments, but also instructed wives to treat their husbands as their head, to whom they should submit.
Teach me tyranny, .. To hang clogs on ’em. – Brabantio portrays an unpleasant possessiveness towards his daughter, demonstrating how fathers expected complete obedience in Shakespeare’s era.
When remedies .. through the ear. – The Duke’s rhyming couplets sum up his proverbial wisdom – which Brabantio’s use of the form shows up as hollow advice.
slubber the gloss – Besmear the polished newness (of his love affair, with the grime of war).
to his honours .. my soul and fortunes consecrate. – Desdemona’s concept of marriage is associated with holy diction: to consecrate is to make or declare something to be sacred and/or set apart for holy use.
No, when light-winged toys / Of feathered Cupid .. Make head against my estimation. – Othello here reassures the Duke that, though he loves Desdemona as much as any new bridegroom should, he would never neglect his duty to fight in his country’s wars.
She has deceived her father, and may thee. – Brabantio plants in Othello’s mind a seed of doubt about Desdemona’s faithfulness, a thought which will haunt Othello when they get to Cyprus.
Honest Iago, - This is the first occurrence of this phrase, which becomes more and more ironic the more it is repeated, as we, the audience, know it is completely untrue.
’tis in ourselves that we are thus, or thus. – Shakespeare’s audience would note that Iago’s concept of self-determination is an expression of humanism rather than the traditional Christian doctrine that humanity is subject to God.
Put money in thy purse. – Here Iago cynically plays Roderigo as a fool. Desdemona is clearly very much in love with Othello, but Iago insists that she only lusts after him and will soon tire of him, at which point Roderigo will easily win her for his mistress. He insists that Roderigo keeps giving money to her via Iago in order to win her, whilst in reality Iago is keeping all the money for himself.
And it is thought abroad that twixt my sheets he has done my office. – Iago suspects that Othello has had sex with Iago’s wife. This suspicion is hardly credible and there is no evidence for such a preposterous idea.
hell and night / Must bring this monstrous birth to the world’s light. – Iago’ s schemes to destroy Othello’s reputation and marriage are evil and associated with hell and metaphorical darkness.

Investigating Act 1 Scene 3

  • Study Iago’s last speech of the scene, beginning ‘Thus do I ever make my fool my purse’ – until ‘monstrous birth to the world’s light.’ 
    • List all the ways in which Iago shows himself to be an evil character.
  • ‘The Moor .. thinks men honest’. How does Iago here condemn himself?
  • How does Iago plan to destroy Othello?
    • What are your feelings towards Iago at this point in the play?
  • Do you think Othello will believe Iago’s lies? 
    • How do you think Iago will try to convince him?
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