Go to Knowledge4Africa.com

William Shakespeare


Act 1, Scene 1
lines 86 - 138
Awakening Brabantio!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 22 January 2014
Contact the English4Africa Subject Coordinator

It is with great sadness that we have to announce that the creator of Knowledge4Africa, Dr T., has passed away. Helping people through his website gave him no end of pleasure. If you had contact with him and would like to leave a message, please send us an e-mail here.


We are introduced to the primary characters of the play. Iago feels slighted because Othello has overlooked him for promotion in favour of Michael Cassio, while Roderigo believes that Othello is standing in the way of his marriage to Desdemona. Together they plot their revenge.


Brabantio was a wealth merchant and also Desdemona's father. Roderigo had been attempting for some time to seek from him Desdemona's hand in marriage but had thus far been scorned by Brabantio.

Those were the days of arranged marriages, usually for financial or political gain. Brabantio, being a wealthy merchant, could easily have found an equally wealthy or important suitor.

It was highly unlikely that either Roderigo or Othello would have fitted the bill but, if Brabantio had had to choose between them, it seems he would have chosen Roderigo, such was Othello's lowlier position on his list.

Othello was after all merely a military man with no financial or political connections. He was also a Moor, and Brabantio would have distrusted Moors.

The term "Moor" had been given to those Moslems from North Africa who had invaded Spain in the early middle ages. By Shakespeare's time, they had converted to Christianity but there was always suspicion that they still harboured Islamic intentions.

Of course, there is doubt whether or not Shakespeare fully understood where the Moors lived because Othello is consistently described as having negroid features, with a flattened nose and thick lips.

One has to realise, however, that knowledge of the world was very limited in Shakespeare's day. Indeed, he would probably even have lacked knowledge of Britain's nearest neighbours, the French -- and the British would certainly have been suspicious of the French as well.

In this meeting of Brabantio, Iago and Roderigo, it is very clear that both Othello and Desdemona were in the wrong. They had run off together into a lover's tryst where it is almost certain they would have been having sex -- something totally unacceptable in those days when a woman was supposed to be a virgin when her father found a husband for her.

Brabantio was therefore truly angry when he set off with Roderigo to find them. Indeed, had other critical events not unexpectedly rescued Othello, the Moor would have been thrown into prison and Desdemona bundled off into a monastery.

Of course, it was also possible that, since Roderigo appeared not adverse to accepting a used woman (presumably because of the wealthy alliance that this would offer him), Brabantio might have been content to marry her off to him and so make an honest woman of her.

Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:

Zounds, sir, you're robb'd; for shame, put on your gown;
Your heart is burst, you have lost half your soul;
Even now, now, very now, an old black ram
Is tupping your white ewe. Arise, arise;
Awake the snorting citizens with the bell,
Or else the devil will make a grandsire of you:
Arise, I say.
  • What does Iago mean when he tells Brabantio, "You're robbed" and "You have lost half your soul"? (4)

[Need help?]

  • Comment on Iago's choice of words when he says, "An old black ram is tupping your white ewe". (4)

[Need help?]

  • Discuss the implication of the words, "Or else the devil will make a grandsire of you". (4)

[Need help?]

I have charged thee not to haunt about my doors;
In honest plainness thou hast heard me say
My daughter is not for thee.
  • What is the significance of Brabantio's words, "I have charged thee not to haunt about my doors" and "My daughter is not for thee"? (4)

[Need help?]

But thou must needs be sure
My spirit and my place have in them power
To make this bitter to thee.
  • What does Brabantio mean by this threat? (2)

[Need help?]

Zounds, sir, you are one of those that will not serve
God if the devil bid you. Because we come to do you service, and
you think we are ruffians, you'll have your daughter covered with
a Barbary horse; you'll have your nephews neigh to you; you'll
have coursers for cousins and gennets for germans.
  • Comment on Iago's language usage in this passage. What does it tell you about him? (4)

[Need help?]

  • What does Iago mean when he says that Brabantio is "one of those that will not serve God if the devil bid him"? (2)

[Need help?]

  • How does Brabantio react to Iago's speech? (2)

[Need help?]

At this odd-even and dull watch o' the night,
Transported with no worse nor better guard
But with a knave of common hire, a gondolier,
To the gross clasps of a lascivious Moor.
  • What is meant by: "At this odd-even and dull watch o' the night"? (2)

[Need help?]

Your daughter, if you have not given her leave,
I say again, hath made a gross revolt;
Tying her duty, beauty, wit, and fortunes
In an extravagant and wheeling stranger
Of here and everywhere.
  • This is really the first time that we, the audience, are able to experience first hand the actions of Othello and Desdemona. What conclusions can one arrive at concerning them both? (4)

[Need help?]

Try another worksheet?

See also:
This document is copyrighted. No part of it may be reproduced in any form whatever without explicit permission in writing from the author. The sole exception is for educational institutions which may wish to reproduce it as a handout for their students.

Contact the English4Africa Subject Coordinator