Having organised it that Brabantio will find Othello, Iago plays a double game by seeking out Othello
himself and he then attempts to persuade him to hide from Brabantio. This, of course, would shout out
In the meantime, news is announced of a Turkish attack on Cyprus. Othello is needed to lead the defence
of the island.
When Brabantio arrives on the scene and tries to have Othello placed in gaol for seducing his daughter,
his attempt is therefore forestalled. After all, with Othello in gaol, who is to defend the island?
THE SEDUCTION OF DESDEMONA
Did Othello commit a crime when he seduced Desdemona? Indeed, he did.
In Shakespeare's time, marriages amongst the aristocracy and the wealthy merchant classes were
arranged affairs. The children had no say and they did not marry for love.
Indeed, people didn't just marry. And they certainly didn't just sleep together as people do today. The
function of marriage was to serve either a political or an economic end.
The aristocracy arranged for the marriage of their sons or daughters to gain political clout for themselves
and for their offspring. Merchants, on the other hand, used marriage to cement economic ties with other
In this way, the owner of 1st National Bank would possibly seek to marry his daughter either to the owner
of PicknPay or to his son. It would create a wonderfully wealthy group of family businesses.
Othello, on the other hand, was merely a military general. As such, he drew a salary but was not wealthy
in his own right. He would have been admired for his prowess but he was not marriageable material --
at least, not in the world of merchant capital.
He would therefore have been entertained by Brabantio who would have relished his stories. But allow
him to marry Desdemona? Not a chance. There was simply no economic advantage in such a union.
Furthermore, etiquette demanded that a suitor (or the suitor's father) make application to marry someone's
daughter. He didn't elope with her, not if he valued his own life.
And the woman was meant to be a virgin when she married, or else her worth would have been lessened.
What wealthy merchant would have wanted or been willing to marry a used person?
When Othello seduced Desdemona, therefore, he committed a crime against established etiquette. First,
he slept with her without being married to her, thereby devaluing her. Second, he did not have her father's
permission to marry her.
All this meant, of course, that he should have been clapped in irons and locked up in gaol, where he would
soon have been dead.
Desdemona, as a used woman, could no longer be traded to another wealthy merchant as a wife. Her
father therefore had every right to kill her. She would have been an embarrassment, a scandal.
At best, therefore, she might have been traded to a lesser person like Roderigo. Or perhaps -- if Brabantio
had the heart not to kill her -- she would have been locked away in a monastery for the rest of her life.
Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:
Faith, he to-night hath boarded a land carack:
If it prove lawful prize, he's made forever.
- What did Iago mean when he said that Othello had "boarded a land carack"? (4)
- What were the implication of Iago's words, "If it prove lawful prize, he's made
Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them.
Good signior, you shall more command with years
Than with your weapons.
- What do these words tell us of Othello's character? (4)
- What did Othello mean when he told Brabantio, "You shall more command with years than with
your weapons"? (3)
O thou foul thief, where hast thou stow'd my daughter?
Damn'd as thou art, thou hast enchanted her;
For I'll refer me to all things of sense,
If she in chains of magic were not bound,
Whether a maid so tender, fair, and happy,
So opposite to marriage that she shunn'd
The wealthy curled darlings of our nation,
Would ever have, to incur a general mock,
Run from her guardage to the sooty bosom
Of such a thing as thou, to fear, not to delight.
Judge me the world, if 'tis not gross in sense
That thou hast practis'd on her with foul charms;
Abus'd her delicate youth with drugs or minerals
That weaken motion: I'll have't disputed on;
'Tis probable, and palpable to thinking.
I therefore apprehend and do attach thee
For an abuser of the world, a practiser
Of arts inhibited and out of warrant.
Lay hold upon him: if he do resist,
Subdue him at his peril.
- By what means did Brabantio claim that Othello had seduced Desdemona? (4)
- Why does Brabantio not lay any blame on his own daughter for her eloping with
- Was Brabantio being racist in this speech? Explain your answer. (4)
Brabantio was hell-bent on having Othello thrown into gaol for eloping with his daughter. What prevented
his doing so? (2)