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William Shakespeare


Act 1, Scene 3
lines 75 - 106
Othello under interrogation!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 22 January 2014
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The scene opens with messages that Cyprus is about to be attacked by the Turks of the Ottoman Empire.

Into the midst of this excitement comes Brabantio to appeal to the Duke for justice at Othello's elopement with Desdemona. He accuses the Moor of seducing his daughter through magical spells and drugs.

Othello defends himself in that it was merely his stories of the battlefield -- and of the strange people whom he encountered -- which had won Desdemona to him.

Desdemona, upon being summoned, confirms Othello's innocence. Since Brabantio will not have her back into his house, however, she is forced to follow Othello to Cyprus.

In the meantime, Iago hatches his plot to revenge himself on Othello, as well as to win Desdemona over to Roderigo.


Othello was very much "the other" or "the outsider".

First, he was a Moor who, in Shakespeare's time, were despised in England. Furthermore, although the Moors of Spain had long converted to Christianity, it was suspected that their conversions were false and that, at heart, they were still practising Islamic custom.

He was also dark skinned and, again in Shakespeare's day, black had the connotation of evil. "To be the black sheep of the family" meant to be the odd one out, not to be trusted.

The colour black was associated with death and Satan whereas white was associated with purity and goodness. A person wore black to a funeral whereas brides wore white to their wedding. This was then transferred in the class structure: White people were trusted whereas Black people were distrusted.

Biblically, Black people were believed to be the descendants of Ham, doomed to be "hewers of wood and drawers of water" -- in other words, to be slaves. Indeed, it was this association which enabled Europe of Elizabethan times and after to enslave black people.

Putting this aside, Othello did not fully understand Venetian customs. He had grown up in a culture of magic and witchcraft -- or so the Venetians (and Shakespearian audience) thought.

It is very clear that Brabantio would never have given Othello the hand of Desdemona in marriage if he had not been forced to do so because Venice needed Othello to help them defeat the Turks.

It is also very clear that the Duke would have carried out Brabantio's wishes to slap Othello in gaol for eloping with Desdemona except that his military prowess was essential at that moment.

It would also appear that Othello was not the Duke's first choice for commander but rather one Marcus Luccicos. It is only when the latter was not available that the Duke was forced to turn to Othello.

This too would possibly further explain Othello's insecurity -- he was not the Duke's right-hand man but only his second choice.

For much the same reason, Iago felt insecure (and resentful) when he discovered that he was not Othello's first choice but had to play second fiddle to Michael Cassio.

Once Othello was on Cyprus and the war was suddenly over, he was thereupon thrust into the role of Governor. He was, however, a military man and not a Governor, and this undesired status would have enhanced his insecurity.

He had now to rule a people whom he did not fully understand and, to do this, he needed to lean on the very person whom he had insulted just days earlier by overlooking him for military promotion, i.e. Iago.

In other words, for purposes of war, Othello trusted Michael Cassio but, for purposes of peace, he needed Iago. Iago, however, was the worst person to trust because he was hell bent on wreaking revenge on Othello.

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

Most potent, grave, and reverend signiors,
My very noble and approv'd good masters."
  • Comment on the way in which Othello addresses the gathering. (4)

[Need help?]

  • To what extent does Othello accept the charge that Brabantio brings against him? (4)

[Need help?]

That I have ta'en away this old man's daughter,
It is most true."
  • Is Othello being derogatory when he refers to Brabantio as "this old man"? Explain your answer. (4)

[Need help?]

"The way in which Othello views himself is at the centre of his naive response to Iago's eventual lies about Desdemona's adultery."
  • Confining yourself to the accompanying text only, explain to what extent the above statement is true. (6)

[Need help?]

"For since these arms of mine had seven years' pith,
Till now some nine moons wasted."
  • Rewrite Othello's statement in your own words, explaining clearly what he means. (4)

[Need help?]

"Yet, by your gracious patience,
I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver
Of my whole course of love."
  • What does Othello mean when he says that he will "a round unvarnish'd tale deliver"? (2)

[Need help?]

  • Why does Brabantio insist that Othello has used spells and charms to seduce Desdemona? (4)

[Need help?]

"A maiden never bold:
Of spirit so still and quiet that her motion
Blush'd at herself."
  • Fill in the missing word: Brabantio said that his daughter was extremely __________ . (1)

[Need help?]

  • Is Brabantio's description of his daughter accurate? Explain. (4)

[Need help?]

  • Why should Brabantio claim that Othello's actions were the "practices of cunning hell"

[Need help?]

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