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William Shakespeare


Act 2, Scene 1
lines 7 - 25
More on the storm at sea!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 22 January 2014
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The setting for this scene is Cyprus. Everyone is awaiting anxiously the arrival of Othello.

A massive storm has swept the Mediterranean and the Turkish fleet has been destroyed. The threatened Ottoman invasion is therefore over.

First to arrive is Iago, bringing Desdemona and Roderigo with him. Then Othello reaches the island. Iago immediately sets in motion his plan to revenge himself on his enemy.


The Turkish threat to Venice appeared to be enormous, and yet it was so soon over. What then was its purpose in the overall plot of the play?

Othello was a Moor or outsider who had control of the Venetian defences. He was good at his job as a soldier but was insecure when it came to the complicated Venetian customs and etiquette.

As long as he was in Venice, however, he always had others whom he could serve and who, in turn, would guide him, thus keeping his insecurities in check.

The Turkish threat served to take Othello out of his safety zone and expose his insecurities. It was necessary to the plot, therefore, because it removed him from Venice to the island of Cyprus.

While there was still a war, on the other hand, Othello would have known how to behave but no sooner had he set sail for Cyprus than the Turkish threat dissipated. All their ships were destroyed in the storm.

Suddenly, therefore, Othello found himself in a new and quite unaccustomed position as Governor of Cyprus. It would be a largely civilian role in which he would be out of his depth.

Indeed, he was now the highest ranking officer with no-one to guide him. As a result, he was quickly placed at the mercy of his lesser officers -- and leaned heavily upon the conniving Iago.

He therefore found himself at the mercy of Iago's evil machinations. He needed strength of character, but his weaknesses were mercilessly exploited by Iago.

The storm -- the instrument for the destruction of the Turkish threat -- then becomes a metaphor in its own right: an image of the storm unleashed by Iago which will quickly destroy Othello and all about him.

Othello and his entourage are ripped to pieces by the waves of Iago's cunning, just as the Turkish warships had been ripped apart by the waves of nature.

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

If it hath ruffian'd so upon the sea,
What ribs of oak, when mountains melt on them,
Can hold the mortise? What shall we hear of this?"
  • Comment on the word "ruffianed" as a suitable metaphor to describe the storm. (4)

[Need help?]

  • Explain the meaning of "ribs of oak". (4)

[Need help?]

  • Why would Shakespeare use such a metaphor as "ribs of oak"? (4)

[Need help?]

  • How could "the mountains" melt on the "ribs of oak"? (4)

[Need help?]

  • What is a mortise? What would happen if the "mortise" should come loose from the "ribs of oak"? (4)

[Need help?]

The chidden billow seems to pelt the clouds;
The wind-shaked surge, with high and monstrous mane,
seems to cast water on the burning bear,
And quench the guards of the ever-fixed pole:
I never did like molestation view
On the enchafed flood."
  • What is "chidden"? Why would the wind be described as "the chidden billow"? (4)

[Need help?]

  • What features of the stormy sea are particularly dwelt upon in this passage? (4)

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If that the Turkish fleet
Be not enshelter'd and embay'd, they are drown'd:
It is impossible they bear it out."
  • In what way would the ships being "embayed" have helped save them? (2)

[Need help?]

  • Is it possible that Montano is playing with words when he says, "It is impossible they bear it out"? Explain how this could be so. (4)

[Need help?]

News, lads! our wars are done.
The desperate tempest hath so bang'd the Turks,
That their designment halts: a noble ship of Venice
Hath seen a grievous wreck and sufferance
On most part of their fleet."
  • What was the purpose of this Turkish attack in the context of the play? (10)

[Need help?]

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