Overview Act I
Scope and Themes
Shakespeare's task in Act I is to hint at the layers of the problems and introduce the significant characters which will be important for the play. I say "layers" of problems because Othello is a play which uses the backdrop of a Turkish invasion of Cyprus, a very public act, to explore a most private act, the jealousy of Othello as he suspects his wife of infidelity. In addition, Shakespeare introduces not only the central characters but also the force that will drive the play: Iago's machinations to ensnare Othello in his web of deceit. The main focus of Act I, however, is to arrange for the action, which begins in Venice, to move to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus.
1.1 Iago's resentment erupts at his being passed over for a promotion to the position of Othello's lieutenant. He vows to retaliate against Othello, and gets Roderigo--a wealthy dupe who pays Iago great amounts of money on the strength of his promise to win over Desdemona to him--to stir up Brabantio with the news that Desdemona, his daughter, has eloped with Othello, the Moorish military leader of Venice. The remainder of the scene consists of Brabantio's expressions of consternation as he discovers that his daughter, indeed, is not in her bed and has likely eloped with Othello.
1.2 With his posse of friends and retainers, Brabantio sets out in hot pursuit of Othello, who is staying with Desdemona at the Sagittary Inn. In the meantime Iago has made his way to the Sagittary and tried to enflame Othello against Brabantio, who now is in hot pursuit. Othello calmly declines to get upset. Two parties then meet Othello. The first is an embassy from the Venetian Senate, requesting Othello's immediate presence for some urgent business (we know already from a comment of Iago that he will be sent to Cyprus to fight the Turks). The second is that of Brabantio and his friends, who would like to arrest Othello and take him to prison until the law can deal appropriately with Othello for abducting his daughter. Yet, state business prevails and Othello is off to the meeting of the Senate.
1.3 The scene opens with the Senate deliberating on the imminent Turkish attack on Cyprus. Though news is sketchy and accounts contradictory, the Senators soon have it confirmed that such an attack is about to happen, and that Venice needs to respond immediately. They turn to Othello, their distinguished military leader, to lead the charge. Before he can be commissioned, however, Brabantio brings his private concern to the Senate's attention. His daughter, he claims, has been charmed by drugs or other strategems and stolen away from him by the same man, Othello, whom the Senate wants to vest with authority to fight its battles. For more than 150 lines various parties speak on Othello and Desdemona's love for each other, and finally Desdemona confirms it, leaving Brabantio to withdraw in bitterness. Further deliberation results in a decision to send Desdemona with her new husband to Cyprus lest she experience a "heavy interim" confined in Venice without her husband Othello. The scene then ends with a conversation between Roderigo and Iago, where Iago expresses his skepticism about true love. Then, Iago solioquizes on his plan to undo the Moor in the new context of Cyprus. He will devise a plan where he can plausibly show that Cassio, the man who won the position as Othello's lieutenant instead of Iago, has amorous designs for Desdemona. He will lead Othello "by th' nose/ As asses are" to his destruction.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long