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'Othello' Act 1, Scenes 1-2 Summary

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Act 1 Scene 1

In Venice Iago and Roderigo discuss Othello. Roderigo immediately establishes Iago’s hatred of Othello; “Thou told’st me thou didst hold him in thy hate”. Iago explains that instead of employing him as his lieutenant, Othello employed Michael Cassio who has no experience of the job and that Iago was employed as a mere ensign to Othello. Roderigo responds; “By heaven, I rather would have been his hangman”. Iago tells Roderigo that he will stay in Othello’s service only to exact revenge upon him when the time is right. Iago and Roderigo do not refer to Othello by name in this scene but rather by his race; calling him ‘the moor’ or ‘the thick lips’.

The pair plot to inform Brabanzio, Desdemona’s father, that his daughter has run off with Othello and married him and that he is an unsuitable match, citing his race and impulsivity as an unsuitable match for her. We discover that Roderigo is in love with Desdemona as Brabanzio points out he has already warned him off her; “In honest plainness thou hast heard me say my daughter is not for thee,”; This explains Roderigo’s hatred of Othello. The pair goad Brabanzio; Iago says; “I am the one sir, that comes to tell you your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs”.

Brabanzio checks Desdemona’s room and finds she is missing. He launches a full scale search for his daughter and regretfully tells Roderigo he would rather he had married his daughter than Othello; “O would you had had her”. Iago resolves to leave as he does not want his master to know he has double crossed him. Brabanzio promises Roderigo that he will reward him for his efforts; “Oh, good Roderigo. I will deserve your pains”.

Act 1 Scene 2

Iago tells Othello that Desdemona’s father and Roderigo are pursuing him. Iago lies, telling Othello that he challenged them; “Nay, but he prated, and spoke such scurvy and provoking terms against your honour that with the little godliness I have, I did full hard forbear him.” Othello says that his honour and services to the state speak for themselves and he will convince Brabanzio that he is a good match for his daughter. He tells Iago that he loves Desdemona. Cassio and his officers enter, Iago tries to convince Othello that it is his enemy and that he should hide but Othello shows his strength by staying; “I must be found. My parts, my title and my perfect soul shall manifest me rightly.”

Cassio explains that the Duke needs to speak to Othello about the conflict in Cyprus. Iago tells Cassio about Othello’s marriage. Brabanzio arrives with swords drawn. Iago draws his sword on Roderigo knowing that they have the same intention and that Roderigo will not kill him but will collude with the pretence. Brabanzio is angry that Othello has eloped with his daughter and again uses his race to put him down saying that it is ridiculous to think she turned down wealthy and worthy gentleman to run off with him; “she shunned the wealthy curled darlings of our nation, …t’incur a general mock, run from her guardage to the sooty bosom of such a thing as thou.” He accuses Othello of drugging his daughter. Brabanzio wants to put Othello in prison but Othello says that the Duke requires his services and will also need to speak to him, so they decide to go to the Duke together to decide Othello’s fate.

Looking for the next scene? Please visit our contents page, where you can find a full list of all scene by scene guides to Shakespeare’s Othello. This scene by scene guide is designed to read alongside the play and act as a companion to the original text.

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