Duke of Venica:
In following him I follow but myself;
Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty,
But seeming so for my peculiar end.
Summary: Act I, scene i
Othello begins on a street in Venice, in the midst of an argument between Roderigo and Iago.
The rich Roderigo has been paying Iago to help him in his suit to Desdemona, but he has seen no
progress, and he has just learned that Desdemona has married Othello, a general whom Iago
serves as ensign. Iago reassures Roderigo that he hates Othello. Chief among Iago’s reasons for
this hatred is Othello’s recent promotion of Michael Cassio to the post of lieutenant. In spite of
Iago’s service in battle and the recommendation of three “great ones” of the city, Othello chose
to give the position to a man with no experience leading men in battle. As he waits for an
opportunity to further his own self-interest, Iago only pretends to serve Othello.
Iago advises Roderigo to spoil some of Othello’s pleasure in his marriage by rousing
Desdemona’s family against the general. The two men come to the street outside the house of
Desdemona’s father, Brabanzio, and cry out that he has been robbed by “thieves.” Brabanzio,
who is a Venetian senator, comes to the window. At first, he doesn’t believe what he hears,
because he has told Roderigo to stay away from his daughter before and thinks Roderigo is
merely scheming once again in order to see Desdemona. Iago speaks in inflammatory terms,
vulgarly telling the senator that his daughter and Othello are having sex by saying that they are
“making the beast with two backs” (I.i.118). Brabanzio begins to take what he hears seriously
and decides to search for his daughter. Seeing the success of his plan, Iago leaves Roderigo alone
and goes to attend on Othello. Like Brabanzio, Othello has no idea of Iago’s role in Roderigo’s
accusations. As Iago departs, Brabanzio comes out of his house, furious that his daughter has left
him. Declaring that his daughter has been stolen from him by magic “charms,” Brabanzio and his
men follow Roderigo to Othello.
Summary: Act I, scene ii
Iago arrives at Othello’s lodgings, where he warns the general that Brabanzio will not hesitate to
attempt to force a divorce between Othello and Desdemona. Othello sees a party of men
approaching, and Iago, thinking that Brabanzio and his followers have arrived, counsels Othello
to retreat indoors. Othello stands his ground, but the party turns out to be Cassio and officers
from the Venetian court. They bring Othello the message that he is wanted by the duke of Venice