Act 1 Scene 1 Quotes and Analysis (Othello)

Act 1 Scene 1 Quotes

  • Roderigo: “Tush, never tell me!” The play begins with a mild expletive, already advertising themes of innocence vs sin. It also foreshadows the very end of the play – Iago never in fact ‘tells’ Roderigo or any other character about his true incentives.

 

  • Iago: “I know my price.”

 

  • Iago: “Michael Cassio, a Florentine”. This demonstrates Iago’s awareness of outsiders and foreigners, ironic due to the Spanish heritage of his own name. Jacobean audiences would’ve been aware of the Venetian practice of employing mercenary officers, and might have identified Iago as a Spaniard, particularly as is name recalls Spain’s patron saint, known as Sant’Iago Matamoros (St James, Hammer of the Moors). Giraldi Cinthio’s ‘Hecatommithi’ (the source of ‘Othello’) identifies Iago as a foreigner when, as the end, he has him “return to his country.” Shakespeare’s choices of names for 2 Venetians with bigoted resentments towards strangers is surely a deliberate irony.

 

  • Iago: “a fellow almost damned in a fair way”. This Italian proverb connotes misogyny and Iago’s sexual envy of Cassio. This also perhaps gives truth to Iago’s claim that Cassio committed adultery, whilst asserting women’s place as hellish and demonic. The spaces they inhabit are inevitably tainted by male hegemonic patriarchy and Christian tradition.

 

  • Iago: “’tis the curse of service: Preferment goes by letter and affection.” Iago’s class envy. Injustice and corrupt hierarchies in Venice, a city ripe with wealth and status.

 

  • Iago: “I follow him to serve my turn upon him.” Connotations of this being a game to Iago, who gambles his actions and motives, implying truth in Coleridge’s interpretation of motiveless malignity.

 

  • Iago: “Whip me such honest knaves!” Oxymoron prefiguring “Honest Iago” and connoting him as knave/ villain. Trick imagery enforces him as a Machiavellian villain.

 

  • Iago: “Were I the Moor, I would not be Iago.” Discussion flitting between 1st and 3rd person, with Iago removing himself from his own identity and ironically uniting the two characters.

 

  • Iago: “The native act and figure of my heart.” Meta-theatrical, playing on themes of truth and appearance, and Iago reflecting the playwright (Shakespeare himself) due to his manipulation of characters and the world.

 

  • Iago: “I am not what I am”. Iago is parodying God with his statement, alluding to Exodus’s declaration, “I am that I am” in the Bible. This directly juxtaposes Iago against God, enforcing him as a Satan-like figure and preying on the severe Christianity of Shakespeare’s audience.

 

  • Roderigo: “thick-lips” proclaims Othello’s racial otherness.

 

  • Iago: “Rouse him… poison his delight, proclaim him in the streets. Incense her kingmen… Plague him with flies.” Despite insistence that Othello is the one “bewitching”, Iago displays connotations of witch-like changing using imperative verbs. 1604 Witchcraft Act.

 

  • Iago: “Look to your house, your daughter, and your bags!” Iago aligns Desdemona with commodities and objects, an item belonging to Brabantio that isn’t even prioritised above his house. Marxist interpretation in a city of wealth and status?

 

  • Iago: “Even now, now, very now, an old black ram is tupping your white ewe.” This phrase alludes to witchcraft through its association to a witch’s familiar, indicative of lust and sexual deviance, as well as the horns foreshadowing the later cuckoldry and Satan imagery. Iago is thus manipulating the evidently misogynistic Brabantio through the Senator’s own language – Iago may not be racist himself, merely capitalising on language in order to achieve his aims. The phrase ‘white ewe’ makes a pun on the word ‘you’, that Iago uses to victimise Brabantio as a victim of social and natural disorder. Misogynistic undertones also connote Desdemona as a mere extension of the patriarchal body – she doesn’t belong to herself, only the men around her.

 

  • Brabantio: “This is Venice!” Shows a narrative equilibrium that will be distorted when the characters leave for Cyprus, with Venice being the centre of wealth, knowledge and power.

 

  • Iago: “You’ll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse, you’ll have your neighbours neigh to you, you’ll have courses for cousins and jennets for Germans.” Iago’s manipulative word play connotes bestial, incestuous images.

 

  • Brabantio: “What profane wretch art though? / “Thou art a villain”. Brabantio is unaware of the truth to his words. The night time setting disguises Iago, showing how his words alone manipulate others and connote disruption. While Brabantio recognises Roderigo by his voice, Iago remains a mystery, showing how he can blend into situations without his villainy being revealed.

 

  • Roderigo: “Tying her duty, beauty, wit and fortunes/ In an extravagant and wheeling stranger.” ‘Wheeling stranger’ presents Othello as godless, significant as he calls his evolution from Islam to Christianity his “pilgrimage” in Act 1 Scene 3. In terms of Desdemona, it shows that she has her worth tied to her father, and now she will be tied to another male body. The semantic field of entrapment shows the claustrophobia projected upon Desdemona before she even gets to Cyprus – her fate is already determined, reflective of her name that means “ill-starred.”

 

  • Brabantio: “strike on the tinder”, meaning “strike up a light.” This reminds daytime audiences of the night-time setting as a place for tragedy, and the unknown that is represented in Othello as a black man.

 

  • Iago: “the Sagittary” refers to an inn with the sign of the Sagittarius zodiac, a centaur, the hybrid monster of two species that alluded to Desdemona and Othello’s ‘monstrous’ coupling – “making the beast with two backs.” The very world around them is affected by their coupling, representing the merging of political and personal worlds preceding Cyprus.

 

  • Brabantio: “Where didst thou see her? – O, unhappy girl! – With the Moor sayst then? – Who would be a father? – How didst though know ‘twas she? – O, she deceives me.” The use of extended dashes and punctuations alludes to Othello’s madness in Act 4 Scene 1 – they both think they have lost Desdemona to another man, descending into madness based on societal expectations of women’s roles.

 

  • Brabantio: “O treason of the blood!” His exclamation plays on several senses of blood. Desdemona’s elopement is a violation of her noble nature and lineage (blood); a betrayal of duty to her family (blood); and an instance of treacherous rebellion against the sovereign reason by rebellious passion blood). The father’s authority was analogous to that of a Monarch’s, which is perhaps ironic as Queen Elizabeth had only just died and James V1 was preparing for the English throne.
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