Othello: Act 1, Scene 3 – Summary & Analysis

Othello: Act 1, Scene 3 – Summary & Analysis

The action moves to the dukedom, where discussions are being held about Turkey’s intent to invade Cyprus. A sailor interrupts the meeting to reveal that the Turkish fleet are directed towards Rhodes, also part of Venetian territory, however a senator declares this is a ruse as Cyprus is the more valuable island; a second interrupting messenger confirms this to be the case, revealing that the Turks have aligned with another fleet and now move towards Cyprus. The group comprising of Brabanzio, Othello, Iago, Cassio, Roderigo and their officers then enter, with Brabanzio demanding that his case be prioritized as his daughter was stolen from him by witchcraft, emphasizing his despair by declaring that his grief ‘engluts and swallows other sorrows, and is still itself’. The duke initially sympathizes with him but appears disbelieving of the story when Othello’s supposed part in it is revealed; Othello reveals he has married Desdemond but she grew infatuated with him of her own accord, when she heard of his life stories (such as the ‘Anthropophagi’) which Brabanzio asked him to tell him their family home, which caused her to fall in love when he retold them in full to her. The duke declares that his own daughter would fall in love with Othello if she had the same experience and Desdemona then enters, confirming that she is most obedient to Othello (the duke asks who she is most obedient to), much to her father’s surprise, ‘My noble father… You are the lord of my duty,/ I am hitherto your daughter. But here’s my husband’. After she declares that she willingly embraces the ‘violence’ of their love (an obvious foreshadowing of the turmoil to follow in Cyprus) and will now become loyal to her husband primarily, like her mother before her, Brabanzio accepts this and allows the meeting to return to the original focus.

The duke decides it best for Othello to travel to Cyprus and defend it from the imminent Turkish invasion, which Othello agrees to if his wife can accompany him, for their marriage has only just begun. While the duke is initially not agreeable, suggesting she stay with her father (which none of Desdemona, Othello or Brabanzio are agreeable to), he eventually concurs and declares she will stay with Iago until she can follow Othello to Cyprus. The meeting concludes and all depart except Iago and a downcast Roderigo, who now believes there is no hope for a relationship with Desdemona. Iago however mocks his desire to drown himself, telling him ‘Put but money in thy purse’ and to go to Cyprus, as he will take care of affairs there. Roderigo then departs, and the act concludes with Iago revealing through soliloquy that he hates Othello due to his belief that his commander slept with his wife Emilia and that he plans to steal Roderigo’s fortune, convince Othello that Cassio has slept with his wife and use his commander’s honest nature to bring about his downfall.

Themes

Deception: The attempt of the Turkish fleet symbolizes the widespread nature of deception in the world, and that it is not just confined to Iago. However, he still remains the most deceptive character, elaborating on his deception by revealing further parts of his plan to cheat people, such as stealing Roderigo’s money and causing the downfall of Cassio and Othello with the the lie of the former’s sexual relationship with Desdemona.

Honesty: It is highly significant that Iago is honest about his plan to Roderigo at the play’s beginning (and to us through soliloquy) as it indicates a heightened knowledge of the various events of the play. It is this awareness that thus allows him to manipulate and alter events so as to fabricate them in an advantageous way; no other character is as aware of proceedings and when Iago beings his alterations it will be impossible for others to recognize honesty and truth (which will allow his plan to progress), as no other has a comparative knowledge of the world and its current state.

Love: Du ring the discussion of Brabanzio’s case love is revealed to be affected by external variables. The senator suggests that Othello and Desdemona are not compatible due to their differing races, which indicates that nature is mistaken in their union. Desdemona has to come forward herself and declare allegiance to Othello for their marriage to be confirmed, while Othello reveals that his past played a part in the development of Desdemona’s love for him. This suggests that love is not independent but affected by the world of the play, which is confirmed when considering Iago’s meddling and Roderigo’s attempt to buy a relationship earlier in the act.

Order and chaos: The scene reveals that in Venice problematic situations, even of a personal nature, can be reconciled by the legal institutions of the city. However, the play is now departing to a new setting, where such forces are not present; this indicates that Iago’s force will only heighten as he moves to a place where he is not governed by law and order, and more significantly that others who are less composed than him (as shall be shown) are not either.

Characters

Othello: As suggested earlier, Othello does have high standing in society, indicated by his being recognized before Brabanzio the Ventian senator when the group enter the court; this plays a part in the duke’s view on the matter, who is notably pleased to be addressed by Othello. The revelation of how Desdemona’s love formed also serves to illustrate Othello’s belief in the importance of one possessing a life-story, in particular one that is captivating; he emphasizes that it is the manner of his story that led to her infatuation with him. Of note is that we see the first flaw of Othello’s character, his self-consumed state, as he is intent of building up public perception of himself. His limited language is intentional, but cannot disguise his intent to present himself as a heroic and remind all of his prowess as a warrior. This however will prove problematic; while Iago will prosper due to his awareness of all that is happening around him, Othello will be disadvantaged in that he is only focused on himself and thus will react especially badly to unfavorably events, as he believes such are a direct attack on his character.

Desdemona: Her first appearance confirms Othello’s declaration in the scene previous that she married him of her own free will. She is independent and any previous allusions to her as young and naïve due to repeated references to her as Brabanzio’s daughter are immediately dispelled. There is a potential drawback however, as she indicates she holds a similar self-consumed character, for she says she ‘saw Othello’s visage in his mind’ and ‘I saw him as he sees himself’, indicating that she is not that aware of what is going on around her.

Iago: Iago’s remark to Roderigo that ‘Our bodies are our gardens’ confirms what has been said previous, that he has an excellent knowledge of the world around him. This quote reveals that when one possesses a vice or beneficial character trait it will grow, and such realisation of the human state not only indicates his growing control of proceedings when the action moves to Cyprus, but also why he has already been able to control Roderigo. It may be seen that Iago, despite his flaws, is a a foil to Othello in that he is concerned with and aware of the world around him, which the titular character should be if he is to avoid falling prey to Iago’s machiavellian plan.

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About the Author

John Ryan

John has a Masters in Modern English Literature and is the founder of RyJoLC, an educational consultancy based in Dublin that provides English language and curriculum resources to educational institutions worldwide.
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