Summary and Analysis
Act I: Scene 2
Iago warns Othello that there may be a legal attempt to break the marriage, but Othello knows his military worth to Venice and meets the Duke and Senators with confidence. Cassio has been sent to fetch him to an urgent meeting about the situation in Cyprus. Iago tells Cassio of Othello's marriage. Brabantio's party arrives; Brabantio threatens Othello with violence and accuses him of using sorcery to seduce Desdemona, his reasoning being that she would never marry Othello voluntarily. Brabantio calls for Othello's arrest and imprisonment but cedes precedence to the Duke's summons to the emergency meeting.
Othello is confident and happy, sure that his military standing will protect him from Brabantio's personal anger: "Let him do his spite. / My services which I have done the Signiory / Shall out-tongue his complaints" (18-20). Othello declares himself a free man, with royal ancestors (22), who would not compromise that freedom by marriage except to Desdemona.
When Brabantio's party arrives and Brabantio threatens him with his sword, Othello, surrounded by people who know and value him, deflects him with a show of courtesy and respect to the older man. In contrast, Brabantio's accusations are raw and direct: "Oh thou foul thief, where hast thou stowed my daughter?" (61-62).
Othello's first appearance on stage is as a man confident and in control of his life, calmly and deftly putting Brabantio's anger aside. This scene shows two strands of Shakespeare's plot developing at the same time: Othello's private life, where his marriage is soon to become public knowledge, and the political crisis with the threatened attack by the Turks, where he anticipates being sent to war in a commanding position. Othello is the powerful key figure in both stories; a man to be admired. In contrast to this intellectually powerful first impression, the audience confronts Othello as a visual spectacle: a black face surrounded by white faces, some of which are characters known to be hostile to him. On the intellectual level, one looks up to Othello, while on the emotional level, one wonders already whether he can manage to survive.
yerked (5) stabbed.
signiory (18) here, the Venetian government.
siege (22) rank.
unhoused (26) unrestrained.
perfect soul (31) stainless conscience.
Janus (33) the two-faced god of the Romans.
galleys (40) officers of the galleys.
carack (50) large trading ship.
gross in sense (72) perfectly clear.
attach (77) arrest.
inhibited (79) [Rare] prohibited; forbidden.
inclining (82) party; side.