Vocabulary in Othello

Vocabulary Examples in Othello:

Act I - Scene I 4

"ancient..."   (Act I - Scene I)

"Ancient" here means flag bearer, which we would now call an ensign. This was an incredibly low ranking position and Iago is outraged that he has to serve Othello. In calling Othello "his Moorship," Iago puns on the phrase "his worship," a respectful way to address someone of higher rank. He replaces "wor" with "moor" to mock Othello rather than show him respect.

"Nonsuits..."   (Act I - Scene I)

This means to thwart or refuse someone's desire or request. Here, Iago complains that Othello pridefully talks about his military campaigns and prowess before rejecting the proposal that Iago be made his lieutenant. However, once again notice that this account comes from Iago's perspective and could give the audience a distorted picture of Othello.

"Offcapp'd..."   (Act I - Scene I)

"Offcapp'd" is a word Shakespeare invented that only occurs in this play, meaning to remove one's cap in honor or reverence of another. Here, Iago says that the great leaders of the city took off their caps for Othello, a mercenary, in order to convince him that Iago should be his lieutenant. Notice this account of the story, which paints Iago as an extremely important and recognized military person, comes from Iago's perspective.

"Sblood..."   (Act I - Scene I)

This is a short hand way of saying "God's blood," meaning the blood Christ shed when he was on the cross. In order to get around the third commandment (Do not take the Lord's name in vain), speakers in the Early Modern period would curse parts of God, like his blood, rather than God himself.

"Abused her delicate youth with drugs or minerals That weaken motion:..."   (Act I - Scene II)

Brabantio repeatedly characterizes Desdemona’s elopement with Othello as an act of coercion or theft. The variety of ways in which he describes the event—as the result of theft, magic, and drugging—indicates that he uses his imagination to cope with the reality that his daughter may have fallen in love with Othello.

"O thou foul thief, where hast thou stow'd my daughter?..."   (Act I - Scene II)

Brabantio’s language betrays his view of his own daughter as an object of monetary value. By calling Othello a “foul thief,” he denies Desdemona’s agency, as if she were a stolen object rather than a participant in her affairs. “Stow’d” reiterates the image of Desdemona as a piece of treasure.

"Good signior, you shall more command with years Than with your weapons...."   (Act I - Scene II)

Othello reasons with Brabantio using a clever diplomatic strategy. On the surface, Othello takes a reverential stance toward Brabantio, praising the statesman’s “years.” Yet Othello remains in control, for his statement is powerfully prescriptive—”you shall”—and paints Brabantio as childishly hostile.

"Faith, he tonight hath boarded a land carack; If it prove lawful prize, he's made forever...."   (Act I - Scene II)

Iago refers to Desdemona as a carack, a type of merchant vessel. From his perspective, Othello’s marriage to Desdemona has only to do with wealth. Iago focuses on the riches Desdemona offers as a bride.

"Ancient, what makes he here?..."   (Act I - Scene II)

In this case, “ancient” would have been pronounced “ensign,” Iago’s rank in the troops. The ensign would have been the lowest-ranking commissioned officer. The rank of ensign is particularly fitting for Iago because it was traditionally the ensign’s role to bear the general’s flag. This is an apt metaphor for Iago in that he is a character who holds up a thin image of loyalty to Othello.

"I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver..."   (Act I - Scene III)

When Brabantio accuses Othello of employing black magic to seduce Desdemona, Othello defends himself with "a round unvarnish'd tale." "Round" here means "frank" or "straightforward," and "unvarnish'd" means free of rhetorical tricks.

"'Zounds!..."   (Act II - Scene III)

“‘Zounds” is a common exclamation in Shakespeare’s plays. It rhymes with “wounds,” as opposed to “sounds” because it is a shortening of the old English curse “God’s wounds!”

"He shall in strangeness stand no farther off Than in a politic distance...."   (Act III - Scene III)

In this case, “strangeness” means “estrangement.” In other words, even though Othello has distanced himself Cassio, the distance is short because of the history the two men share.

"Ay, you did wish that I would make her turn: Sir, she can turn and turn, and yet go on, And turn again; and she can weep, sir, weep; And she's obedient, as you say, obedient, Very obedient. Proceed you in your tears.(275) Concerning this, sir—O well-painted passion!— I am commanded home...."   (Act IV - Scene I)

In his rage, Othello fails to cogently explain to Lodovico why he has stricken Desdemona. He rants and babbles, repeating the words “turn,” “weep,” and “obedient.” The phrase “well-painted passion” expresses Othello’s belief that Desdemona’s displays of emotion, her weeping and her obedience, are fake.

"and thither comes the bauble,..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

A “bauble” refers to a cheap piece of jewelry, and thus it becomes both a metaphor and metonym for Bianca. Cassio refers to her as a bauble, but a bauble is also something she is likely to wear. This line is one of several instances throughout the play in which women are referred to as objects of monetary value.

"Alas, poor caitiff!..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

“Caitiff” means “coward” and comes from “captivus,” the same Latin root as “captive.” In the previous line, Iago cleverly lowers his voice before making mention of Bianca but after bringing up Desdemona. Thus, Othello believes that Cassio is referring to Desdemona, and he becomes enraged.

"his unbookish jealousy..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

Shakespeare may well have invented the adjective “unbookish” here to describe Othello’s emotionally charged jealousy. This phrase reiterates one of the play’s central themes: the dichotomy of reason versus emotion. “Unbookish” here most nearly means “without reason.” One of Iago’s core beliefs as a character is that one ought to apply reason rather than follow one’s emotions.

"Do but encave yourself, And mark the fleers, the gibes, and notable scorns, That dwell in every region of his face;..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

Iago brings Othello in on the next phase of his plan: to draw out Cassio’s stories of seduction in front of a hidden, “encaved” Othello. Iago asks Othello to search for the expressions of bravado in Cassio’s face. The word “fleer,” of Scandinavian origin, indicates a look of mockery. A “gibe” is an insult, and a word derived from the French “giber”—to shake.

"’Tis he. O brave Iago, honest and just, That hast such noble sense of thy friend's wrong! Thou teachest me. Minion, your dear lies dead,(35) And your unblest fate hies...."   (Act V - Scene I)

Othello fails to understand the situation before him. He believes Iago has slain Cassio as a punishment for his adultery. The dramatic irony is sharp here, for the audience understands that Iago is not “honest and just” in his intentions nor acting on Othello’s behalf. The word “hie” means “hasten,” suggesting that Cassio is hastening towards his death.

"I have rubb'd this young quat almost to the sense, And he grows angry. Now, whether he kill Cassio, Or Cassio him, or each do kill the other, Every way makes my gain...."   (Act V - Scene I)

“Quat” is an antiquated word that means both “pimple” and “young person.” Iago uses both definitions here, teasing Rodrigo for his sensitivity. As Iago tells us, he wants both Rodrigo and Cassio to die. Rodrigo is a problem because he wants his money back; Cassio is a problem because “the Moor may unfold [Iago] to him.” In other words, if Othello and Cassio were to meet and talk, they could unravel Iago’s schemes.

"O Spartan dog, More fell than anguish, hunger, or the sea! Look on the tragic loading of this bed; This is thy work...."   (Act V - Scene II)

In these lines directed to Iago, Lodovico widens the scope of the tragedy. He compares Iago’s evil acts to “anguish, hunger, or the sea!” In this use, the word “fell” means cruel or malevolent, and it comes from the same Anglo-French root as “felon.” Shakespeare turns the play’s attention inward with the line “This is thy work.” On one level, the “work” refers to the bodies of Othello, Desdemona, and Emilia. On the another level, the “work” is the play itself. Iago is responsible for both.

"Here is my journey's end, here is my butt(310) And very seamark of my utmost sail...."   (Act V - Scene II)

Othello understands that he has reached the end of his life. The word “butt” takes on two meanings here. First, a “butt” refers to the end, or bottom, of an object. Second, a “butt” is a target, which in this context suggests the scorn and hatred Othello will receive for his actions. A “seamark” is a navigation mark to help guide sailors home on their journeys. Othello can sense his own end.