Act I - Scene I

[Venice. A Street.]

Enter Roderigo and Iago

ROD:
Tush, never tell me! I take it much unkindly
That thou, Iago, who hast had my purse
As if the strings were thine, shouldst know of this.
IAGO:
'Sblood, but you will not hear me.
If ever I did dream of such a matter,(5)
Abhor me.
ROD:
Thou told'st me thou didst hold him in thy hate.
IAGO:
Despise me, if I do not. Three great ones of the city,
In personal suit to make me his lieutenant,
Offcapp'd to him; and, by the faith of man,(10)
I know my price, I am worth no worse a place.
But he, as loving his own pride and purposes,
Evades them with a bombast circumstance
Horribly stuff'd with epithets of war,
And, in conclusion,(15)
Nonsuits my mediators; for, “Certes,” says he,
“I have already chose my officer.”
And what was he?
Forsooth, a great arithmetician,
One Michael Cassio, a Florentine(20)
A fellow almost damn'd in a fair wife
That never set a squadron in the field,
Nor the division of a battle knows
More than a spinster; unless the bookish theoric,
Where in the toga'd consuls can propose(25)
As masterly as he; mere prattle without practice,
Is all his soldiership. But he, sir, had the election;
And I,—of whom his eyes had seen the proof
At Rhodes, at Cyprus, and on other grounds
Christian and heathen,—must be belee'd and calm'd(30)
By debitor and creditor. This countercaster,
He, in good time, must his lieutenant be,
And I—God bless the mark!—his Moorship's ancient.
ROD:
By heaven, I rather would have been his hangman.
IAGO:
Why, there's no remedy. 'Tis the curse of service,(35)
Preferment goes by letter and affection,
And not by old gradation, where each second
Stood heir to the first. Now, sir, be judge yourself
Whether I in any just term am affined
To love the Moor.(40)
ROD:
I would not follow him then.
IAGO:
O, sir, content you.
I follow him to serve my turn upon him:
We cannot all be masters, nor all masters
Cannot be truly follow'd. You shall mark(45)
Many a duteous and kneecrooking knave,
That doting on his own obsequious bondage
Wears out his time, much like his master's ass,
For naught but provender; and, when he's old, cashier'd.
Whip me such honest knaves. Others there are,(50)
Who, trimm'd in forms and visages of duty,
Keep yet their hearts attending on themselves,
And throwing but shows of service on their lords
Do well thrive by them; and when they have lined their
coats(55)
Do themselves homage. These fellows have some soul,
And such a one do I profess myself.
For, sir,
It is as sure as you are Roderigo,
Were I the Moor, I would not be Iago.(60)
In following him, I follow but myself;
Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty,
But seeming so, for my peculiar end.
For when my outward action doth demonstrate
The native act and figure of my heart(65)
In complement extern, 'tis not long after
But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve
For daws to peck at: I am not what I am.

[Aside]

ROD:
What a full fortune does the thicklips owe,
If he can carry't thus!(70)
IAGO:
Call up her father,
Rouse him:—make after him, poison his delight,
Proclaim him in the streets, incense her kinsmen,
And, though he in a fertile climate dwell,
Plague him with flies. Though that his joy be joy,(75)
Yet throw such changes of vexation on't
As it may lose some color.
ROD:
Here is her father's house; I'll call aloud.
IAGO:
Do; with like timorous accent and dire yell
As when, by night and negligence, the fire(80)
Is spied in populous cities.
ROD:
What, ho, Brabantio! Signior Brabantio, ho!
IAGO:
Awake! What, ho, Brabantio! thieves! thieves! thieves!
Look to your house, your daughter, and your bags!
Thieves! thieves!(85)

Brabantio appears above, at a window.

BRAB:
What is the reason of this terrible summons?
What is the matter there?
ROD:
Signior, is all your family within?
IAGO:
Are your doors lock'd?
BRAB:
Why? Wherefore ask you this?(90)
IAGO:
'Zounds, sir, you're robb'd! For shame, put on your
gown;
Your heart is burst, you have lost half your soul;
Even now, now, very now, an old black ram
Is tupping your white ewe. Arise, arise!(95)
Awake the snorting citizens with the bell,
Or else the devil will make a grandsire of you.
Arise, I say!
BRAB:
What, have you lost your wits?
ROD:
Most reverend signior, do you know my voice?(100)
BRAB:
Not I. What are you?
ROD:
My name is Roderigo.
BRAB:
The worser welcome.
I have charged thee not to haunt about my doors:
In honest plainness thou hast heard me say(105)
My daughter is not for thee; and now, in madness,—
Being full of supper and distempering draughts,—
Upon malicious bravery, dost thou come
To start my quiet.
ROD:
Sir, sir, sir—(110)
BRAB:
But thou must needs be sure
My spirit and my place have in them power
To make this bitter to thee.
ROD:
Patience, good sir.
BRAB:
What tell'st thou me of robbing? This is Venice;(115)
My house is not a grange.
ROD:
Most grave Brabantio,
In simple and pure soul I come to you.
IAGO:
'Zounds, sir, you are one of those that will not serve
God, if the devil bid you. Because we come to do you(120)
service and you think we are ruffians, you'll have your
daughter covered with a Barbary horse; you'll have your
nephews neigh to you; you'll have coursers for cousins,
and gennets for germans.
BRAB:
What profane wretch art thou?(125)
IAGO:
I am one, sir, that comes to tell you your daughter and
the Moor are now making the beast with two backs.
BRAB:
Thou art a villain.
IAGO:
You are—a senator.
BRAB:
This thou shalt answer; I know thee, Roderigo.(130)
ROD:
Sir, I will answer any thing. But, I beseech you,
If't be your pleasure and most wise consent,
As partly I find it is, that your fair daughter,
At this odd-even and dull watch o' the night,
Transported, with no worse nor better guard(135)
But with a knave of common hire, a gondolier,
To the gross clasps of a lascivious Moor—
If this be known to you, and your allowance,
We then have done you bold and saucy wrongs;
But, if you know not this, my manners tell me(140)
We have your wrong rebuke. Do not believe
That, from the sense of all civility,
I thus would play and trifle with your reverence.
Your daughter, if you have not given her leave,
I say again, hath made a gross revolt,(145)
Tying her duty, beauty, wit, and fortunes
In an extravagant and wheeling stranger
Of here and everywhere. Straight satisfy yourself:
If she be in her chamber or your house,
Let loose on me the justice of the state(150)
For thus deluding you.
BRAB:
Strike on the tinder, ho!
Give me a taper! Call up all my people!
This accident is not unlike my dream;
Belief of it oppresses me already.(155)
Light, I say, light!

[Exit.]

IAGO:
Farewell, for I must leave you.
It seems not meet, nor wholesome to my place,
To be produced—as, if I stay, I shall—
Against the Moor. For I do know, the state,(160)
However this may gall him with some check,
Cannot with safety cast him; for he's embark'd
With such loud reason to the Cyprus' wars,
Which even now stands in act, that, for their souls,
Another of his fathom they have none(165)
To lead their business; in which regard,
Though I do hate him as I do hell-pains,
Yet for necessity of present life,
I must show out a flag and sign of love,
Which is indeed but sign. That you shall surely find him,(170)
Lead to the Sagittary the raised search,
And there will I be with him. So farewell.

Exit.

Enter Brabantio in his nightgown, and Servants with torches.

BRAB:
It is too true an evil: gone she is,
And what's to come of my despised time
Is nought but bitterness.—Now, Roderigo,(175)
Where didst thou see her? —O unhappy girl!—
With the Moor, say'st thou?—Who would be a father!
How didst thou know 'twas she? —O, she deceives me
Past thought!—What said she to you?—Get more tapers.
Raise all my kindred. —Are they married, think you?(180)
ROD:
Truly, I think they are.
BRAB:
O heaven!—How got she out? —O treason of the
blood!
Fathers, from hence trust not your daughters' minds
By what you see them act. Are there not charms(185)
By which the property of youth and maidhood
May be abused? Have you not read, Roderigo,
Of some such thing?
ROD:
Yes, sir, I have indeed.
BRAB:
Call up my brother. —Do you know(190)
Where we may apprehend her and the Moor?
ROD:
I think I can discover him, if you please
To get good guard, and go along with me.
BRAB:
Pray you, lead on. At every house I'll call;
I may command at most.—Get weapons, ho!(195)
And raise some special officers of night.—
On, good Roderigo,—I'll deserve your pains.

Exeunt.

Footnotes

  1. Iago continues to use animal imagery to evoke scenes of Othello and Desdemona making love. Once again, this is an instance of overt racism on Iago’s part. These lines are illustrative of Iago’s character: he is duplicitous and crude, yet eloquent and witty. He displays his penchant for poetry in alliterative phrases such as “neighbors neigh” and “coursers for cousins.”

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. In Iago’s crude image, Othello is likened to an “old black ram” and Desdemona to a “white ewe”; the verb “tupping” here is slang for sexual intercourse. We can see an instance of the racial tensions which arise throughout the play: Iago brings up Othello’s race as a way to sharpen Brabantio’s anxieties.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. Roderigo and Iago awaken Brabantio to tell him of Desdemona’s plans to elope with Othello. Brabantio is Desdemona’s father, and he is wary of potential suitors of Desdemona, Othello and Roderigo included.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. This classic line brings the audience in on Iago’s schemes. There is a deep dramatic irony at the core of this statement: while Iago declares that he is not what he appears to be, he admits to the nature of his façade. Thus the audience knows who Iago is, even if the rest of the play’s characters do not.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. Though Iago plans to remain under Othello’s charge, he admits that he serves his own goals. This establishes Iago’s duplicitous nature, particularly in relationship to his general.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. There is a great deal of debate amongst Shakespeare scholars as to the precise meaning of “Moor.” In some instances, the term has been used to describe natives of the region that is now Morocco and Algeria; in others, it has referred to anyone of Arab origin. The question of Othello’s race is also up for debate. Some scholars suggest that the term “Moor” was used in Elizabethan times to denote all black Africans, while others point out that many Moors technically would have been of European ethnicity. These debates have played themselves out in stagings of the play: the role of Othello has been filled by actors of various races, including white actors in blackface.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. “His” refers to Othello, general of the Moorish army in Venice. Throughout the scene, Othello is never referred to by his name, but by pronouns and crude nicknames such as “Barbary horse.” This is reflective of the contempt Iago, Roderigo, and Brabantio have for Othello. In a sense, the audience is primed to view Othello disfavorably.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. Iago is furious with Othello, the great Moorish general, for promoting Cassio over himself. Iago admits to Roderigo, who is in love with the woman Othello has just married (Desdemona), that he only serves Othello because he plans to seek his revenge. Iago encourages Roderigo to join him and win Desdemona's hand.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. Iago admits to Roderigo that he only seems to be loyal to Othello. By confessing that he has ulterior motives (a "peculiar end," or selfish aim), he has made himself vulnerable to betrayal. Iago accepts this risk: he effectively wears his heart upon his sleeve for the "daws" (jackdaws, which are crow-like birds common to Europe) to peck at, meaning he is being honest even though he will probably be betrayed.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. "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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. Rhodes and Cypress are islands located in the Adriatic Sea. Beginning in 1423, Venice fought against the Ottoman Empire over various holdings in the Adriatic Sea. Othello is set amidst these wars, particularly the 1570 Turkish invasion of Cypress. Though Shakespeare significantly alters the history, his contemporary audience would have viewed this reference as proof of Iago's extensive military experience.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. Iago uses this metaphor to compare Cassio's knowledge to the knowledge of a spinster. Cassio has never actually been in battle and only knows about military matters from books and stories. Notice that the comparisons Iago uses to describe Cassio characterize him as effeminate.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  13. Cassio's wife is never depicted in the play or mentioned again after this line. The primary source text that inspired Othello is Giraldi Cinthio's 1565 Hecatommithi. In Cinthio's story, Cassio is married and his wife is a prominent character. This line is either a reference to this story or evidence of an intended character that Shakespeare either never wrote or removed from the plot.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  14. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  15. "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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  16. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  17. Purse in this context means a bag for coins typically held closed by drawstrings. In the simile, Roderigo implies that Iago has access to his money or perhaps is indebted to Iago in some way. Roderigo's negative response to whatever Iago has told him sets Iago up as a dislikable character.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  18. Who are Iago and Roderigo talking about at the beginning of Act 1?

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  19. Note that the play begins in the middle of an ongoing conversation. This positions the audience as outside observers almost as if they are intruding or spying on what they are not supposed to see.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff