Act I - Scene III

[A council chamber.]

Enter Duke and Senators, set at a table with lights and attendants.

DUKE:
There is no composition in these news
That gives them credit.
FIRST SENATOR:
Indeed they are disproportion'd;
My letters say a hundred and seven galleys.
DUKE:
And mine, a hundred and forty.(5)
SECOND SENATOR:
And mine, two hundred.
But though they jump not on a just account—
As in these cases, where the aim reports,
'Tis oft with difference—yet do they all confirm
A Turkish fleet, and bearing up to Cyprus.(10)
DUKE:
Nay, it is possible enough to judgement:
I do not so secure me in the error,
But the main article I do approve
In fearful sense.

[Within.]

SAILOR:
What, ho! What, ho! What, ho!(15)

[Enter Sailor.]

FIRST OFFICER:
A messenger from the galleys.
DUKE:
Now, what's the business?
SAILOR:
The Turkish preparation makes for Rhodes;
So was I bid report here to the state
By Signior Angelo.(20)
DUKE:
How say you by this change?
FIRST SENATOR:
This cannot be,
By no assay of reason; 'tis a pageant
To keep us in false gaze. When we consider
The importancy of Cyprus to the Turk;(25)
And let ourselves again but understand
That as it more concerns the Turk than Rhodes,
So may he with more facile question bear it,
For that it stands not in such warlike brace,
But altogether lacks the abilities(30)
That Rhodes is dress'd in;—
If we make thought of this,
We must not think the Turk is so unskillful
To leave that latest which concerns him first,
Neglecting an attempt of ease and gain,(35)
To wake and wage a danger profitless.
DUKE:
Nay, in all confidence, he's not for Rhodes.
FIRST OFFICER:
Here is more news.

[Enter a Messenger.]

MESSENGER:
The Ottomites, reverend and gracious,
Steering with due course toward the isle of Rhodes,(40)
Have there injointed them with an after fleet.
FIRST SENATOR:
Ay, so I thought. How many, as you guess?
MESSENGER:
Of thirty sail; and now they do restem
Their backward course, bearing with frank appearance
Their purposes toward Cyprus. Signior Montano,(45)
Your trusty and most valiant servitor,
With his free duty recommends you thus,
And prays you to believe him.
DUKE:
'Tis certain then for Cyprus.
Marcus Luccicos, is not he in town?(50)
FIRST SENATOR:
He's now in Florence.
DUKE:
Write from us to him, postposthaste dispatch.
FIRST SENATOR:
Here comes Brabantio and the valiant Moor.

Enter Brabantio, Othello, Iago, Roderigo, and Officers.

DUKE:
Valiant Othello, we must straight employ you
Against the general enemy Ottoman.(55)
I did not see you; welcome, gentle signior;
We lack'd your counsel and your help tonight.
BRAB:
So did I yours. Good your Grace, pardon me:
Neither my place nor aught I heard of business
Hath raised me from my bed, nor doth the general care(60)
Take hold on me; for my particular grief
Is of so floodgate and o'erbearing nature
That it engluts and swallows other sorrows,
And it is still itself.
DUKE:
Why, what's the matter?(65)
BRAB:
My daughter! O, my daughter!
ALL:
Dead?
BRAB:
Ay, to me.
She is abused, stol'n from me and corrupted
By spells and medicines bought of mountebanks;(70)
For nature so preposterously to err,
Being not deficient, blind, or lame of sense,
Sans witchcraft could not.
DUKE:
Whoe'er he be that in this foul proceeding
Hath thus beguiled your daughter of herself(75)
And you of her, the bloody book of law
You shall yourself read in the bitter letter
After your own sense.
BRAB:
Humbly I thank your Grace.
Here is the man, this Moor; whom now, it seems,(80)
Your special mandate for the state affairs
Hath hither brought.
ALL:
We are very sorry for't.
DUKE:
What in your own part can you say to this?
BRAB:
Nothing, but this is so.(85)
OTHELLO:
Most potent, grave, and reverend signiors,
My very noble and approved good masters,
That I have ta'en away this old man's daughter,
It is most true; true, I have married her;
The very head and front of my offending(90)
Hath this extent, no more. Rude am I in my speech,
And little blest with the soft phrase of peace;
For since these arms of mine had seven years' pith,
Till now some nine moons wasted, they have used
Their dearest action in the tented field,(95)
And little of this great world can I speak,
More than pertains to feats of broil and battle;
And therefore little shall I grace my cause
In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,
I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver(100)
Of my whole course of love: what drugs, what charms,
What conjuration, and what mighty magic
For such proceeding I am charged withal
I won his daughter.
BRAB:
A maiden never bold;(105)
Of spirit so still and quiet that her motion
Blush'd at herself; and she—in spite of nature,
Of years, of country, credit, everything—
To fall in love with what she fear'd to look on!
It is judgement maim'd and most imperfect,(110)
That will confess perfection so could err
Against all rules of nature, I therefore vouch again,
That with some mixtures powerful o'er the blood,
Or with some dram conjured to this effect,
He wrought upon her.(115)
DUKE:
To vouch this, is no proof,
Without more certain and more overt test
Than these thin habits and poor likelihoods
Of modern seeming do prefer against him.
FIRST SENATOR:
But, Othello, speak.(120)
Did you by indirect and forced courses
Subdue and poison this young maid's affections?
Or came it by request, and such fair question
As soul to soul affordeth?
OTHELLO:
I do beseech you,(125)
Send for the lady to the Sagittary,
And let her speak of me before her father:
If you do find me foul in her report,
The trust, the office I do hold of you,
Not only take away, but let your sentence(130)
Even fall upon my life.
DUKE:
Fetch Desdemona hither.

Exit two or three.

OTHELLO:
Ancient, conduct them; you best know the place.

[Exit Iago]

And till she come, as truly as to heaven
I do confess the vices of my blood,(135)
So justly to your grave ears I'll present
How I did thrive in this fair lady's love
And she in mine.
DUKE:
Say it, Othello.
OTHELLO:
Her father loved me, oft invited me,(140)
Still question'd me the story of my life
From year to year, the battles, sieges, fortunes,
That I have pass'd.
I ran it through, even from my boyish days
To the very moment that he bade me tell it:(145)
Wherein I spake of most disastrous chances,
Of moving accidents by flood and field,
Of hairbreadth 'scapes i' the imminent deadly breach,
Of being taken by the insolent foe,
And sold to slavery, of my redemption thence,(150)
And portance in my travels' history;
Wherein of antres vast and deserts idle,
Rough quarries, rocks, and hills whose heads touch heaven,
It was my hint to speak,— such was the process;
And of the Cannibals that each other eat,(155)
The Anthropophagi, and men whose heads
Do grow beneath their shoulders. This to hear
Would Desdemona seriously incline;
But still the house affairs would draw her thence,
Which ever as she could with haste dispatch,(160)
She'ld come again, and with a greedy ear
Devour up my discourse; which I observing,
Took once a pliant hour, and found good means
To draw from her a prayer of earnest heart
That I would all my pilgrimage dilate,(165)
Whereof by parcels she had something heard,
But not intentively. I did consent,
And often did beguile her of her tears
When I did speak of some distressful stroke
That my youth suffer'd. My story being done,(170)
She gave me for my pains a world of sighs;
She swore, in faith, 'twas strange, 'twas passing strange;
'Twas pitiful, 'twas wondrous pitiful.
She wish'd she had not heard it, yet she wish'd
That heaven had made her such a man; she thank'd me,(175)
And bade me, if I had a friend that loved her,
I should but teach him how to tell my story,
And that would woo her. Upon this hint I spake:
She loved me for the dangers I had pass'd,
And I loved her that she did pity them.(180)
This only is the witchcraft I have used.
Here comes the lady; let her witness it.

Enter Desdemona, Iago, and the rest.

DUKE:
I think this tale would win my daughter too.
Good Brabantio,
Take up this mangled matter at the best:(185)
Men do their broken weapons rather use
Than their bare hands.
BRAB:
I pray you, hear her speak:
If she confess that she was half the wooer,
Destruction on my head, if my bad blame(190)
Light on the man! Come hither, gentle mistress:
Do you perceive in all this noble company
Where most you owe obedience?
DESD:
My noble father,
I do perceive here a divided duty.(195)
To you I am bound for life and education;
My life and education both do learn me
How to respect you; you are the lord of duty,
I am hitherto your daughter. But here's my husband,
And so much duty as my mother show'd(200)
To you, preferring you before her father,
So much I challenge that I may profess
Due to the Moor, my lord.
BRAB:
God be with you! I have done.
Please it your Grace, on to the state affairs;(205)
I had rather to adopt a child than get it.
Come hither, Moor:
I here do give thee that with all my heart
Which, but thou hast already, with all my heart
I would keep from thee. For your sake, jewel,(210)
I am glad at soul I have no other child;
For thy escape would teach me tyranny,
To hang clogs on them. I have done, my lord.
DUKE:
Let me speak like yourself, and lay a sentence
Which, as a grise or step, may help these lovers(215)
Into your favor.
When remedies are past, the griefs are ended
By seeing the worst, which late on hopes depended.
To mourn a mischief that is past and gone
Is the next way to draw new mischief on.(220)
What cannot be preserved when fortune takes,
Patience her injury a mockery makes.
The robb'd that smiles steals something from the thief;
He robs himself that spends a bootless grief.
BRAB:
So let the Turk of Cyprus us beguile;(225)
We lose it not so long as we can smile.
He bears the sentence well, that nothing bears
But the free comfort which from thence he hears;
But he bears both the sentence and the sorrow
That, to pay grief, must of poor patience borrow.(230)
These sentences, to sugar or to gall,
Being strong on both sides, are equivocal.
But words are words; I never yet did hear
That the bruised heart was pierced through the ear.
I humbly beseech you, proceed to the affairs of state.(235)
DUKE:
The Turk with a most mighty preparation makes for
Cyprus. Othello, the fortitude of the place is best
known to you; and though we have there a substitute of
most allowed sufficiency, yet opinion, a sovereign
mistress of effects, throws a more safer voice on you. You(240)
must therefore be content to slubber the gloss of your
new fortunes with this more stubborn and boisterous
expedition.
OTHELLO:
The tyrant custom, most grave senators,
Hath made the flinty and steel couch of war(245)
My thrice driven bed of down. I do agnize
A natural and prompt alacrity
I find in hardness; and do undertake
These present wars against the Ottomites.
Most humbly therefore bending to your state,(250)
I crave fit disposition for my wife,
Due reference of place and exhibition,
With such accommodation and besort
As levels with her breeding.
DUKE:
If you please,(255)
Be't at her father's.
BRAB:
I'll not have it so.
OTHELLO:
Nor I.
DESD:
Nor I. I would not there reside
To put my father in impatient thoughts(260)
By being in his eye. Most gracious Duke,
To my unfolding lend your prosperous ear.
DUKE:
What would you, Desdemona?
DESD:
That I did love the Moor to live with him,
My downright violence and storm of fortunes(265)
May trumpet to the world. My heart's subdued
Even to the very quality of my lord:
I saw Othello's visage in his mind,
And to his honors and his valiant parts
Did I my soul and fortunes consecrate.(270)
So that, dear lords, if I be left behind,
A moth of peace, and he go to the war,
The rites for which I love him are bereft me,
And I a heavy interim shall support
By his dear absence. Let me go with him.(275)
OTHELLO:
Let her have your voices.
Vouch with me, heaven, I therefore beg it not
To please the palate of my appetite;
Nor to comply with heat the young affects
In me defunct—and proper satisfaction;(280)
But to be free and bounteous to her mind;
And heaven defend your good souls, that you think
I will your serious and great business scant
For she is with me. No, when lightwing'd toys
Of feather'd Cupid seel with wanton dullness(285)
My speculative and officed instruments,
That my disports corrupt and taint my business,
Let housewives make a skillet of my helm,
And all indign and base adversities
Make head against my estimation!(290)
DUKE:
Be it as you shall privately determine,
Either for her stay or going: the affair cries haste,
And speed must answer't: you must hence tonight.
DESD:
Tonight, my lord?
DUKE:
This night.(295)
OTHELLO:
With all my heart.
DUKE:
At nine i' the morning here we'll meet again.
Othello, leave some officer behind,
And he shall our commission bring to you;
With such things else of quality and respect(300)
As doth import you.
OTHELLO:
So please your Grace, my ancient;
A man he is of honesty and trust.
To his conveyance I assign my wife,
With what else needful your good Grace shall think(305)
To be sent after me.
DUKE:
Let it be so.
Good night to everyone.
And, noble signior,
If virtue no delighted beauty lack,(310)
Your son-in-law is far more fair than black.
FIRST SENATOR:
Adieu, brave Moor, use Desdemona well.
BRAB:
Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see;
She has deceived her father, and may thee.

Exeunt [Duke, Senators, and Officers.]

OTHELLO:
My life upon her faith! Honest Iago,(315)
My Desdemona must I leave to thee:
I prithee, let thy wife attend on her;
And bring them after in the best advantage.
Come, Desdemona, I have but an hour
Of love, of worldly matters and direction,(320)
To spend with thee: We must obey the time.

[Exeunt [Othello] and Desdemona.]

ROD:
Iago!
IAGO:
What say'st thou, noble heart?
ROD:
What will I do, thinkest thou?
IAGO:
Why, go to bed and sleep.(325)
ROD:
I will incontinently drown myself.
IAGO:
If thou dost, I shall never love thee after.
Why, thou silly gentleman!
ROD:
It is silliness to live when to live is torment, and then
have we a prescription to die when death is our physician.(330)
IAGO:
O villainous! I have looked upon the world for four
times seven years, and since I could distinguish betwixt a
benefit and an injury, I never found man that knew how
to love himself. Ere I would say I would drown myself for
the love of a guinea hen, I would change my humanity(335)
with a baboon.
ROD:
What should I do? I confess it is my shame to be so
fond, but it is not in my virtue to amend it.
IAGO:
Virtue? a fig! 'Tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus.
Our bodies are gardens, to the which our wills are(340)
gardeners; so that if we will plant nettles or sow lettuce,
set hyssop and weed up thyme, supply it with one gender
of herbs or distract it with many, either to have it sterile
with idleness or manured with industry, why, the power and
corrigible authority of this lies in our wills. If the balance(345)
of our lives had not one scale of reason to poise another
of sensuality, the blood and baseness of our natures would
conduct us to most preposterous conclusions. But we have
reason to cool our raging motions, our carnal stings, our
unbitted lusts.(350)
ROD:
It cannot be.
IAGO:
It is merely a lust of the blood and a permission of the
will. Come, be a man! Drown thyself? Drown cats and blind
puppies! I have professed me thy friend, and I confess me
knit to thy deserving with cables of perdurable tough-(355)
ness; I could never better stead thee than now. Put money
in thy purse; follow thou the wars; defeat thy favor with an
usurped beard. I say, put money in thy purse. It cannot be
that Desdemona should long continue her love to the
Moor—put money in thy purse—nor he his to her. It was a(360)
violent commencement, and thou shalt see an answer-
able sequestration; put but money in thy purse. These
Moors are changeable in their wills:—fill thy purse with
money. The food that to him now is as luscious as locusts,
shall be to him shortly as acerb as the coloquintida.(365)
She must change for youth; when she is sated with his
body, she will find the error of her choice. She must have
change, she must; therefore put money in thy purse. If thou
wilt needs damn thyself, do it a more delicate way than
drowning. Make all the money thou canst. If sanctimony(370)
and a frail vow betwixt an erring barbarian and a supersub-
tle Venetian be not too hard for my wits and all the tribe of
hell, thou shalt enjoy her; therefore make money. A pox of
drowning thyself! It is clean out of the way. Seek thou
rather to be hanged in compassing thy joy than to be(375)
drowned and go without her.
ROD:
Wilt thou be fast to my hopes, if I depend on the issue?
IAGO:
Thou art sure of me; go, make money. I have told thee
often, and I retell thee again and again, I hate the Moor. My
cause is hearted; thine hath no less reason. Let us be(380)
conjunctive in our revenge against him. If thou canst
cuckold him, thou dost thyself a pleasure, me a sport.
There are many events in the womb of time which will be
delivered. Traverse, go, provide thy money. We will have
more of this tomorrow. Adieu.(385)
ROD:
Where shall we meet i' the morning?
IAGO:
At my lodging.
ROD:
I'll be with thee betimes.
IAGO:
Go to, farewell. Do you hear, Roderigo?
ROD:
What say you?(390)
IAGO:
No more of drowning, do you hear?
ROD:
I am changed; I'll go sell all my land.

[Exit Roderigo.]

IAGO:
Thus do I ever make my fool my purse;
For I mine own gain'd knowledge should profane,
If I would time expend with such a snipe(395)
But for my sport and profit. I hate the Moor;
And it is thought abroad that 'twixt my sheets
He has done my office. I know not if't be true;
But I for mere suspicion in that kind
Will do as if for surety. He holds me well;(400)
The better shall my purpose work on him.
Cassio's a proper man. Let me see now:
To get his place, and to plume up my will
In double knavery—How, how? —Let's see—
After some time, to abuse Othello's ear(405)
That he is too familiar with his wife.
He hath a person and a smooth dispose
To be suspected; framed to make women false.
The Moor is of a free and open nature,
That thinks men honest that but seem to be so;(410)
And will as tenderly be led by the nose
As asses are.
I have't. It is engender'd. Hell and night
Must bring this monstrous birth to the world's light.

Exit.

Footnotes

  1. Iago ends Act I with a strange, dense rhyming couplet. In these two lines, Iago layers three separate metaphors to describe his plot. The three metaphors are initiated in the first line and completed in the second. The first metaphor uses a cycle of conception—or engenderment—and birth. The second uses a movement from hell, or the underworld, up to the living world. The third uses the transition from night to day. One could say that the use of “monstrous” is aptly metaphorical as well. After all, the mythological definition of monster—a composite creature—finds its parallel in the “double knavery” of Iago’s plan.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. Iago’s plot sets the stage for the second act. By spreading a rumor that Cassio and Desdemona are having an affair, Iago hopes to accomplish a “double knavery.” Such a rumor would destroy both Othello and Cassio, the two men for whom he holds a grudge.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. Iago claims that Othello and Desdemona will tire of one another in time. As with much that comes from Iago’s mouth, it not clear whether he believes this to be the case or whether he says this to further his own ends, in this case by raising Roderigo’s hopes.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. Iago repeats this request, beseeching Roderigo to put together funds to give to Iago. The idea is that with funds, Iago will execute a plan to separate Othello and Desdemona and deliver her into Roderigo’s arms.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. Iago’s thesis is that human emotions must be controlled by reason, lest they run our lives. Iago firmly believes in a self-aware cultivation of the soul, and that industry and moderation can be practiced through rational thought. While Iago’s message of self-control is valid, it goes hand in hand with his ruthlessness of character.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. The Duke continues his pattern of issuing words of wisdom in the form of rhyming couplets. Using “black” as a double entendre to signify both virtue and race, he characterizes Othello as a virtuous man, no matter his race.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. Desdemona’s argument for joining Othello on the frontlines is complex but compelling. She claims that she loves Othello for his mind and his military prowess, and to separate her from him while he exercises those qualities would be a shame.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. Despite the turmoil surrounding Othello’s marriage, the Duke still trusts Othello with his military operations. It is notable that Shakespeare shifts the speech form from verse to prose at the start of these lines. The jump from rhymed pentameter to prose suits the topical shift from marital drama to military concerns.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. The Duke takes on a scholarly tone here, speaking in rhyming couplets, each one of which serves as a wise saying. For the rest of his speech, the Duke invents new ways to tell Brabantio to get past his woes.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. In medieval times, prisoners were often tortured by having clogs—heavy wooden blocks—hung around their necks before being marched through the streets. Fortunately, Brabantio has no one to direct such anger toward.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. In other contexts, a father calling his daughter a “jewel” would register as a mark of affection. Considering Brabantio’s pattern of referring to Desdemona as valuable property, this line takes on a different meaning. Brabantio is lamenting the loss of a prized possession as well as a daughter.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. Not only does Desdemona make it clear that she has married Othello by her own choice, she evokes her mother’s path in life—husband before father—as a justification for her dedication to Othello. In an interesting way, she reverses Brabantio’s notion of nature’s course. Her love for Othello is natural because it was her mother’s way.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  13. The Duke employs an interesting metaphor for Brabantio’s clumsy handling of the situation. He calls for Brabantio to use his hands rather than “broken weapons” in dealing with the matter. It is fitting that he uses a military metaphor to describe the discussion at hand, for it is Othello the general who is winning this war of words at the moment.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  14. According to Othello, his relationship with Desdemona has blossomed out of their connection over his war stories. Othello’s language blurs any sense of which side held the greater interest. He first says that Desdemona would “with a greedy ear/Devour up my discourse,” indicating her intense interest. He then claims to have “found good means/To draw from her a prayer” to continue telling his stories. Othello thus intends to paint a picture of mutual infatuation in order to defend their marriage.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  15. This is a clever rhetorical move on Othello’s part. He reminds Brabantio of their previous friendship, which both softens Brabantio’s stance and makes Brabantio appear two-faced for turning on Othello.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  16. Othello addresses his race, understanding that his position as a Moor is problematic in his courtship of Desdemona. Most intriguing is that he depicts his race in a negative light: he “confesses the vices of [his] race.” It is not clear whether Othello actually considers his race a vice, or whether he means to debase himself to appeal to the Duke and Brabantio.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  17. Brabantio refers once again to Othello’s racial background. His understanding is that Othello, as a Moor, is an object of fear, not affection. When Brabantio speaks of errors “against all rules of nature,” he means miscegenation. Brabantio refers once again to Othello’s race. His understanding is that Othello, as a Moor, is an object of fear, not affection. When Brabantio speaks of errors “against all rules of nature,” he means miscegenation, or interracial relationships. This touches on the play’s theme of conflicted race relations.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  18. Othello uses a rhetorical tactic similar to those used by Mark Antony in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. By claiming to be ineloquent—“rude in… speech”—Othello hopes to appeal to the statesmen. Ironically, this is itself a rather eloquent move. The eloquence is heightened by his repetition of l and t sounds in “little blest” and f sounds in “soft phrase.”

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  19. Shakespeare structures this scene so that the tension and dramatic irony build and finally break in these lines. The audience can foretell how the Duke’s opinion of Othello will rapidly shift upon hearing the news regarding Desdemona. The Duke greets Othello with praise and respect, but the news of his problematic marriage to Desdemona will inevitably surface.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  20. The Duke of Venice grants Brabantio the role of judge, jury and executioner. Shakespeare crafts these lines to be delivered dramatically. Notice the heavy alliteration and rhyme in phrases such as “bloody book of law” and “bitter letter.”

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  21. Brabantio views Desdemona’s marriage to a black man as an aberration against nature. As he has done and will continue to do, Brabantio claims Desdemona was bewitched or coerced. Brabantio’s perspective touches on the play’s theme of racial conflict.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  22. Brabantio and the Duke meet with their own individual problems with which they need the other’s assistance. The Duke seeks assistance in fighting off the Turks. Brabantio seeks to undo Desdemona’s marriage to Othello. Shakespeare may have used the political conflict between the Venetians and the Turks as a parallel to the drama between Othello and his enemies.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  23. The Duke and senate have not heard of Othello’s elopement with Desdemona, nor his subsequent clash with Brabantio. To them, he is still the prized general and the Venetians’ best chance to repel the Turks.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  24. The Ottomans have launched a noisy naval assault on Rhodes while also sending along a small fleet to attack Cyprus. As the senators and Duke speculate, the assault on Rhodes is meant to distract from their primary goal, which is Venetian Cyprus.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  25. The events of Othello take place around the year 1500, when the Venetian and Ottoman empires were in conflict over the cities, islands, and ports of the Mediterranean. The duke and senate are discussing the islands of Cyprus and Rhodes in this scene. In this time, Cyprus was a Venetian port but Rhodes was not, though both were under almost constant siege by the Ottoman Turks.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  26. Roderigo, who is hopelessly in love with Desdemona, frequently falls into Iago's snares. Iago convinced Roderigo to send gifts (via Iago) to Desdemona, though Iago always keeps them for himself. Whenever Roderigo becomes frustrated and discouraged by his lack of success with Desdemona, Iago urges him to "put money in thy purse"; of course, Iago will just keep the money for himself.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  27. "Passing strange" means "stranger than strange," or "exceedingly strange." Othello is telling the story of how he convinced Desdemona to marry him; not with black magic, as he is accused, but with anecdotes. The "passing" strangeness of his story effectively seduced Desdemona, who responded with "a world of sighs" and fell in love with him.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  28. 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.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff