Hillary Becker on Othello, Act 1

Published by admin_main on Sat 30 Oct, 2010

3. In Act 1, Scene 3, how does Othello confront the charge leveled against him? What wins over the Duke of Venice (if not Brabanzio)? Consider mainly Othello's performance as a speaker -- what is it about his bearing and his language that makes him attractive in this regard?

Brabanzio seeks out the Duke's judgment in Act 1, scene 3, after having been informed by Iago and Rodrigo of his daughter's secret marriage to Othello. When the Duke asks Brabanzio what the matter is, he claims that his daughter was beguiled by Othello, whom he cursorily refers to as the Moor: "She is abused, stol'n from me, and corrupted by spells and medicines bought of mountebanks being not deficient, blind, or lame of sense, sans witchcraft could not" (lines 69-73). The Duke and the others respond sympathetically to Brabanzio, and are sorrowful for the loss that he describes. But Othello does not seem fazed by these accusations; he remains calm and confident. First, Othello uses flattery. In lines 87 and 88, he refers to the senators and the Duke as "potent, grave, and reverend signiors." He calls them "my noble and approved good masters." He goes on to explain his "rude" speech as the result of a harsh life, and how his stories of hardship and pain moved Desdemona to such a degree that her empathy turned into a deeper love. From "year to year" Brabanzio would question the story of Othello's life. He spoke of the "battles," "sieges," "disasterous chances," "moving accidents," and other treacheries that he endured. Desdemona becomes interested over time, and "with a greedy ear" would "devour up {his} discourse" (phrases taken from lines 143-165). When his history is complete, Desdemona is touched. She offers a "world of sighs," (line 174) and she began to love him for the "dangers that {he} had passed" (line 182). The Duke is very accepting of Othello's performance. He admits that his daughter would also be wooed by his story. Othello is very open and honest. He is accused of taking advantage of Desdemona. In modern terms, we might equate the "medicines" that Brabanzio speaks of to rohypnol or heroin, whose effects greatly change and alter a person's perception. It would be expected or understandable for someone being accused of something so atrocious to become defensive or maybe even angry. But it is almost as if Othello knew this would come and was prepared. Othello is not afraid of the confrontation, and he shows courage and strength through his unruffled and composed response. The way in which he handled the charges leveled against him makes him into a very attractive character. In this passage, we can see why Othello is respected and honored by those around him.

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