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THE STORY - SUMMARY AND NOTES
ACT I, SCENE III
This scene is important for what it tells us about 1) Othello; 2) Desdemona; 3) Brabantio; and 4) Iago.
Two groups of people surround Othello as he enters the Senate office. One group needs Othello's military expertise. After several conflicting reports, word comes that the Turks (or Ottomites, so named because they are part of the Ottoman Empire) are headed to attack the island of Cyprus. The other group, led by Brabantio, is accusing him of using a vile kind of magic to seduce Desdemona.
Whatever anxiety he might feel, Othello remains confident. Notice that both the Duke and a Senator call him "valiant" before they even notice that Brabantio is there.
Forced by Brabantio to explain what he has done, Othello first replies that he is ill-equipped to speak for himself. As a professional soldier who has lived in army camps since he was seven, and has only been in Venice for nine months, Othello says:
Rude am I in my speech, And little blessed with the soft phrase of speech. Act I, Scene iii, lines 92-93 Now in his forties, Othello has never been in love!
Othello offers to tell his story, despite his discomfort with words, and requests that Desdemona be sent for to tell it from her point of view. If she says she has been bewitched, Othello will turn himself over for punishment, even execution.
As the group await Desdemona, Othello describes their courtship. He's far too modest when he calls himself "rude of speech!" His story is so magical and persuasive that many readers point to it as proof of his noble soul.
Othello tells of being a frequent guest in Brabantio's household. (Brabantio was fond enough of Othello to have him to dinner, but didn't want him as a son-in-law) There he wove stories about his romantic and mysterious adventures as a professional soldier. Desdemona listened as often as she could between her household tasks, and one day insisted that Othello tell her everything from beginning to end-the disasters he surmounted, his experience as a slave, the cannibals he encountered, the strange men he met whose heads grow beneath their shoulders.
For Othello, a stranger with little experience with women, Desdemona's attention must be thrilling. To have a beautiful woman cry and sigh over his tales, and then ask him to teach his stories to anyone who might be interested in winning her! It's little wonder that he falls in love:
She loved me for the dangers I had passed, And I loved her that she did pity them. Act I, Scene iii, lines 183-84 Who can blame Othello? We're all drawn to those who are interested in our lives, and in Desdemona, Othello finds maybe for the first time, someone who thinks of him not just as a soldier, but as a human being.
Desdemona has quite a reputation to live up to as she enters the Senate office. Who is this woman who has won the powerful Othello and dazzled Roderigo as well?
Brabantio tells the Senate that his daughter is too shy to have run off on her own. But as she faces an angry father and the Venetian Senate, she seems brave and articulate. Her reply to her father, when he asks where her loyalty belongs, is direct and honest. She was bound to Brabantio when she was his daughter. Now she is Othello's wife and owes him the same obedience her mother once gave to Brabantio. Love for Othello has given Desdemona the strength to speak out. Her words are so persuasive that Brabantio knows he's been defeated.
Desdemona's strength never wanes in this scene. She insists on going to Cyprus, the island Othello must defend against the Turks. Because she has married a soldier, she feels that she must share his life by being at his side-if not, her love is meaningless. Othello urges the Duke to grant her her wish, since the couple hasn't yet had a honeymoon. The Duke agrees, and Othello asks that Iago accompany Desdemona to Cyprus, along with Iago's wife, Emilia, who will serve as her lady-in-waiting.
By the end of the scene, we feel that Othello has chosen a good wife. She's brave, and determined to make her marriage work despite popular opinion. She's also deeply in love with her new husband.