A Helpful Summary of 'Othello' Act 1

A break down of the tragedy's opening scenes

Desdemona and Othello, by Antonio Muñoz Degrain
Desdemona and Othello, by Antonio Muñoz Degrain. Public Domain

Hold tight and delve into Shakespeare's tragedy "Othello" with this summary of Act 1. This analysis covers the entire play, starting from the opening scene in which the prolific playwright wastes no time establishing Iago's hatred of Othello. Better understand this beautifully written drama with this scene-by-scene guide.

Act 1, Scene 1

In Venice Iago and Roderigo discuss Othello. Roderigo immediately addresses Iago’s disdain for Othello; “Thou told’st me thou didst hold him in thy hate,” he says.

Iago complains that instead of employing him as his lieutenant, Othello employed Michael Cassio who has no experience for the job. Iago was employed as a mere ensign to Othello.

Roderigo responds; “By heaven, I rather would have been his hangman.” Iago tells Roderigo that he will stay in Othello’s service only to exact revenge upon him when the time is right. Iago and Roderigo do not refer to Othello by name in this scene but rather by his race; calling him "the moor" or "the thick lips."

The pair plot to inform Brabanzio, Desdemona’s father, that his daughter has run off with Othello and married him and that he is an unsuitable match, citing his race and impulsivity. The audience discovers that Roderigo is in love with Desdemona, as Brabanzio points out he has already warned him off her; “In honest plainness thou hast heard me say my daughter is not for thee.” This explains Roderigo’s hatred of Othello.

The pair goad Brabanzio, and Iago says, “I am the one sir, that comes to tell you your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs.”

Brabanzio checks Desdemona’s room and discovers she is missing. He launches a full scale search for his daughter and regretfully tells Roderigo that he would prefer him to be his daughter's husband and not Othello; “O would you had had her.” Iago resolves to leave, as he does not want his master to know he has double crossed him.

Brabanzio promises Roderigo that he will reward him for his efforts. “Oh, good Roderigo. I will deserve your pains,” he says.

Act 1, Scene 2

Iago tells Othello that Desdemona’s father and Roderigo are pursuing him. Iago lies, telling Othello that he challenged them. “Nay, but he prated, and spoke such scurvy and provoking terms against your honour that with the little godliness I have, I did full hard forbear him.” he says. Othello answers that his honour and services to the state speak for themselves, and he will convince Brabanzio that he is a good match for his daughter. He tells Iago that he loves Desdemona.

Cassio and his officers enter, and Iago tries to convince Othello that it is his enemy, and he should hide. But Othello shows strength of character by staying. “I must be found. My parts, my title and my perfect soul shall manifest me rightly,” he says.

Cassio explains that the Duke needs to speak to Othello about the conflict in Cyprus. Iago tells Cassio about Othello’s marriage. Brabanzio arrives with swords drawn. Iago draws his sword on Roderigo knowing that they have the same intention and that Roderigo will not kill him but will collude with the pretence. Brabanzio is angry that Othello has eloped with his daughter and again uses his race to put him down, saying that it is ridiculous to think she turned down wealthy and worthy gentleman to run off with him.

“She shunned the wealthy curled darlings of our nation, …t’incur a general mock, run from her guardage to the sooty bosom of such a thing as thou,” he says.

Brabanzio also accuses Othello of drugging his daughter. Brabanzio wants to put Othello in prison, but Othello says that the Duke requires his services and will also need to speak to him, so they decide to go to the Duke together to decide Othello’s fate.

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Jamieson, Lee. "A Helpful Summary of 'Othello' Act 1." ThoughtCo, Oct. 19, 2017, thoughtco.com/othello-act-1-summary-2984769. Jamieson, Lee. (2017, October 19). A Helpful Summary of 'Othello' Act 1. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/othello-act-1-summary-2984769 Jamieson, Lee. "A Helpful Summary of 'Othello' Act 1." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/othello-act-1-summary-2984769 (accessed December 18, 2017).