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Brabantio in Othello: Character Analysis & Quotes Video

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Instructor: John Gonzales

John has 20+ years experience teaching at the college level in areas that include English and American literature, Humanities, and Interdisciplinary Studies.

This lesson presents an analysis of the character Brabantio, father of Desdemona and Senator of Venice in Shakespeare's 'Othello.' You will see how Brabantio expresses his attitudes toward his daughter and her husband.

Considering Overly Concerned Fathers

You've probably seen a television show or movie recently that featured the comically neurotic father of a cherished daughter who decides to marry. No one is good enough for his baby, and being his son-in-law, or prospective son-in-law, means navigating a minefield of suspicion and disapproval. These overprotective fathers have been played by such Hollywood heavy-hitters as Bruce Willis and Robert De Niro.

Who knew that William Shakespeare was already using this motif well before the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth? In Othello, Desdemona's father Brabantio also demonstrates the excesses of an overprotective father. However, Shakespeare uses this character to advance tragic rather than comic themes. Brabantio's possessiveness and bigotry set the tone for the play and reinforce some of its key themes.

Brabantio as a Father

Brabantio, father of Desdemona, unwilling father-in-law of Othello, appears in all three scenes of Act I of the play. When Brabantio is introduced, it is easy to sympathize with him. He is woken in the first scene by panicked shouts of 'thieves!' in the dead of night. Once he achieves a bit of clarity, he discovers Roderigo at the door, and says:

'I have charged thee not to haunt about my doors:

In honest plainness thou hast heard me say

My daughter is not for thee;'

Brabantio doesn't realize that he is being intentionally manipulated by Iago and Roderigo. The audience does know what the character doesn't, however, making it an instance of dramatic irony. The two seem to realize that he has a fiery temper and aim to exploit that along with his possessive love of his daughter in an attempt to discredit and undermine Othello.

So what do we know about Brabantio as a possessive father? His caustic attitude toward Roderigo could be seen as an automatic response to any of Desdemona's suitors showing up under such circumstances, and he is equally insulting towards Iago, who accompanies Roderigo. They urge him to check for himself whether Desdemona is in her bedroom. He exits to check on his daughter and soon returns, distraught to realize that Othello, in a sense, truly has stolen Desdemona away by eloping with her.

Brabantio as a character is every bit the overprotective father, but in some ways, he represents the pull of youth on Desdemona as well. He doesn't seem to recognize her capacity for entering into a mature relationship with a man, and keeps her trapped in perpetual childhood. By bringing her into the adult institution of marriage, Othello is not only a thief, but almost a child molester, who has 'Abused her delicate youth.'

Brabantio is obviously agitated when he learns the truth, and rapidly shifts from blaming Desdemona to grasping at wild explanations. He first refers to the elopement as a 'treason of the blood' but immediately pounces upon an alternative that will help him preserve his image of his daughter, even if it means forging an alliance with Roderigo:

'Is there not charms

By which the property of youth and maidhood

May be abused? Have you not read, Roderigo,

Of some such thing?'

His accusation of witchcraft and supernatural influence persists through most of his interactions with Othello and state authorities. Brabantio's pain is evident; in fact, he virtually wishes his fatherhood away. He expresses a similar sentiment, but with more bitterness and intensity, after Desdemona confirms that Othello is innocent of using potions or dark magic to steal her away:

'For your sake, jewel,

I am glad at soul I have no other child:

For thy escape would teach me tyranny,

To hang clogs on them.'

His use of the term 'jewel' implies that she is treasured as a possession rather than loved as a person, and the reader can almost hear the bitter sarcasm in its delivery.

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