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Othello Act 1, Scene 2 Summary & Quotes

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.

Act I, Scene 2 of Shakespeare's ''Othello'' is a short but intense set of encounters outside the door of Othello's home. This lesson provides a summary with key quotes and character references.

Othello At the Center of Attention

According to Oscar Wilde, 'There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.' Today, we live in a social reality where publicists are paid to make sure their clients are in everyone's minds and on the tips of their tongues. Being noticed, being seen, and being significant is a driving preoccupation. But being the center of attention isn't always what it's cracked up to be. Act I, Scene 2 of Othello certainly drives that point home.

At this point of the play, Othello is the center of attention for numerous factions, interests, and individuals, and it is a tribute to the character Shakespeare creates that he manages it all so well. While the tragedy of the play comes from Othello's inability to maintain his composure and trust against and onslaught of deceit, at this point in the play he is the nucleus of calm at the eye of a storm.

In this sense, Othello is the protagonist of the play, the character on whom all other actions and stories in the play converge. While Iago has a larger presence, his own actions and motivations revolve around Othello. Act I, Scene 2 demonstrates that and establishes the pattern for the rest of the play.

Scene Summary

The scene takes place on the street just in front of Othello's home in Venice. A group enters, and Iago addresses Othello. Because the audience has been introduced to Iago, they know that he is lying--but he does it so well! He tells Othello how difficult it was to restrain himself from killing Brabantio on the spot after hearing the insults and slander he directed at Othello upon discovering his elopement with Brabantio's daughter, Desdemona.

Iago warns Othello of Brabantio's political power and popularity and seeks confirmation that he and Desdemona are legally married. Othello assures Iago that his reputation and service to the state will stand above any of Brabantio's accusations. They see the lights of torches carried by an approaching group. Iago, believing it to be Brabantio, whom he and Roderigo stirred to anger in the previous scene, warns Othello to duck inside his house. Othello stands firm, saying:

'Not I; I must be found:

My parts, my title and my perfect soul

Shall manifest me rightly. Is it they?'

It turns out that the group, led by Othello's newly designated lieutenant, Cassio, is a delegation from the Duke of Venice and the Senate, requesting Othello's presence at an emergency meeting regarding military developments in Cyprus. Othello agrees, only asking a moment to check in with his household--and presumably Desdemona, though Cassio is unaware of their elopement at this point. Meanwhile, Iago breaks the news to Cassio in typically vulgar style:

'Faith, he to-night hath boarded a land carack:

If it prove lawful prize, he's made for ever.'

Othello reappears, and just as they are preparing to leave, another group arrives, this time led by Brabantio. Both sides draw swords, and Iago loudly calls out Roderigo to further conceal the fact that they worked together to make the confrontation happen. Othello calms both sides enough to avoid physical violence, but Brabantio launches into violently abusive and overtly racist accusations against Othello while attempting to call for his arrest:

'O thou foul thief, where hast thou stow'd my daughter?

Damn'd as thou art, thou hast enchanted her;

For I'll refer me to all things of sense,

If she in chains of magic were not bound,

'Whether a maid so tender, fair and happy,

So opposite to marriage that she shunned

The wealthy curled darlings of our nation,

Would ever have, to incur a general mock,

Run from her guardage to the sooty bosom

Of such a thing as thou, to fear, not to delight.

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