Othello Act 1, Scene 3 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.

This lesson provides a summary of Act 1, Scene 3 of Shakespeare's ''Othello,'' which is unusual for its climactic elements at an early point in the play. A short quiz will follow the lesson.

Act I, Scene 3 in Othello: Overview

If you've seen a James Bond film made at any point since the disco era, you know the franchise likes to start things off with a bang by immediately launching 007 into the midst of adrenaline-churning, high stakes spy business. Bond will be caught in the act of something, leading to a breathtaking chase sequence and phenomenal escape, almost before the audience can start eating its popcorn. Think of this technique as an early climax, usually a point of culminating intensity before the main story can even get underway. Act I, Scene 3 of Shakespeare's Othello similarly injects an introductory high stakes encounter to create an early climax, setting the tone for the main story to come.

Scene Summary

Scene 3 opens in the council chamber, where the Duke of Venice and the Senate, minus Desdemona's father, Brabantio, are in fraught discussion over a developing military crisis. Conflicting reports add to the tenseness of the situation, but eventually they 'confirm/A Turkish (Ottoman) fleet' is 'bearing up to Cyprus.' Othello enters, along with Brabantio, Iago, and Roderigo. Here, the Duke of Venice immediately reveals why Othello had been summoned in the previous scene:

'Valiant Othello, we must straight employ you

Against the general enemy Ottoman.'

The Duke turns to Brabantio, welcoming him, but also indicating that his presence on the Senate was missed. Brabantio apologizes, stating that his attention was consumed with the loss of his daughter, 'now dead' to him, because she has eloped with Othello, whom he accuses of using 'witchcraft' to overcome her natural resistance. The Duke and Senate demand Othello's response to the charge. He confirms that he has married Desdemona but pleads that it is his only offense.

'Rude I am in my speech' Othello says, though his gracious response shows otherwise. He protests that he is a soldier and not an eloquent speaker, but that if Desdemona is summoned, she can confirm his account. If she does not, he offers up both his military commission and his life.

Othello then recounts how, as an invited guest at Brabantio's home, he would chronicle the tales of his life, exploits that included being enslaved and regaining freedom, 'hair-breadth (e)scapes', and incredible encounters with strange beings in exotic lands. He humbly paints a truly epic picture by explaining that Desdemona overheard fragments of his tales and privately asked him for more:

'She loved me for the dangers I had pass'd,

And I loved her that she did pity them.

This only is the witchcraft I have used:

Here comes the lady; let her witness it.'

The Duke replies, 'I think this tale would win my daughter too,' acknowledging that Othello isn't so clumsy with words after all. He encourages Brabantio to accept and make the best of the situation, but Brabantio stands firm and asks that Desdemona be heard. Desdemona confesses her divided feelings but confirms that, as her mother did to her father, she must now declare her first duty to her new husband, Othello. As all those in attendance seem convinced by her words and believe that she is free of any supernatural influence, Brabantio finally accepts the situation, although with obvious bitterness, and urges the Duke to return to matters of state.

The Duke informs Othello of the impending attack on Cyprus, indicating that his reputation proves that he is the best man to take command of its defense. Othello, the dutiful soldier, accepts, asking that Desdemona be properly looked after during his absence. When the Duke suggests that she reside with her father, Othello, Brabantio, and Desdemona all reject the proposal, with Desdemona arguing that she would not want to aggravate her father by 'being in his eye.' She asks instead that she be permitted to go with her husband since that was her purpose when she 'did (her) . . . soul and fortunes consecrate' to him in marriage.

Othello supports the request, assuring the Duke and Senate that it is not sexual desire but desire to honor Desdemona's wishes that motivates him. He reaffirms his priorities by stating that when he lets his 'disports' interfere with duty, 'let housewives make a skillet of my helm(et). The Duke leaves the choice to them, and it is taken for granted that the living arrangements will be suitable for a young woman of privilege.

The First Senator insists that Othello himself needs to depart that night. The Duke agrees, indicating that someone will be appointed the next morning to escort Desdemona and deliver Othello's 'commission.' Othello asks that Iago be given the assignment and entrusts Desdemona to his care. As the Senate and the Duke exit, Brabantio takes a parting shot, warning Othello to beware: Desdemona deceived her father by eloping and could her husband too. Othello proclaims 'My life upon her faith,' and exits with Desdemona, saying:

'Come, Desdemona: I have but an hour

Of love, of worldly matters and direction,

To spend with thee: we must obey the time.'

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