Othello Act 1 Scene 1: Summary & Analysis

Act 1 Scene 1

The play Othello, the Moor of Venice, starts without the protagonist. The audience only hears about him from the people who despise him, Iago and Roderigo. In this article, our experts explain why it’s crucial and retell Act 1, Scene 1.

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🤯 Summary of Othello: Act 1 Scene 1

Othello Act 1 starts with the argument between Rodrigo and Iago. It happens on the dark streets of Venice. Rodrigo, a wealthy nobleman, asked Iago to help him marry Desdemona. To his disappointment, there was no progress in his efforts to win her heart. He also learned that Desdemona had married Othello recently.

Othello is the general whom Iago has been serving. He hates Othello and has reasons for that, as he claims. The main one is that despite Iago’s exemplary service, Michael Cassio was promoted to the post of lieutenant. Another reason is Othello’s race, as he is a Moore, an African.

Roderigo fears that he has lost Desdemona and his money because of it. Iago suggests that to spoil Desdemona and Othello’s ideal life, they have to let Desdemona’s parents know. So the family will be against the general. The two come to Desdemona’s father and tell him that he has been robbed. Brabantio, a prominent Venetian senator, comes out to see who is making all this noise. In the beginning, he does not believe Roderigo and Iago. Iago tells the senator again and again that Othello and Desdemona have sexual relationships. Brabantio ends up looking for his daughter and doesn’t find her. Then, he starts believing them.

Iago leaves Roderigo and goes to search for Othello, who does not know about his participation in the scheme. Brabantio goes to look for Othello with his men. He is convinced that the general used some magic charms to attract Desdemona.

🎭 Active Characters

Iago, Roderigo, Brabantio

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🔥 Active Themes

Othello themes: racism.Othello themes: appearance vs reality.
RacismAppearance vs. Reality

👉 Analysis of Othello: Act 1 Scene 1

The play starts with a quarrel between Iago and Rodrigo. This opening scene serves two main functions: it intrigues the audience and reveals Iago’s manipulative nature. He promises Rodrigo to make Desdemona fall in love with him. In return, Iago gets money from the wealthy Roderigo. The audience does not know for how long this friendship persisted. However, what is clear to everyone, Iago does not respect Roderigo. For instance, he says.

“I am not what I am.”

In the opening scene, Iago also explains his reasons for hating Othello. There are several different interpretations for this profoundly rooted resentment: both professional and personal. First, he wanted Othello to promote him to the rank of lieutenant. He even claims that some three influential Venetians had approached the general with this suggestion. Nevertheless, Othello preferred to promote Cassio instead. According to Iago, Cassio does not possess the needed knowledge and courage on the battlefield. He calls him “spinster,” alluding to his young age and absence of sexual experience. Cassio serves a role of a victimized lieutenant in Othello.

Additionally, everything Cassio knows about war is learned from the textbooks. Iago calls him a “bookish theoric.” He also notes that Cassio is not Venetian (just like Othello). This quote might suggest that race plays a role in Iago’s resentment too. Another interpretation of this hatred can be rooted in his personal feelings towards Desdemona.

Even though the reasons for Iago’s feelings are present in the text, they are less important than the results of his evil manipulations.

Race plays a vital role in the opening scene as well. The abundance of racial remarks by both Rodrigo and Iago in Act 1 Scene 1 emphasizes racist attitudes towards Othello. Rodrigo calls him “the thick lips.” Iago refers to Othello as “an old black ram,” “a Barbary horse,” “the lascivious Moor.” These animal comparisons of Othello’s race continue to appear in the play.

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Brabantio learns that his daughter, Desdemona, has eloped with Othello. It makes him furious because she married not one of the “curled darlings of her nations.” It implies that Othello’s race is more critical to Brabantio than Othello’s achievements and social status as a general. For instance, when the father recognizes Rodrigo, he tells him that Desdemona is not a fit for him. However, when he learns that she has eloped with the Moor, Rodrigo seems like a good match. Iago successfully uses animal comparisons and Brabantio’s racism to make him furious.

The audience first sees Othello through the eyes of Iago, Rodrigo, and Brabantio. Only later the audience learns that he is a highly respected figure in Venetian society. Even the Duke of Venice respects him. He is also highly valued by his soldiers. Yet, at first, we only see him as a despised person of another race.

When Brabantio wants to go search for the protagonist, Iago decides to join his commander. He wants Othello to trust him because, without trust, Iago’s plans will not be possible to accomplish. The public should not know that he is Othello’s enemy too. That is why almost an entire opening scene happens in the darkness. Before leaving, Iago says:

“Show out a flag and sign of love,
Which is indeed but a sign.”

Thanks for reading the summary and analysis of Act 1 Scene 1! For more information about Othello, check the articles below.

🎓 References

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"Act 1 Scene 1." IvyPanda, 22 June 2021, ivypanda.com/lit/othello-study-guide/act-1-scene-1/.

1. IvyPanda. "Act 1 Scene 1." June 22, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/lit/othello-study-guide/act-1-scene-1/.


IvyPanda. "Act 1 Scene 1." June 22, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/lit/othello-study-guide/act-1-scene-1/.


IvyPanda. 2021. "Act 1 Scene 1." June 22, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/lit/othello-study-guide/act-1-scene-1/.


IvyPanda. (2021) 'Act 1 Scene 1'. 22 June.

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