The scene opens with messages that Cyprus is about to be attacked by the Turks of the Ottoman Empire.
Into the midst of this excitement comes Brabantio to appeal to the Duke for justice at Othello's elopement
with Desdemona. He accuses the Moor of seducing his daughter through magical spells and drugs.
Othello defends himself in that it was merely his stories of the battlefield -- and of the strange people
whom he encountered -- which had won Desdemona to him.
Desdemona, upon being summoned, confirms Othello's innocence. Since Brabantio will not have her
back into his house, however, she is forced to follow Othello to Cyprus.
In the meantime, Iago hatches his plot to revenge himself on Othello, as well as to win Desdemona over
WAS IT NECESSARY FOR THE PLOT
THAT OTHELLO BE BLACK?
This play deals with insecurities and revenge. To achieve that purpose, although it was not essential for
Othello to be Black, it made it very much easier for Shakespeare to put the point across.
Indeed, the Shakespearian audience would have distrusted Othello from the very moment that he set foot
on stage because he would have symbolised many things that the audience would feel insecure about.
Othello was very much "the other" or "the outsider".
First, he was a Moor who, in Shakespeare's time, were despised in England. Furthermore, although the
Moors of Spain had long converted to Christianity, it was suspected that their conversions were false and
that, at heart, they were still practising Islamic custom.
He was also dark skinned (Shakespeare confuses Moor with Negro) and, again in Shakespeare's day,
black had the connotation of evil. "To be the black sheep of the family" meant to be the odd one out, not
to be trusted.
The colour black was associated with death and Satan whereas white was associated with purity and
goodness. A person wore black to a funeral whereas brides wore white to their wedding. This was then
transferred in the class structure: White people were trusted whereas Black people were distrusted.
Biblically, Black people were believed to be the descendants of Ham, doomed to be "hewers of wood and
drawers of water" -- in other words, to be slaves. Indeed, it was this association which enabled Europe
of Elizabethan times to enslave black people.
Furthermore, Othello was clearly a practiser of magic and witchcraft, made clear by Brabantio and
substantiated by Desdemona. He had won Desdemona's affections by his tales of magic and witchcraft,
stories of people who faces were on their chests.
Indeed, Brabantio was of the opinion that he had entrapped her by witchcraft, and remember that witches
could be burned at the stake in Shakespeare's day.
It is very clear that Brabantio would never have given Othello the hand of Desdemona in marriage if he
had not been forced to do so because Venice needed Othello to help them defeat the Turks.
It is also very clear that the Duke would have carried out Brabantio's wishes to slap Othello in gaol for
eloping with Desdemona except that his military prowess was essential at that very moment.
In other words, a play of betrayal and mistrust worked far better if the main character was black skinned
because then Shakespeare could take much for granted without having to explain it.
Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?