The Opening Scene

Act 1 Scene 1 – Key Scene

In this scene Roderigo and Iago talk about how they both want revenge on Othello and hate him, but for different reasons. They then wake up Brabantio and tell him his daughter has married Othello in secret. Brabantio is furious, and they insult him and make him even more angry. Iago manages to stay hidden but Brabantio recognises Roderigo.

Take a look at an extract from this scene and watch it in performance here. Using the following steps, remember to look at it line by line and if you’re looking at the scene for the first time don’t worry if you don’t understand everything at once.

  • Look
    Take a look at the scene. Who has the most lines? Are they using prose or verse? Actors at the RSC often put the language into their own words to help them understand what they are saying. We’ve added some definitions (in green), questions (in red) and paraphrased some sections (in blue) to help with this. You can click on the text that is highlighted for extra guidance.
    Enter RODERIGO and IAGO
    Tush, never tell me! I take it much unkindly
    That thou, Iago, who hast had my purse
    As if the strings were thine, shouldst know of this.

    What do you think Iago knows about that has upset Roderigo?

    I am insulted that you – Iago, who has been using my money like it was your own – knew about this.

    'Sblood, but you will not hear me!
    If ever I did dream of such a matter,
    Abhor me.
    Thou told'st me thou didst hold him in thy hate.

    Who are they talking about here and why don’t they name ‘him’?

    Despise me, if I do not. Three great ones of the city,
    In personal suit to make me his lieutenant,
    Off-capped to him, and by the faith of man,
    I know my price, I am worth no worse a place.
    But he, as loving his own pride and purposes,
    Evades them with a bombast circumstance
    Horribly stuffed with epithets of war,
    Nonsuits my mediators. For 'Certes', says he,
    'I have already chose my officer.'

    And what was he?
    Forsooth, a great arithmetician,
    One Michael Cassio, a Florentine -
    A fellow almost damned in a fair wife -
    That never set a squadron in the field,
    Nor the division of a battle knows
    More than a spinster. Mere prattle without practice
    Is all his soldiership. But he, sir, had th'election:
    And I, of whom his eyes had seen the proof
    At Rhodes, at Cyprus and on others' grounds,
    Christened and heathen, must be beleed and calmed
    By debitor and creditor; this counter-caster,
    He in good time must his lieutenant be,
    And I - God bless the mark! - his Moorship's ancient.

    But he is very proud and likes to do his own thing so he didn’t answer them directly and gave them a grand speech instead, which was full of military language. And, in the end, my supporters gave up: for ‘truthfully’ he said ‘I’ve already chosen the person I want as my lieutenant’.

    An arithmetician is someone who is great with numbers

    Someone who is from Florence in Italy is referred to as a Florentine, meaning Cassio is not from Venice either.

    Never ordered troops in battle.

    The word ‘Moor’ refers to someone of African or Arabic descent. Here, Iago turns it into a title like ‘Lordship’ and uses the word ‘Moorship’ as an insult.

    (Text edited for rehearsals by Iqbal Khan)
  • Listen
    Read the scene aloud, then watch the actors trying it in different ways and discussing their ideas. Which way feels right? What in the language makes you think that? Are there any words or lines that really stand out?
  • Watch
    Take a look at the actors performing this scene. How do the characters come across in this version?
  • Imagine
    Explore some images from past interpretations of Othello at the RSC. Which sets and staging choices for the opening scene feel right to you?