A round unvarnished tale
Othello:Othello Act 1, scene 3, 89–94
Yet (by your gracious patience)
I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver
Of my whole course of love—what drugs, what charms,
What conjuration, and what mighty magic
(For such proceeding I am charg'd withal)
I won his daughter,
When Brabantio, a Venetian senator, discovers that his daughter Desdemona has eloped with the Moor Othello, he is stunned. The only way he can comprehend the event is to imagine Othello's employing all sorts of drugs and black magic on his normally timid daughter. In front of the Duke of Venice and the Senate, Othello steps forward to defend himself with "a round unvarnish'd tale." Here "round" means "straightforward" and "plain"; when an Elizabethan said that he would be "round with you," he meant that he would speak frankly. Othello disavows rhetorical tricks: his tale will be "unvarnish'd," eschewing any beguiling adornments or misleading artifice.
Yet Othello is not quite true to his word; to use both "round" and "unvarnish'd"—which are here nearly synonymous—is already to engage in artful speech. And by at first repeating the charges against him, almost as if to admit to them, he generates suspense and rhetorically misleads the audience. Othello repeatedly claims that he is "rude" in his speech, but nevertheless always speaks artfully. In this, he is like Marc Antony in Julius Caesar [see FRIENDS, ROMANS, COUNTRYMEN LEND ME YOUR EARS], or Hamlet's Polonius, Shakespeare's parody of the artfully artless rhetorician [see MORE MATTER WITH LESS ART].
Themes: honor and honesty