Othello Quotes in Context
by William Shakespeare

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"A Divided Duty"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Desdemona, daughter of a Venetian senator, Brabantio, elopes with a Moor, Othello, a military commander in the service of Venice. Her father, incensed, brings his grievance and Othello before the duke who is sitting late in council. The senator accuses Othello of using charms, potions, magic, and witchcraft in his courtship. Othello denies the charges and sends for his bride. He then relates to the duke, Brabantio, and the council how he courted the lady. He concludes as Desdemona arrives. Brabantio immediately puts her to a test: to choose "in all this noble company where most you owe obedience."

DESDEMONAMy noble father,I do perceive here a divided duty.To you I am bound for life and education;My life and education both do learn meHow to respect you; you are the lord of duty,I am hitherto your daughter. But here's my husband;And so much duty as my mother showedTo you, preferring you before her father,So much I challenge that I may professDue to the Moor my lord.

"A Fellow Almost Damned In A Fair Wife"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: In the opening scene of the play–in conversation with Roderigo–Iago berates Othello, his military superior, for failure to promote him to second-in-command. Instead, the lieutenancy has been awarded to Cassio, a young Florentine whom Iago denounces as bookish and inexperienced. In his tirade against this new appointee, Iago makes a remark about Cassio's wife which has frequently puzzled readers of the play. "Damned in a fair wife" reflects, of course, a proverbial attitude that a beautiful wife is a source of trouble for her husband. But Shakespeare does not provide Cassio a wife in the play. Perhaps he had originally intended to do so and failed to delete this line when he decided otherwise; in the Italian work by Geraldio Cinthio which served as Shakespeare's source, the captain is indeed married, though not cuckolded. Or perhaps Iago is making a snide remark about the courtesan Bianca and her unsuccessful matrimonial purusit of the lieutenant. In any case, the immediate context is clear. According to Iago, Cassio has neither the experience nor the manliness for his new position. The following lines set the stage for Iago's open declaration of villainy–that he follow Othello but to serve his turn upon him. His subsequent determination to prod Othello into mad jealousy on circumstantial evidence concerning Desdemona's fidelity forms the main action of the plot.

IAGO. . .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 knowsMore than a spinster, unless the bookish theoric,Wherein the toged consuls can proposeAs masterly as he. Mere prattle, without practiceIn all his soldiership. But he, sir, had th' election;And I–of whom his eyes had seen the proofAt Rhodes, at Cyprus, and on other groundsChristian and heathen–must be be-leed and calmedBy debitor and creditor. This counter-caster,He, in good time, must his lieutenant be,And I God bless the mark, his Moorship's ancient.

"A Foregone Conclusion"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Othello, a Moor, is the military governor of Cyprus in the service of Venice. He chose Michael Cassio as his lieutenant in preference to Iago, whom he made his ancient (or ensign), a lower ranking officer. As a result, Iago hates Othello, is envious of Cassio, and determines to destroy them both. By means of brilliant machinations, evil dissimulation, and luck, he implants in Othello's mind the thought that Desdemona, his bride, is unfaithful to him with Cassio. While seeming to be solicitous for Othello's sensitivities, in reality he cultivates the seed of jealousy in Othello's mind until the latter is racked with doubt and anguish. The Moor turns on his tormentor and demands proof of his wife's frailty. Iago, resourcefully and falsely, relates how he recently slept in Cassio's room and how Cassio talked and acted about Desdemona in a dream. Othello believes Iago's lies, and his distraction is complete.

OTHELLOO monstrous! Monstrous!IAGONay, this...

(The entire section is 5,361 words.)