A Father Enraged (Act I)
Brabantio is a Venetian Senator, father of Desdemona, who is awakened by the midnight din caused by Iago and Roderigo in 1.1 when they want to inform him that his daughter has eloped with the "black ram" or "Barbary horse," i.e., Othello. Both Iago and Roderigo address him in the most incendiary terms about his daughter's disappearance--the "lascivious Moor" has spirited her off; Desdemona has "made a gross revolt,/ Tying her duty, beauty, wit, and fortunes/ In an extravagant and wheeling stranger/ Of here and every where (1.1.126-137)." When Brabantio comes to his senses and realizes that his daughter is not in her bed, he proceeds to blame his daughter and then blame Othello. Two things he does not do are wish her well or blame himself.
Almost all of Brabantio's words in 1.2 and 1.3 blame Othello for his daughter's elopement. But in 1.1, before he really has had time to develop his "theory" of what happened, his instinctive emotions take over and he blames his daughter. He breathlessly blurts out to Roderigo,
"O unhappy girl!--/ With the Moor, say'st thou?--Who would be a father!--/ How dids't thou know 'twas she?---O, she deceives me/ Past thought!......O treason of the blood!/ Fathers, from hence trust not your daughters' minds/ By what you see them act (1.1.163-171)."
His initial reaction is one of raw fury because he feels betrayed by Desdemona, the daughter he loves. How could she do this to him? The words "treason of the blood" are especially noteworthy: they suggest not only an act of unforgivable deception but also a depth of passion in his daughter that he cannot fathom. Later on he will describe Desdemona's nature as "A maiden, never bold;/ Of spirit so still and quiet that her motion/ Blush'd at herself (1.3.94-96)." How, he wonders, could such a demure and reserved girl go willingly after this monstrous Moor?
After he has had a chance to think about Desdemona's action, he quickly shifts the blame from her to Othello. Perhaps the thought of his daughter willingly engaging in this activity is so frightening to him that he has to find another culprit. It is not as if Othello has seized her and violently carried her off. It must be, Brabantio thinks, that Othello has practiced magic on her. "Is there not charms," he asks Roderigo, "by which the property of youth and maidhood/ May be abus'd (1.1.171-173)?" When Roderigo answers that there are such charms, Brabantio now has his new "theory of the case." The Moor has enchanted her.
This then will be Brabantio's one "tune" that he sings when he confronts Othello in the next scene. "O thou foul thief, where has thou stow'd my daughter?/ Damn'd as thou art, thou hast enchanted her,/ ....Thou has practic'd on her with foul charms,/ Abus'd her delicate youth with drugs or minerals/ That weakens motion [impulses or inclinations] (1.2.62-75)."
But it is not enough for Brabantio to confront Othello at the Sagittary Inn. He will bring his private griefs to the most public forum, the Venetian Senate, and seek redress there.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long