Before the Senate (1.3)
By the time the Senate convenes in its emergency middle-of-the-night session to take up the issue of the Turkish threat to Cyprus and sending Othello to fight it (1.3), Brabantio has made his way to their meeting and will speak to them. One indication that war is on the minds of the Senate is that the Duke greets Othello even before he recognizes the Senator Brabantio. His brief greeting to the latter, "I did not not see you; welcome, gentle signior (1.3.50)," shows that Othello is really the man of the hour.
Yet another kind of war is on Branbantio's mind. Even though the state is in a crisis mode, Brabantio will be heard. It is not the "general care" that takes hold on him; his "particular grief/ Is of so flood-gate and o'erbearing nature/ That it engluts and swallows other sorrows (1.3.55-57)."
Narrating his "Particular Grief"
At first the flustered Duke can only say, "Why? What's the matter?" to which Brabantio blurts out, "My daughter! Oh, my daughter! (1.3.58-59)." His grief-stricken outburst of immense emotion evokes a unanimous show of consternation as all say, "Dead?" To which Brabantio says, "Ay, to me (1.3.59)."
Now that he has their attention, he tells his story. He has had some time to refine it in his mind, and he will only play the "Blame Othello" tune or, to use a different image, the "blame Othello" tune is the first verse of his song. In addition, he adds a second verse to this song--the "innocent daughter" stanza, which actually is quite different from the treasonous daughter scenario of 1.1. He adds yet a "third verse" to the mix: that the relationship between Desdemona and Othello is "contrary to nature." Because such a liaison is unnatural, it must have been effected through the spells and charms of the lascivious Moor. Then he can sing verse one of the main tune again--blame Othello.
His words are even more harsh and direct than in 1.2, "She is abus'd, stol'n from me, and corrupted/ By spells and medicines bought of mountebanks; For nature so prepost'rously to err/ (Being not deficient, blind, or lame of sense)/ Sans witchcraft could not (1.3.60-64)." Though he blames Othello, he appeals to the shadowy concept of nature for his case. He never says whether it is unnatural for Desdemona to love, to love a Moor, to elope or to elope with a Moor but all he knows is that his beloved daughter has, incomprehensibly, fallen in love" with what she fear'd to look on (1.3.98)!" This certainly is "against all rules of nature" and is an indication that the Senate must find out the "practices of cunning hell" as to why this should be (1.3.102-103).
A Senator's Brief Response
One might have thought it beyond the ken of the Senate to take up this matter, much less to consider it when a crisis of state impends. Nevertheless, after Brabantio has reiterated his case against the Moor, and before Othello speaks to defend himself, he poses a question to Othello that gives an interesting twist on the concept of "nature," the word taken over by Branbantio to be his ally in the war against Othello. He gently probes the accusations of Othello as magician and the relationship as contrary to nature by his two questions: (1) "Did you by indirect and forced courses/ Subdue and poison this young maid's affections? and (2) Or came it by request, and such fair question/ As soul to soul affordeth (1.3.111-114)?"
The second question is phrased in a very interesting fashion. Whereas Brabantio wants to claim the high moral ground of relationship as contrary to nature, the Senator's question suggests that the relationship might have been the ordinary result of two people getting to know each other. The "request" is meant to contrast with "forced courses" as the alternate means: in other words, did this relationship happen willingly? Was it a chosen thing by both? The question is one that Brabantio cannot even consider because it is too frightening to him. How could a cultivated and modest Senator's daughter be actually attracted to a man of such age, race and culture? If she is, whose daughter is 'safe?' 'The whole world,' Brabatio thinks, 'would then come crashing down.
Yet, as I will show in the next mini-essay, Brabantio's anxiety and outrage is overstated probably because he is trying to suppress deep knowledge of something else: that he indeed, was the unwitting conduit for the love to develop between Desdemona and Othello.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long