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Shakespeare: Othello

4. Act 1, Scene 1: At Brabantio’s Balcony

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We continue the story now as Iago comes up with his first plot: to have Roderigo tell Brabantio that his daughter, Desdemona, is sleeping with Othello (1.1.65-181). In particular, we think about: (i) the relative positions (and voices) of Iago and Roderigo on the stage as they speak to Brabantio, i.e. Roderigo in plain sight using his own voice, Iago hidden underneath the balcony and disguising his voice; (ii) the use of racist, bestial imagery to describe the relationship between Othello and Desdemona; and (iii) as before, the theme of ‘seeming’ (i.e. pretending) vs. being, as demonstrated by both Iago (“I must who out a flag and sign of love, | Which is indeed but sign”, 154-55) and (more surprisingly, perhaps) Desdemona (“Fathers, from hence trust not your daughters’ minds | By what you see them act”, 168-9).


In this twenty-one part course, Professor John McRae (University of Nottingham) explores Shakespeare’s Othello. We begin with a broad introduction to the historical, political and intellectual context of early 17th-century England, before going through the play scene-by-scene, providing close reading and detailed analysis, with commentary on character, plot, themes and motifs, language, symbolism, and more.

Note: We used the Arden edition of the play (Third Series, Revised Edition, ed. E. A. J. Honigmann). Students using a different version of the play may encounter slight differences in both the text and line numbers.


John McRae is Special Professor of Language in Literature Studies and Teaching Associate in the School of English at Nottingham University, and holds Visiting Professorships in China, Malaysia, Spain and the USA. He is co-author of The Routledge History of Literature in English with Ron Carter, and also wrote The Language of Poetry, Literature with a Small 'l' and the first critical edition of Teleny by Oscar Wilde and others.

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APA style

McRae, J. (2019, January 27). Shakespeare: Othello - Act 1, Scene 1: At Brabantio’s Balcony [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

McRae, J. "Shakespeare: Othello – Act 1, Scene 1: At Brabantio’s Balcony." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 27 Jan 2019,

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