Why Did Iago Leave Roderigo At Brabantio’s House?

The Shakespeare Answers category is here to answer questions people may have about Shakespeare’s work. If you’re just looking for the homework answers then you’ll find them here. I don’t love that, but I look at it this way. First, I can’t stop you, and if you didn’t find the answer here you’ll easily find it elsewhere. Second, by answering the question here maybe I can convince you that Shakespeare is interesting and worth learning more about.

Like so many of Shakespeare’s plays, we don’t actually see the title figure in the first scene.  Othello opens with Iago and Roderigo standing outside the window of Brabantio, a Venetian senator, and father to Desdemona.

Roderigo lusts after Desdemona, and Iago knows this.

Desdemona has run off with Othello, and Iago knows this.  Iago does not like Othello, to put it mildly.

Brabantio will not be happy to discover that his daughter as run off with Othello, and Iago knows this.

Iago’s manipulation drives everything in this play. He wants to get Othello in trouble, possibly to the point of having his command stripped, and sees an opportunity to use Roderigo as a puppet in making that happen.

So here we are, standing outside Brabantio’s window when the two begin hurling some of the vilest, most racist comments you’ll find in all of Shakespeare:

Even now, now, very now, an old black ram
Is topping your white ewe…

…the devil will make a grandsire of you…

…you’ll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse…

It is Iago, not Roderigo, that hurls all those comments, as well as the most famous one:

…your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs.

But, here’s the thing.  When Brabantio asks for their names, the only one to answer is Roderigo.  Iago’s not stupid.  Roderigo still thinks that the plan is some version of “we’re going to get Othello in trouble by telling on him,” not fully appreciating the level of psychological manipulation going on.

Once Brabantio comes down the stairs, Iago runs for it.  He tells Roderigo:

…for I must leave you:
It seems not meet, nor wholesome to my place,
To be produced–as, if I stay, I shall–
Against the Moor

Which translates as, “It’s not a good idea for people to see me here, speaking out against my boss.”  Which is true. You can’t play the puppet master once people realize that you’re the one pulling the strings, and then realize that you’ve got strings attached to them as well.

Does that make him a coward? Hurling insults behind the mask of anonymity and then fleeing into the night?  That would suggest that Iago feels some degree of remorse or shame for his actions, which is hardly accurate.

The scene does a great job of setting up both characters. Roderigo is easily manipulated here and will be again.

Who is Ophelia’s Brother?

I never know what to say when I see questions like this in my logs. But then I think of it like this – if I invited my coworkers to see Hamlet, and during intermission one of them asked me, “I’m confused, which one is Ophelia’s brother?” I’m not going to point and laugh and say, “How dumb are you? It’s right there on the page!”  Instead I’m going to appreciate that this person is engaged enough to be here in the first place and is trying to follow along, but sometimes it’s not that easy.

Even though we typically think of Ophelia as Hamlet’s girlfriend, we never actually see them “together”. We first hear about their relationship first from Ophelia’s older brother Laertes before he leaves to return to school:

For Hamlet and the trifling of his favour,
Hold it a fashion and a toy in blood,
A violet in the youth of primy nature,
Forward, not permanent, sweet, not lasting,
The perfume and suppliance of a minute; No more.

Typical big brother stuff – you think Hamlet’s into you, but he’s really not, so don’t let him break your heart. This is typical of all the men in Ophelia’s life, they tell her what to do.

LaertesWe don’t see Laertes again until their father Polonius has been killed. He is then witness to Ophelia’s madness and eventual death. At her funeral he cannot bear the grief and jumps into her grave:

Hold off the earth awhile,
Till I have caught her once more in mine arms:

[Leaps into the grave]

Now pile your dust upon the quick and dead,
Till of this flat a mountain you have made,
To o’ertop old Pelion, or the skyish head
Of blue Olympus.

What he does not realize is that Hamlet has also returned and, seeing this over the top display, starts a fight over which of them loved her more:

I loved Ophelia: forty thousand brothers
Could not, with all their quantity of love,
Make up my sum. What wilt thou do for her?

What Hamlet does not know is that Laertes and Claudius have concocted a plan to let Laertes have his revenge, by poisoning Hamlet.  This plan either works perfectly or horribly depending on whether you see the glass half full or empty, because at the end of it Hamlet does end up dead.  But so do Claudius and Laertes. With his last breath, Laertes asks Hamlet’s forgiveness for betraying him.

Why Does Hamlet Hesitate to Kill Claudius?

Why does Hamlet hesitate to kill Claudius?

There are a few different ways to answer this question. I assume that most of the time people ask it, they’re referring to III.3 when he catches Claudius at prayer:

Now might I do it pat, now he is praying;
And now I’ll do’t. And so he goes to heaven,
And so am I reveng’d. That would be scann’d.
A villain kills my father; and for that,
I, his sole son, do this same villain send
To heaven.
Why, this is hire and salary, not revenge! [citation]

So the short and easy answer is Hamlet tells us – by killing Claudius at prayer, his soul is clean, and therefore he’d go to heaven. However, this is not a luxury granted to Hamlet’s father, which is why he now roams the earth as a ghost.  Hamlet doesn’t feel that this is an even exchange.

You should, however, be saying, “Seriously?” right now.  “You set the trap to prove Claudius’ guilt, it worked, now you’re behind him, there’s no witnesses, you could absolutely finish him off. And instead you’re thinking ahead to where he soul ends up?”

That is precisely the whole point of the play. Hamlet’s indecisiveness is all. He can talk himself out of anything. Go back to I.5:

But know, thou noble youth,
The serpent that did sting thy father’s life
Now wears his crown. [citation]

So your father’s ghost appears and says, “I was murdered by the king.”  Your first thought is, “I know, I’ll start acting crazy around everybody so they won’t know what I’m up to.”

David Tennant not looking very hesitant.

At least the point has a specific rationale, however. In Amleth, the source material for Hamlet, the hero believes that his life is in danger and decides to pretend that he is an imbecile not to be perceived as a threat to the new king.

In Shakespeare’s version, however, that connection is lost — there’s no reason early in the play to think that Claudius is planning to kill Hamlet (though clearly, he plans to have England do it). So it looks like Hamlet’s just coming up with excuses to delay action.

I’ve always held that his mother’s death, not his father’s, ultimately spurs him into action. The entire play passes without him avenging his father, but it takes just 20 lines of dialogue between his mother’s death (“The drink! I am poison’d.”) and Hamlet’s action (“Follow my mother!”). Some argue that he finally sees his own mortality and knows, from Laertes, that he, too, has been poisoned, and if he does not act now, he will never have the chance. But I’ve always felt that the “Follow my mother” line is a big deal – it’s not as if he mentions his father. Remember his concern over the fate of his father’s soul? How he was not absolved of his sins? Well, now his mother’s met the same fate.

Why is Egeus Angry With His Daughter?

Question: Why is Egeus angry with his daughter Hermia?

A Midsummer Night’s Dream opens with Theseus, Duke of Athens, planning his wedding to Hippolyta. Shakespeare actually lifted this part of the story straight out of Greek mythology, if you’re interested. But that doesn’t answer the question.

Enter Egeus, and he does not look happy. I’ve seen productions where he marches Lysander, Demetrius, Hermia and Helena in at the point of his shotgun. And he says…

Full of vexation come I, with complaint
Against my child, my daughter Hermia.
Stand forth, Demetrius. My noble lord,
This man hath my consent to marry her.
Stand forth, Lysander: and my gracious duke,
This man hath bewitch’d the bosom of my child;
Thou, thou, Lysander, thou hast given her rhymes,
And interchanged love-tokens with my child:
Thou hast by moonlight at her window sung,
With feigning voice verses of feigning love,
And stolen the impression of her fantasy
With bracelets of thy hair, rings, gawds, conceits,
Knacks, trifles, nosegays, sweetmeats, messengers
Of strong prevailment in unharden’d youth:
With cunning hast thou filch’d my daughter’s heart,
Turn’d her obedience, which is due to me,
To stubborn harshness: and, my gracious duke,
Be it so she; will not here before your grace
Consent to marry with Demetrius,
I beg the ancient privilege of Athens,
As she is mine, I may dispose of her:
Which shall be either to this gentleman
Or to her death, according to our law
Immediately provided in that case.

What’s it all mean?  If you want the short answer, he’s saying, “I want my daughter Hermia to marry Demetrius, and if she won’t, then I want her executed.”

Yes, this comedy opens up with a father threatening to kill his daughter.

The longer version goes a little something like this (but ends the same way):  Lysander is the boy that Hermia actually wants to marry, but Egeus doesn’t blame her, he blames Lysander.  Lysander has “bewitched” his child by showering her with gifts, singing love songs at her window, that sort of thing. Otherwise she would know better than to disobey the will of her father.

Egeus isn’t the kind of father who is going to negotiate with his child. In the old days if you were a teenage boy acting up, your parents my threaten to enlist you in the army.  I only had a brother so I’m not sure what parents threatened teenage girls with, putting them in a nunnery?  Egeus knows the law, however, and goes straight to “dispose of her” if she doesn’t do what he wants.

I beg the ancient privilege of AthensThe good news is that Theseus has a calmer head on his shoulders, and after listening to Hermia’s side of the story offers her another alternative — a nunnery.  But luckily this is a comedy and everything works out in the end, everybody marries the right person, nobody ends up dead or locked away.

An interesting question to consider is whether Egeus actually meant to go through with his threat.  Plenty of old school parents drove their kids to the recruitment center and then turned around to come home. What would he have done if Theseus said, “Absolutely! Get the axe, we’ll have her head right now.” If you prefer your comedies without such a dark edge, you can imagine Hermia’s home life with a father that threatens her with the ancient privilege of Athens at the slightest infraction.  “Hermia, is dinner ready yet? I swear, I’ll dispose of you!  I mean it this time!”


Having been around for a dozen years at this point, the site attracts a good deal of traffic on the subject of Shakespeare. Much of it comes in the form of questions about the plays. Is this students looking for answers to their homework? Probably. But if they’re going to get the answers anyway I’d rather have them get the answer here, along with an explanation, in the hopes that we can make them interested in the topic.


Is Caliban human?

Is Caliban human? The question comes through on my logs every now and then so we must have touched on the subject at some point.  I think that perhaps students are looking for help with their homework and just want a yes or no answer and maybe a citation, but I think it’s more complicated than that.

Then was this island–
Save for the son that she did litter here,
A freckled whelp hag-born–not honour’d with
A human shape.

The very first description we have for Caliban is “not honored with a human shape.”  Does that mean not human?

EDIT:  November 1, 2017.  As the commenter rightly points out, that’s a misinterpretation of the passage.  It is the island that would be “without human shape” if it were not for Caliban, i.e. he was alone on the island. 

The word “whelp” would normally apply to animals, but Prospero’s not saying that Caliban is closer to a dog than a person. (When I drive to work each morning and inevitably call someone a jackass I don’t literally mean he’s a donkey. How can you give someone the finger if you have hooves?)

Normally we would say, “Is Caliban human? Of course Caliban is human. He’s got a mind and free will of his own and can communicate. He loves his mother Sycorax and worships her god, Setebos.” By our modern biological standards, it’s a no-brainer.  There’s no creature other than humans that can do any of that.

But this is also a play with magic and fairies, witches and devils. So maybe our modern definitions don’t apply?

Is Caliban human?We’re told that Sycorax is a witch, and that she was banished here. Prospero goes one step more, telling Caliban that he is the offspring of his mother mating with the devil himself.

By modern standards, and by that I mean post Salem witch trials, we could interpret this to mean “Single woman gets pregnant, gets on the wrong side of a conservative society’s rules, and gets kicked out.”  By that logic Caliban is human.  A little wild, maybe, from growing up outside civilization (and civilized medicine), but basically human.  Personally I like this interpretation because it keeps the play universal.  Tell me what Caliban is like as a character because he’s human, and therefore at some level he is like all of us. If he’s not human, I can’t really learn anything from his plight because everything’s different. If he is, I can feel sympathy for him.

Did Shakespeare believe in witches?  It’s not known for certain, but it was certainly typical of the time. Whether the audience believes in witches or not, however, we have to suspend that belief because this play takes place in a universe where magic exists.  Prospero rescued Ariel from a tree, after he was imprisoned there Sycorax. So Sycorax did have powers (like Prospero), and therefore was an actual witch, so is it really that far fetched that she was impregnated by a devil?  And if that is the case in this universe, what exactly does that make Caliban?  Because “appearing human” would probably be closer than “actually human”.  If that’s the case then the play isn’t nearly the same to me.  I have no sympathy for Caliban if he’s just a walking, talking animal.

So, is Caliban human? I prefer to see it that way, but I think that Shakespeare probably didn’t. What does everybody else think?