The scene opens on a street in Venice at night time. Iago and Roderigo are two friends (or so Roderigo thinks), and they are arguing about a ‘deal’ made between the two of them. Iago, a soldier in the Venetian army, promised Roderigo that he would help him win over the beautiful Desdemona, the daughter of a Venetian senator called Brabantio.
Instead, Desdemona has fallen head over heels in love with a black Moor called Othello, who is very senior in the Venetian army. Iago is personally very upset with Othello, as he bypassed Iago for a promotion in his upper ranks. Iago has been overlooked in favour of a man by the name of Michael Cassio.
Iago is determined to pay Othello back for overlooking him … in fact, he is personally convinced that Othello has slept with his own wife, so he has a very big grudge against him. He begins his plot of revenge by telling Roderigo that they need to tell Desdemona’s father about his daughter’s elopement with Othello. He thinks that, perhaps this will stop Desdemona from running off with Othello if her father finds out. He also knows that will sadden Othello, and rob him of his true love.
The two men wake Roderigo in the middle of the night and describe in really crude language how Othello is having sexual intercourse with Desdemona. He uses animal imagery here, with phrases like, “an old black ram is tupping your white ewe”.
Obviously Brabantio cannot believe this. He has always had a good relationship with his daughter. He is sure she is in her bed, fast asleep. Othello challenges him to go and see if she’s at home. She isn’t. Brabantio is furious and wants to find Othello to confront him. He also calls a search party, and asks Roderigo to help him find his daughter. Othello is really sly – he doesn’t join the party, so as not to make Othello think that he isn’t on his side. Othello is a very crafty, self-serving person who will do ANYTHING he can, for his own gain, even at the downfall of anyone and everyone around him. He is extremely jealous of Othello.
Roderigo is clearly weak and naïve, and a follower rather than a leader. Brabantio is very emotional, and after finding out what his daughter has done, he is bitter and rude.