The Theme of Brotherly Love in Shakespeare's Othello

An annotated list of relevant passages.





When Roderigo, who is madly in love with Desdemona, hears that she has eloped with Othello, he complains to Iago. Roderigo thought Iago was on his side in his pursuit of Desdemona, so Iago has to explain that he really hates Othello, even though he's still serving under his command. He tells Roderigo of how Othello passed him over for promotion in favor Cassio, and then says, "Now, sir, be judge yourself, / Whether I in any just term am affined [bound]/ To love the Moor" (1.1.38-40). He follows this up by saying that he does not serve Othello "for love and duty, / But seeming so, for my peculiar [personal] end" (1.1.59-60). [Scene Summary]


Before the Senate, defending his marriage to Desdemona, Othello starts the explanation of how they met by saying, "Her father loved me; oft invited me; / Still question'd me the story of my life" (1.3.128-129). "Still" means "repeatedly"; Brabantio gave Othello a lot of positive attention before Othello married his daughter.

At the end of the scene, after Desdemona testifies to her true love for Othello, Roderigo is in despair over losing her -- even though he never had her in the first place -- and melodramatically declares that he will drown himself. In response, Iago jokes, "If thou dost, I shall never love thee after" (1.3.306). [Scene Summary]


Upon their reunion in Cyprus, Othello says to Desdemona, "Honey, you shall be well desired in Cyprus; / I have found great love amongst them" (2.1.204-205). He means that the natives are friendly to him and that they all will want to meet and greet Desdemona.

At the end of the same scene, Iago exults in the cleverness of his plan to make Othello jealous. He says he will "Make the Moor thank me, love me and reward me. / For making him egregiously an ass" (2.1.308-309). This prediction comes true. [Scene Summary]


After Cassio has gotten drunk and left for guard duty, Iago tells Montano the lie that Cassio is a habitual drunk. Montano is shocked and says that Othello ought to be told, but Iago responds, "Not I, for this fair island: / I do love Cassio well; and would do much / To cure him of this evil" (2.3.142-144).

Later in the scene, when Othello is trying to discover who is responsible for the fight between Cassio and Montano, he says to Iago, "Speak, who began this? on thy love, I charge thee" (2.3.177-178). Othello believes that Iago is his loyal friend, and so he expects the truth from him. Iago professes much reluctance, but does provide the requested information, only leaving out the fact that he masterminded the whole thing. What Iago says is damning to Cassio, but Othello thinks that because Iago is Cassio's friend, it could have been more damning. He says to Iago, "Thy honesty and love doth mince this matter, / Making it light to Cassio" (2.3.247-248), and then turns to Cassio with his verdict: "Cassio, I love thee / But never more be officer of mine" (2.3.248-249). Othello, unlike Iago, really does love Cassio, but it's impossible to keep an officer who gets into a drunken brawl while on duty.

After he's been fired, Cassio is ashamed of himself, but Iago persuades him that what he's done isn't so bad and that he can get his job back by appealing to Desdemona. Iago also assures Cassio that he's giving this advice out of love. He says, "good lieutenant, I think you think I love you" (2.3.311), and when Cassio thanks him for his advice, Iago replies, "I protest, in the sincerity of love and honest kindness" (2.3.327). Where Iago says "I protest," we would say "I promise you." [Scene Summary]


After he has lost his job, Cassio asks Emilia if he can talk with Desdemona. Emilia replies that Desdemona has already been urging Othello to restore Cassio to his position, but that Othello has been saying that since Cassio wounded a prominent citizen of Cyprus, it's politically impossible. However, Othello has also said that he likes Cassio, and that because he likes Cassio, he will restore Cassio's job at the earliest possible opportunity. Emilia reports Othello as saying, "But he protests he loves you / And needs no other suitor but his likings / To take the safest occasion by the front / To bring you in again" (3.1.47-50). [Scene Summary]


Trying to reassure him that Othello will soon restore him to his position, Desdemona says to Cassio, "You do love my lord: / You have known him long; and be you well assured / He shall in strangeness stand no further off / Than in a politic distance" (3.3.10-13). However, Cassio has less faith in the power of love than does Desdemona, and he's worried "That, I being absent and my place supplied [given to another], / My general will forget my love and service" (3.3.17-18).

A few moments later, when Othello appears, Desdemona urges him to restore Cassio to his position because Cassio only made a stupid mistake and is "one that truly loves you" (3.3.48). She goes on to make it clear that she believes that she is doing Othello a good turn by getting him back together with his loving friend, Cassio.

Later in the scene, Iago drops a few hints that start to arouse Othello's jealousy, but craftily pretends that he doesn't want to say much, thus giving the impression that he knows a lot more than he is telling. This strategy works, and Othello exclaims, "If thou dost love me / Show me thy thought" (3.3.116). To this, Iago says, "My lord, you know I love you" (3.3.117), and Othello then says, "I think thou dost; / And, for I know thou'rt full of love and honesty, / And weigh'st thy words before thou givest them breath, / Therefore these stops of thine fright me the more" (3.3.117-120). The "stops" are the significant pauses Iago has been taking, as if considering just what to say next. Othello goes on to say that he knows that a person can use such stops as a way of pretending to know more than he's saying, but Othello is sure that Iago is not playing such a trick. Actually, Iago is playing that very trick, but Othello can't see it because he trusts Iago's love and honesty.

Iago lures Othello ever deeper into his web of deceit, until Othello declares that he is not a jealous man, and once he knows the truth he will immediately do away with either love or jealousy. This gives Iago the opportunity to make more insinuations about Desdemona, and he says to Othello, "I am glad of it; for now I shall have reason / To show the love and duty that I bear you / With franker spirit" (3.3.193-195). He goes on to tell Othello that he should keep his eye on Desdemona because Venetian women can't be trusted, and because Desdemona fooled her father when she fell in love with him. At this, Iago sees that Othello is becoming visibly upset and says, "but I am much to blame; / I humbly do beseech you of your pardon / For too much loving you" (3.3.211-213). Othello says that what Iago has been saying has not upset him, but Iago replies "I' faith, I fear it has. / I hope you will consider what is spoke / Comes from my love" (3.3.215-217). Thus Iago, who never acts or speaks except out of hatred, assures Othello that it's only love that is making him say all of this.

Eventually, Othello's jealousy makes him angry at Iago. He threatens death and damnation unless Iago produces some proof of Desdemona's disloyalty. Iago handles this turn of events by threatening Othello with emotional isolation. He says, "God buy you; take mine office. O wretched fool, / That livest to make thine honesty a vice!" (3.3.375-376). "God buy you" is the grandmother of our word "goodbye," and "take mine office" means "I quit." In short, he's pretending that he's about to leave Othello all alone to solve his problem by himself. As Iago heads for the door, he talks to himself (though loud enough for Othello to hear), telling himself that he's a fool to be so loving and honest. He goes on in this way until he promises that from now on he'll "love no friend, sith [since] love breeds such offence" (3.3.380). Othello, who believes that his best friend and his wife have both betrayed him, can't bear the thought of losing his last friend, so he calls Iago back. Iago then proceeds to add more fuel to the fire of Othello's jealousy.

A little later, when Othello again asks for proof, Iago says, "I do not like the office: / But, sith I am enter'd in this cause so far, / Prick'd to't by foolish honesty and love, / I will go on" (3.3.410-413). He then delivers a cock-and-bull story about a dream that he says Cassio had about Desdemona.

At the end of the scene, when Othello kneels to vow revenge against Desdemona, Iago kneels with him and promises to do everything he can to help him. At this, Othello says to Iago, "I greet thy love, / Not with vain thanks, but with acceptance bounteous" (3.3.469-470), and then asks Iago to arrange for the murder of Cassio. Of course Iago is glad to accept the assignment. [Scene Summary]


After Othello has berated her about the handkerchief, Cassio appears and again asks Desdemona for her help in getting his job back, so that "I may again / Exist, and be a member of his love / Whom I with all the office of my heart / Entirely honour" (3.4.111-114). Today, instead of saying that he wants to "be a member of his love," Cassio would probably say that he wanted to "be a member of his team," and that he has "deep respect" for Othello, but in Shakespeare's time such things were spoken of as a matter of "love." [Scene Summary]


Lodovico, who has come to deliver messages from the Venetian Senate, inquires about Cassio and learns that Cassio has fallen out of favor with Othello. Lodovico is surprised, but Desdemona assures him that there is a problem, and adds, "I would do much / To atone [reconcile] them, for the love I bear to Cassio" (4.1.232-233). Othello, overhearing her, takes her expression of brotherly love the wrong way, and in a few moments he strikes her and humiliates her. [Scene Summary]


Before he kills her, Othello accuses Desdemona of having an affair with Cassio. She denies it, saying that she "never loved Cassio / But with such general warranty of heaven / As I might love" (5.2.59-61). Implicit in this statement is a distinction between romantic love, which is consecrated to just one person, and brotherly love, which God wants us to feel for all worthy persons.

Later in the same scene we see that brotherly love is sisterly, too. When Othello tells Emilia that he killed Desdemona because she was a whore, Emilia is passionate in Desdemona's defense. Both Othello and Iago tell her to shut up, but she defies them both in order to tell the truth about Desdemona. Emilia sacrifices her life for her love. When Iago stabs her, she has nothing to say about him, or about anything except Desdemona. She makes her way to Desdemona's bed, sings Desdemona's "willow" song and dies saying, "Moor, she was chaste; she loved thee, cruel Moor; / So come my soul to bliss, as I speak true; / So speaking as I think, alas, I die" (5.2.249-251) [Scene Summary]