Notable Quotes from Othello


[Click on any quote to see it in the complete
annotated text of Othello.]

A fellow almost damn'd in a fair wife,
That never set a squadron in the field,
Nor the division of a battle knows
More than a spinster
—Iago's description of Cassio, who was chosen by Othello to be his lieutenant, a position that Iago wanted.

The bookish theoric
—Iago's scornful characterization of Cassio's military knowledge as all theory learned from books.

'tis the curse of service,
Preferment goes by letter and affection,
And not by old gradation, where each second
Stood heir to the first.
—Iago resentfully explains that he didn't get a promotion ("preferment") because Cassio was the beneficiary of favoritism, even though in the good old days a promotion would have been awarded strictly on the basis of seniority.

We cannot all be masters, nor all masters
Cannot be truly follow'd.
—Iago says that though he serves his master, Othello, he does so only for his own purposes, not to "truly follow" him.

Whip me such honest knaves.
—Iago's opinion of what should be done to reward servants who are loyal to their masters.

I am not what I am.
—Iago boasts that Othello doesn't really know him.

Even now, now, very now, an old black ram
Is tupping your white ewe.
—Trying to provoke Brabantio, Desdemona's father, Iago delivers an obscene description of sex between Othello and Desdemona.

You are one of those that will not serve God, if the devil bid you.
—Iago accuses Brabantio of being blind to the truth because of his prejudice against the messengers that bring the truth.

your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs
—Iago again uses beastly imagery of sex in order to provoke Brabantio.

Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them.
—With gentle irony, Othello prevents an imminent brawl between his soldiers and Brabantio's gang.

The wealthy curled darlings of our nation.
—Brabantio's description of potential suitors whom Desdemona avoided.

Most potent, grave, and reverend signiors,
My very noble and approv'd good masters,
That I have ta'en away this old man's daughter,
It is most true; true, I have married her:
The very head and front of my offending
Hath this extent, no more.
—Othello responds to Brabantio's accusation that he must have used drugs or magic on Desdemona.

Her father loved me; oft invited me;
Still question'd me the story of my life,
From year to year, the battles, sieges, fortunes,
That I have passed.
I ran it through, even from my boyish days,
To the very moment that he bade me tell it
—Othello describes how Desdemona's father loved to hear the story of Othello's warrior life.

She loved me for the dangers I had pass'd,
And I loved her that she did pity them
This only is the witchcraft I have used.
—The end of Othello's speech defending himself from Brabantio's accusation that he must have used drugs or magic on Desdemona.

I do perceive here a divided duty.
—Desdemona proclaims that she owes duty to both her father and her new husband, Othello.

The robb'd that smiles, steals something from the thief;
He robs himself that spends a bootless grief.
—The Duke of Venice, trying to persuade Brabantio to drop his anger about the marriage of Othello and Desdemona, tells him that a change of attitude would be good for him.

The tyrant custom, most grave senators,
Hath made the flinty and steel couch of war
My thrice-driven bed of down.
—When told that he must immediately depart for Cyprus to deal with the threat from the Turkish fleet, Othello declares that his life as a warrior has accustomed him to the hardships of war.

I saw Othello's visage in his mind.
—In pleading with the Duke to be allowed to accompany Othello to Cyprus, Desdemona declares the depth of her love for Othello. She saw his true image not in his black face, but in his mind.

to be free and bounteous to her mind
—In pleading with the Duke to allow Desdemona to accompany him to Cyprus, Othello declares that it is his respect for her wishes that motivates him.

Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see:
She has deceived her father, and may thee.
—Brabantio spitefully warns Othello that his daughter, Desdemona, may betray him.

Put money in thy purse.
—Iago promises Roderigo that he can have Desdemona, even though she is married to Othello and accompanying him to Cyprus. All Roderigo needs to do is assume a disguise, go to Cyprus, and "put money in thy purse."

The food that to him now is as luscious as locusts, shall be to him shortly as bitter as coloquintida.
—Iago tells Roderigo that both Othello and Desdemona are changeable, so that although Desdemona is now "luscious" to Othello, he will soon find her "bitter."

Framed to make women false.
—Iago reflects on how Cassio's appearance and manners will aid in his plan to make Othello jealous. Cassio is handsome and charming, just the sort of man to tempt women to betray their husbands.

One that excels the quirks of blazoning pens.
—Describing Desdemona, Cassio says that she is more beautiful than can be described by ingenious writers who have made women famous.

For I am nothing, if not critical.
—Iago teasingly warns off Desdemona when she asks him to comment on her. This is just after he has made a series of sarcastic remarks about women in general.

I am not merry; but I do beguile
The thing I am, by seeming otherwise.
—Desdemona, anxiously awaiting the arrival of Othello in Cyprus, explains why she has asked the witty Iago to say something about her.

She that was ever fair and never proud,
Had tongue at will, and yet was never loud.
—The opening of Iago's joking description of a perfect woman.

She was a wight, if ever such wight were, . . . To suckle fools and chronicle small beer.
—The punch line of Iago's description of a perfect woman.

You may relish him more in the soldier than in the scholar.
—Cassio's amused description of Iago, after Iago has delivered his sarcastic commentary on women.

If after every tempest come such calms,
May the winds blow till they have waken'd death!
—After a rough sea voyage from Venice, Othello expresses his joy at his reunion with Desdemona.

I'll have our Michael Cassio on the hip,
Abuse him to the Moor in the rank garb--
For I fear Cassio with my night-cap too--
Make the Moor thank me, love me and reward me.
For making him egregiously an ass
—Iago looks forward to the hugely satisfying outcome of his plot.

I have very poor and unhappy brains for drinking.
—Cassio tries to beg out of Iago's invitation to a drinking party.

Potations pottle-deep.
—Iago describes the amount of liquor that Roderigo has taken on (about a half-gallon) in preparation for his encounter with Cassio.

King Stephen was a worthy peer,
  His breeches cost him but a crown;
He held them sixpence all too dear,—
  With that he called the tailor lown.
—The opening of Iago's drinking song, intended to encourage Cassio to drink carelessly and act carelessly.

Silence that dreadful bell: it frights the isle
From her propriety.
—Othello commands that the alarm bell be silenced, lest it create panic among the citizens of the island of Cyprus.

Thy honesty and love doth mince this matter.
—After Iago tells the story of the brawl into which Roderigo drew Cassio, Othello says that Iago is such a good friend to Cassio that he has varnished over Cassio's reckless behavior.

Cassio, I love thee;
But never more be officer of mine.
—Othello dismisses Cassio, his best friend, from his job.

Iago. What, are you hurt, lieutenant?
Cassio. Ay, past all surgery.
—Iago asked Cassio if he has been wounded. Cassio replies that the wound he has suffered is one that no surgery can heal.

Reputation, reputation, reputation! Oh, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial.
—Cassio mourns that he has lost his reputation by his rash and drunken actions.

O thou invisible spirit of wine, if thou hast no name to be known by, let us call thee devil!
—Cassio curses drink as a devil which leads men into evil.

O God, that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains!
—Cassio continues to curse drink.

Come, come, good wine is a good familiar creature, if it be well used.
—Iago encourages Cassio to quit cursing drink. This is part of Iago's plan to get Cassio into a more hopeful state of mind, so that he will approach Desdemona in an attempt to get his job back from Othello.

How poor are they that have not patience!
—When Roderigo complains that all he has gotten from participating in Iago's plot is a beating, Iago tells him that he just needs to be patient.

Excellent wretch! Perdition catch my soul,
But I do love thee! and when I love thee not,
Chaos is come again.
—Just before Iago traps him into insane jealousy, Othello expresses his deep love for Desdemona.

Speak to me as to thy thinkings,
As thou dost ruminate, and give thy worst of thoughts
The worst of words.
—Othello asks Iago to tell him the truth about what he is thinking. Iago has thrown out some hints about a relationship between Cassio and Desdemona, but is pretending that he doesn't want to say anything more.

Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls:
Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him
And makes me poor indeed.
—With a string of platitudes, Iago continues to pretend that he doesn't want to ruin anyone's reputation.

O, beware, my lord, of jealousy!
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on.
—Iago, to make Othello even more jealous, warns Othello against jealousy.

But, O, what damned minutes tells he o'er
Who dotes, yet doubts, suspects, yet strongly loves!
—Iago continues his reverse-psychology strategy of warning Othello against jealousy.

Poor and content is rich and rich enough.
—Iago delivers this bit of wisdom to Othello as a way enraging Othello. (Othello is not a man who can be content to know that he has lost of the love of Desdemona.)

to be once in doubt
Is once to be resolv'd.
—Trying to prove to Iago that he is not jealous, Othello says that as soon as he has suspicions he will look for evidence of guilt or innocence.

If I do prove her haggard,
Though that her jesses were my dear heart-strings,
I'ld whistle her off and let her down the wind,
To prey at fortune.
—In a soliloquy, Othello says that if he finds proof that Desdemona has betrayed him, he'll just let her go.

I am declined
Into the vale of years.
—Trying to think of why Desdemona might have quit loving him, Othello says that he is approaching the age of 35.

O curse of marriage,
That we can call these delicate creatures ours,
And not their appetites! I had rather be a toad,
And live upon the vapour of a dungeon,
Than keep a corner in the thing I love
For others' uses.
—In a soliloquy, Othello explores the idea of Desdemona's unfaithfulness and sinks ever deeper into angry jealousy.

Trifles light as air
Are to the jealous confirmations strong
As proofs of holy writ.
—Iago, after telling us how he is going to use Desdemona's handkerchief to confirm Othello's jealousy, comments on how easy it is to fool a jealous person.

Not poppy, nor mandragora,
Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world,
Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep
Which thou owedst yesterday.
—Speaking to Othello before Othello can hear him, Iago comments that Othello's jealousy will keep from every sleeping again.

I swear 'tis better to be much abused
Than but to know 't a little.
—In the agony of jealous doubt, Othello declares that it is better to be ignorant of wrongs done to one, rather than to have only a little information about them.

              O, now, for ever
Farewell the tranquil mind! farewell content!
Farewell the plumed troop and the big wars
That make ambition virtue! O, farewell!
Farewell the neighing steed and the shrill trump,
The spirit-stirring drum, the ear-piercing fife
—Becoming convinced of Desdemona's unfaithfulness, Othello feels worthless and says farewell to all he has ever known, his life as a warrior.

Villain, be sure thou prove my love a whore;
Be sure of it; give me the ocular proof.
—For a moment, Othello's jealousy turns into anger against Iago, and he demands proof that he can see.

On horror's head horrors accumulate.
—Othello tells Iago that if he is slandering Desdemona he might as well do all other crimes that can be imagined, since he has already done something damnably horrible.

               Take note, take note, O world,
To be direct and honest is not safe.
—Responding to Othello's doubt about his truthfulness, Iago proclaims that he was only trying to be honest.

              Swell, bosom, with thy fraught,
For 'tis of aspics' tongues!
—Othello proclaims to Iago that his heart is now full of hate for Desdemona.

              Like to the Pontic sea,
Whose icy current and compulsive course
Ne'er feels retiring ebb, but keeps due on
To the Propontic and the Hellespont,
Even so my bloody thoughts, with violent pace,
Shall ne'er look back, ne'er ebb to humble love
—Othello declares to Iago that his jealous anger is at full tide, and will never slack.

Our new heraldry is hands, not hearts.
—Shortly before he asks Desdemona to produce the handkerchief he gave her, Othello throws out an obscure hint about his suspicion that she is unfaithful.

              'tis the strumpet's plague
To beguile many, and be beguil'd by one.
—Iago comments on the foolish love that Bianca, a prostitute, has for Cassio.

They laugh that win.
—When Cassio laughs at the idea of marrying Bianca, Othello, who thinks Cassio is talking about Desdemona, becomes more confirmed in his jealousy

              But yet the pity of it, Iago!
O Iago, the pity of it, Iago!
—Having sworn to kill Desdemona, Othello mourns the loss of the beautiful woman he loved.

I understand a fury in your words,
But not the words.
—When Othello speaks of Desdemona as though she is a whore, Desdemona tells him that she knows he's angry, but not why he's angry.

Yet could I bear that too; well, very well:
But there, where I have garner'd up my heart,
Where either I must live, or bear no life;
The fountain from the which my current runs,
Or else dries up; to be discarded thence!
—Othello tells Desdemona that he can bear any affliction except the loss of her love.

              O thou weed,
Who art so lovely fair and smell'st so sweet
That the sense aches at thee, would thou hadst ne'er been born.
—Othello, speaking to Desdemona, is torn between hate and love.

O Heaven, that such companions thou'ldst unfold,
And put in every honest hand a whip
To lash the rascals naked through the world!
—Emilia, suspecting that some of Othello's associates have poisoned his mind about Desdemona, appeals to heaven to reveal who they are, so that every honest person can punish them.

'Tis neither here nor there.
—Asked by Desdemona if itching eyes lead to weeping, Emilia says it doesn't make any difference.

It makes us or it mars us.
—Having persuaded Roderigo that he must kill Cassio, Iago tells Roderigo that this action is crucial to everything.

Every way makes my gain.
—Iago reflects that whether Roderigo kills Cassio, or Cassio kills Roderigo, or they kill each other, he's ahead of the game.

He hath a daily beauty in his life
That makes me ugly
—Iago comments on one reason he wants Cassio dead.

              Yet I'll not shed her blood;
Nor scar that whiter skin of hers than snow,
And smooth as monumental alabaster.
—As he prepares to kill Desdemona, Othello promises that he won't disfigure her.

Put out the light, and then put out the light:
If I quench thee, thou flaming minister,
I can again thy former light restore
Should I repent me; but once put out thy light,
Thou cunning'st pattern of excelling nature,
I know not where is that Promethean heat
That can thy light relume.
—As he tries to bring himself to kill Desdemona, Othello confronts the finality of what he is about to do.

So sweet was ne'er so fatal.
—Giving the sleeping Desdemona a kiss, Othello reminds himself that he is about to kill her.

Had all his hairs been lives, my great revenge
Had stomach for them all.
—Believing that Iago has killed Cassio, Othello tells Desdemona that he gladly would have killed Cassio many times over.

              Nay, had she been true,
If heaven would make me such another world
Of one entire and perfect chrysolite,
I'ld not have sold her for it.
—Having killed Desdemona, Othello tells Emilia that Desdemona was a precious jewel, except for her unfaithfulness.

              I am not valiant neither,
But every puny whipster gets my sword:
But why should honor outlive honesty?
Let it go all.
—After learning the truth about Desdemona's love and loyalty, and after having is sword taken from him, Othello faces the psychological consequences of what he has done.

I have done the state some service, and they know't.
No more of that. I pray you, in your letters,
When you shall these unlucky deeds relate,
Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate,
Nor set down aught in malice. Then, must you speak
Of one that loved not wisely but too well
—Speaking to all who have been horrified by Othello's murder of his wife, Othello takes responsibility for what he has done and faces the consequences.

I took by the throat the circumcised dog,
And smote him, thus.
—As Othello describes how he killed a traitor, Othello kills himself.

I kiss'd thee ere I kill'd thee: no way but this;
Killing myself, to die upon a kiss.
—Speaking to the corpse of Desdemona, and kissing her, Othello dies.