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Prejudiced and Respected: Brabantio

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by Lindsay Wolf

There are many interesting characters scattered throughout Shakespeare’s play, Othello. An example of one of those characters is a man named Brabantio, the father of the young Desdemona. In the play, Othello, by Shakespeare, Brabantio is respected by his daughter, he thinks of his daughter as property but admires Othello, and reveals he is prejudiced through words towards Othello.

Brabantio first appears in the exposition of the play, when Iago and Roderigo begin yelling at Brabantio, trying to wake him up. Desdemona, his daughter, has an opinion on her father. Desdemona respects Brabantio; however, after marrying Othello, she believes she must devote her full loyalty and time to her new husband. She illustrates this by telling her father how she respects him but has to move on to Othello:

How to respect you. You are the lord of all my duty,

I am hitherto your daughter. But here’s my husband;

And so much duty as my mother showed

To you, preferring you before her father,

So much I challenge, that I may profess

Due to the Moor, my lord (I.iii.182-7).

This excerpt shows Desdemona’s internal struggle between whether she should remain loyal to her father, or pledge her fidelity to her husband. This struggle demonstrates how she does indeed respect her father, Brabantio. Moving on, Brabantio definitely has opinions on other characters. For example, Brabantio thinks very highly of Othello because of his military status and achievements, especially before he got engaged to Desdemona. In the play, Othello speaks about his past friendship with Brabantio: “Her father loved me; oft invited me; / Still question’d me the story of my life” (I.iii.127-8). In this quote, Othello speaks about how Brabantio “oft” asked Othello to come over and speak about his past adventures. This action shows Brabantio’s fascination and respect of Othello.  Brabantio also has an opinion on Desdemona. For example, he kind of refers to her as an object or property that can be given away, not a human being. “But he bears both the sentence and the sorrow / That, to pay grief, must of poor patience borrow” (I.iii.214-5). In this quotation, Brabantio says he has forever “lost” his daughter, even though she’s a human being who cannot be “lost” or gone forever. Because objects or property can be “lost” forever, this quotation demonstrates how Brabantio thinks of his daughter as an object, not a woman. Brabantio doesn’t only have an opinion on his daughter or her husband, but on the persistent suitor named Roderigo. Brabantio clearly doesn’t necessarily like Roderigo:

I have charged thee not to haunt about my doors.

In honest plainness thou hast heard me say

My daughter is not for thee (I.i.97-9).

In this quote, Brabantio says that Roderigo is not the man for is daughter, implying that he doesn’t deserve her. If Brabantio doesn’t approve of a man for his daughter, then Brabantio clearly doesn’t like this man. Finally, Brabantio reveals his racial prejudice through his dialogue in the beginning of the play. Brabantio is a bit prejudiced since he believed “witchcraft” was the only way for Desdemona to fall in love with Othello since he is a moor and his little, precious, Desdemona would never date a moor if it weren’t for “witchcraft”. Brabantio makes sure to emphasize this point throughout the first act of the play:

Ay, to me.

She is abused, stol’n from me, and corrupted

By spells and medicines bought of mountebanks.

For nature so prepost’rously to err,

Being not deficient, blind, or lame of sense,

Sans witchcraft could not. (I.iii.59-64).

This quotation shows how Brabantio truly believes that a moor like Othello could never win his Desdemona over without the help of drugs or “witchcraft”. This quotation also brings up the point that Othello thinks of Desdemona as property because in this quotation, he says she has been “stol’n from [Brabantio]”, and objects can be stolen, not necessarily people.

Brabantio is illustrated as a character by his opinions of other characters, by other characters’ opinions of him, and by his racial stereotyping and prejudice. In conclusion, based off of the text evidence above, Brabantio is a prejudiced father who cares about his daughter, admired Othello, disliked Roderigo, and is respected by his daughter.


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