How we cite our quotes:
Even now, now, very now, an old black ram
Is tupping your white ewe. Arise, arise;
Awake the snorting citizens with the bell,
Or else the devil will make a grandsire of you.
Arise I say! (1.1.9)
Iago uses racist slurs when he wakens Brabantio with the news that his daughter, Desdemona (a white Venetian), has eloped with Othello (an older, black man). When Iago says an "old black ram" (Othello) is "tupping" (sleeping with) Brabantio's "white ewe" (Desdemona), he plays on Elizabethan notions that black men have an animal-like, hyper-sexuality. This seems geared at manipulating Brabantio's fears of miscegenation (when a couple "mixes races" through marriage and/or sex).
History Snack: It's also important to note that, although Othello is a Christian, Iago calls him "the devil," playing on a sixteenth century idea that black men were evil and that the devil often took the shape and form of a black man. Check out what Reginald Scott had to say in his famous 1584 book, The Discovery of Witchcraft: "Bodin alloweth the divell the shape of a black moore, and as he saith, he used to appear to Mawd Cruse, Kate Darey, and Jon Harviller." (Later, it's no surprise that Brabantio will accuse Othello of using black magic to woo Desdemona.)
this is Venice;
My house is not a grange.
Because we come to
do you service and you think we are ruffians, you'll
have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse;
you'll have your nephews neigh to you; you'll have
coursers for cousins and gennets for germans.
I am one, sir, that comes to tell you your daughter
and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs.
you'll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse;
you'll have your nephews neigh to you. (1.1.7)
We've seen how Iago uses animal imagery in his racist diatribe against Othello, which is grounded in the idea that black men (and women) are inhuman. Here, Brabantio objects to Iago's middle-of-the-night assertions that Desdemona has eloped by saying his house isn't a "grange" (a farm or a farmhouse). Iago takes the opportunity to pun on the term "grange," as he claims that Desdemona is having sex with a "barbary horse" and, as a result, Brabantio will have relatives that "neigh to him." Desdemona and Othello, he says, are "making the beast with two backs" (in other words, humping, like camels). This isn't the first time Iago has implied that Othello's animal-like sexuality corrupts Desdemona. Compare this to 1.1.9 above.
She, in spite of nature,
Of years, of country, credit, every thing,
To fall in love with what she fear'd to look on!
It is a judgment maim'd and most imperfect
That will confess perfection so could err
Against all rules of nature, (1.3.6)
Desdemona's father argues that her love for Othello is unnatural, since, according to him, Desdemona would never fall for a black man who she "fear'd to look on." Of course, Brabantio couldn't be more wrong about his daughter – Desdemona is in love Othello. It seems that Iago has played Brabantio perfectly. Iago knew that Brabantio was racist and, as previous passages demonstrate, he used Brabantio's attitude toward the idea of a mixed marriage in order to rile the man against Othello. Brabantio repeatedly insists that Othello must have "enchanted" Desdemona with "foul charms" and magic spells. Otherwise, he insists, Desdemona never would never have run "to the sooty bosom" of Othello (1.2.2).