WILLIAM Shakespeare’s Othello is the Shakespearean play that has been selected for use in Literature In English  JAMB, WAEC, and other examinations for secondary schools final year students. Below are likely questions from the text. Excerpts that may come out as questions. E.g

“Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see:
She has deceived her father, and may thee.”

The questions will then be like:

  •  Who said this?
  • To whom was it said?
  • Who else was present while this was said apart from the speaker and the addressee?

Well the answers to that are simple. It was said by Brabantio to Othello. Iago, The Duke of Venice and Desdemona were present.

Now, that’s just an example. Below are many more excerpts that are likely to come out in JAMB, WAEC and NECO questions.


  1. ‘That I did love the Moor to live with him,
    My downright violence and storm of fortunes
    May trumpet to the world: my heart’s subdued
    Even to the very quality of my lord: ‘

Scene III

(Said by Desdemona to Brabantio concerning her love for Othello.)

2. ‘Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them’

Scene II

(Said by Othello to Brabantio’s men when Brabantio and his men came to confront him having heard from Iago and Roderigo that Othello had charmed Desdemona and taken her away. Othello here is telling them to put down their swords, that there is no need to fight.

3.   “To mourn a mischief that is past and gone is the next way to draw new mischief on.” (Act I, Scene III)

     (Said by The Duke to Brabantio, Desdemona and Othello. The Duke is trying to tell Brabantio that there is no point nursing grudges against Othello because of his daughter. What is done is done.)

4. “I will wear my heart upon my sleeve for daws to peck at; I am not what I am.” (Act I, Scene I, lines 64-65)

         (Said by Iago to Roderigo, this is one of the most revealing lines in the play. Here Iago describes the type of person he is in his own words. He says ‘I am not who I am’ meaning I am not who I say I am or who you think I am. here, he reveals his own deceitful personality. unfortunately, gullible Roderigo does not understand.

  5. ” She loved me for the dangers I had pass’d,
And I loved her that she did pity them.” (Scene III)

       (Said by Othello. Here, having being accused by Brabantio of using witchcraft to woo Desdemona, Othello reveals that he has used no charm. And that Desdemona loves him because of the dangers of war he had passed through and he, Othello, loves her because of the way she always pitied him whenever he tells his stories of war.)

6. “I do perceive here a divided duty.
To you I am bound for life and education.
My life and education both do learn me
How to respect you. You are the lord of my duty,” (Act I, Scene III)

     (Said by Desdemona to her father. Here she is telling him that truly he is the lord of her duty. But down the line (not in he excerpt) she reveals that Othello is her husband. She is trying to tell her father that even though she respects him as a father, she still cannot marry him and so she has chosen Othello.)

7.  “Though I do hate him as I do hell pains,
Yet, for necessity of present life,
I must show out a flag and sign of love –
Which is indeed but a sign.” (Act I Scene I)

     (Said by Iago to Roderigo about Othello. Here Iago is saying that he hates Othello, but musts till show a sign of love; just a sign. He must show a sign so as to achieve his own selfish goals.)

8.  “If virtue no delighted beauty lack,
Your son-in-law is far more fair than black.” (Act I Scene III)

     (By The Duke to Brabantio concerning Othello. Here, the Duke tells Desdemona’s father that Othello is a good man in terms of virtues regardless of his ‘black’ complexion. {More to come about why Othello is regarded black.})

9.   “I am bound to thee forever.”

        (Said by Othello to Iago trying to tell the latter that he is so useful to him. Like, ‘What can I do without you, Iago.’ {More notes on this to come})

10. ” Rude am I in my speech,
And little bless’d with the soft phrase of peace:
For since these arms of mine had seven years’ pith,
Till now some nine moons wasted, they have used
Their dearest action in the tented field,
And little of this great world can I speak,
More than pertains to feats of broil and battle,
And therefore little shall I grace my cause
In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,
I will a round unvarnish’d tale deliver
Of my whole course of love.” (Act I Scene III)

   (Said by Othello to the Duke, Brabantio, Iago, Roderigo and all others present while trying to explain how Desdemona fell in love with him. NOTE: If you are asked to who this is addressed, your answer must be The Duke, but peradventure The Duke is not part of the options, go for Brabantio.)

11. ‘We cannot all be masters, nor all masters
Cannot be truly follow’d. ‘ Act 1 Scene 1
Said by Iago to Roderigo.
Meaning: Here, Iago is explaining to Roderigo where he is still serving Othello as an ensign even though (according to Iago ) , the Moor does not deserve it. He tells Roderigo that everybody cannot be masters, then all masters cannot be truly and dutifully followed. This means Iago is still Othello’s ensign just because of his own selfish interest and aim that he sets to accomplish.

12. ‘But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve
For daws to peck at: I am not what I am.’ Act 1 Scene 1
Said by Iago to Roderigo.
Meaning: This is one of the most revealing lines in the play. Here Iago says he is not who he is. This means he is not who he appears or seems to be; he is not who people thinks he is. Roderigo, being a foolish man does not understand that this does not only refer to Iago’s character camouflage to Othello, but to everyone including Roderigo too. It can also be an allusion to the Holy Bible. In the Holy Bible, in the book of Exodus, God told Moses on Mount Horeb: ‘I am who I am.’ So when Iago says ‘I am not who I am’ which is the opposite of what God said, it can be said that Iago is a devil.

13. What does Iago mean by ‘making the beast with two backs’ in Act 1 Scene 1 of
the play while talking to Brabantio.
Meaning: Making the beast with two backs is a euphemistic metaphor for two people engaged in sexual intercourse. It refers to the situation in which a couple in the missionary position or standing cling to each other as if a single creature, with their backs to the outside. [Source: Wikipedia]

14. ‘Mine’s not an idle cause: the duke himself,
Or any of my brothers of the state,
Cannot but feel this wrong as ’twere their own;
For if such actions may have passage free,
Bond-slaves and pagans shall our statesmen be.’ Act 1 Scene 2
Who said this? – Brabantio.
What was the speaker’s ’cause’? – His cause can be said to recover his daughter from Othello’s charms. Brabantio believes Othello has used ‘spells and medicine’ to spirit his daughter away and to secretly marry her. Hence, his cause is to retrieve his daughter.
What is the meaning of the last two lines? – What Brabantio is saying is that if such actions as Othello, a Moor (black man) marrying Desdemona should pass free without any punishment, then the statesmen, rulers and judges alike, can be liken to pagans and slaves.

15. ‘A maiden never bold;
Of spirit so still and quiet, that her motion
Blush’d at herself; and she, in spite of nature,
Of years, of country, credit, every thing,
To fall in love with what she fear’d to look on!’ Act 1 Scene 3
Speaker: Brabantio.
Who is the maiden referred to here? – Desdemona, Brabantio’s daughter.
What [Who] does the speaker refer to as ‘What she feared to look on’? – What he is referring to here is Othello. Using ‘what’ as though referring to an inanimate thing instead of ‘who’ shows what Brabantio thinks of Othello. Othello is a Moor, a black man and so Brabantio regards him as a ‘what’ i.e unimportant and not a ‘who’.

16. ‘When remedies are past, the griefs are ended on
By seeing the worst, which late on hopes depended.
To mourn a mischief that is past and gone
Is the next way to draw new mischief on’ Act 1 Scene 3
Speaker: the Duke of Venice.
Who is being addressed? – Brabantio.
Where is the discussion taking place? – A council chamber.
Meaning: This very intelligent statement from the Duke is telling Brabantio that since there is nothing he can do after his daughter has professed her love for Othello against his wish, he should end the grief. According to the Duke, mourning a past mischief will only bring more mischief. Hence, the Duke is telling Brabantio to let go, to forgive and forget.

17. Speaker A: ‘It is silliness to live when to live is torment;
and then have we a prescription to die
when death is our physician.’
Speaker B: ‘O villainous! I have looked upon the world for four
times seven years; and since I could distinguish
betwixt a benefit and an injury, I never found man
that knew how to love himself. ‘
Who is A? – Roderigo.
Who is B? – Iago.
Why does Speaker A say ‘it is stillness to live’? – Here, Roderigo has just witnessed the scene where Othello justifies his marriage with Desdemona. Now, it is to be noted that Roderigo has long since desired to have Desdemona as wife and now that he has seen the Moor being married to her, then life, to him, is no longer worth living.

18. ‘Go to; farewell. Put money enough in your purse.’
Said by Iago to Roderigo.
Meaning: Here, Roderigo has just decided to drown himself thinking he has finally lost Desdemona to the Moor. But Iago tells him otherwise. Iago says there are better ways to die and that he should not give up. According to Iago, Desdemona married the Moor hastily and blindly and will soon divorce him. Therefore, Roderigo should ‘put enough money in his purse’ i.e he should gather all the money he can and make himself rich so that by the time Desdemona divorces the Moor, he will be fit to propose to her. This also means he should gather enough money to pay Iago who is helping in the arrangement. In the end, Roderigo is convinced and says he will sell his land.

19. ‘News, lads! our wars are done
The desperate tempest hath so bang’d the Turks,
That their designment halts.
A noble ship of Venice
Hath seen a grievous wreck and sufferance
On most part of their fleet.’ Act 2 Scene 1
Speaker: [Third] Gentleman.
What does he\she means by ‘Our wars are done’? – The gentleman is announcing to those present that the war is over. The ‘desperate tempest’ as fought the war for them. Their enemy’s fleet (Turkish fleet) has been destroyed by the tempest.

20. Pray heavens he be;
For I have served him, and the man commands
Like a full soldier.’ Act 2 Scene 1. Montano.
Who is being referred to as ‘the man’? – Othello.

More questions to come. Check this space.

   Study these excerpts. Know to whom each of them is said, who said it, why it was said, in what condition and what it means. Don’t overlook one because it’s too simple or too short or too long. That is exactly hat your examiner will be expecting you to do. Don’t be fooled.

   I personally advise that you read this text not less than three times before your exam. That way, you will be able to know who said what…etc. Do not memorise any of these. Read and understand the play. That way when you see an excerpt, you will know that this is likely to come from deceitful Iago or gullible Roderigo. Let me know what you think in the comments. Feel free to ask questions. All the best.

          Please take note: These are just suggestions, not actual questions. All of them may come out in your exams, some of them may come out and none of them may come out. Best of luck.