At this point in the play, Othello calls for Desdemona to be brought before her father and the Duke so that she can explain to them how Othello was able to steal her heart and make her want to marry him. It is completely inconceivable to her father that Desdemona would marry a Moor instead of someone from Venice, especially by eloping with him. Her father is of the belief that Othello had to have used some kind of dark magic to gain Desdemona’s love. This passage is her explanation about how he wooed and was able to marry her.
My noble father,
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 duty;
I am hitherto your daughter: but here’s my husband,
And so much duty as my mother show’d
To you, preferring you before her father,
So much I challenge that I may profess
Due to the Moor my lord.
Father, I’m torn between you and Othello. I owe you respect because you gave me life and education. They both tell me that I should respect you, because you are my father and I am your daughter. But Othello is my husband, and I owe him what my mother owed you, just as she preferred you to her father. So I have to give my obedience to the Moor.
First, there is a metaphor in when Desdemona says that she is “bound” (line 210) to her father for life and education; she is not physically bound by these things but metaphorically. Second, her “life and education” (line 211) don’t actually tell her what she should do, but rather the experiences she had throughout them both.
At this point the Duke decides that he has to step into the conflict between Desdemona and her father. In order to try to ease tension he feels in Desdemona’s father, he quotes a proverb about how when a person grieves about something that has happened, he is only hurting himself. If he is able to let it go then he will be much better off.
Let me speak like yourself, and lay a sentence,
Which, as a grise or step, may help these lovers
Into your favour.
When remedies are past, the griefs are ended
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.
What cannot be preserved when fortune takes
Patience her injury a mockery makes.
The robb’d that smiles steals something from the thief;
He robs himself that spends a bootless grief.
Let me say something that might help you forgive these lovers. If something bad happens and you can’t change the result of it, don’t be upset about it. When you get upset about something that’s already happened, you’re only hurting yourself. A robbery victim who can smile about it takes something from the thief, but if he cries he’s just wasting his time.
First, he doesn’t actually “lay a sentence” (line 229), but rather speaks it. One can’t physically lay a sentence onto the ground, but one can do it metaphorically. Second, in the proverb it is said that when a robbed person is able to smile at the thief, he actually steals something for himself (lines 238-239). This obviously does not mean that he physically steals something, but is able to take something mentally.