Othello is a black, army general, and a very good one it would seem to be able to dispute against so many Shakespearean prejudices and to have the trust of the Duke. In Act 1, scene 2 the audience becomes aware of Othello’s pure graciousness, for example:
‘…He will divorce you, or put upon you what restraint and grievance the law, with all his might to enforce it on will give him cable.
‘Let him do his spite…’
Despite Iago’s stirring, Othello remains calm and awaits Brabantio admirably, as a man, not a coward.
His courageous ways are also brought out as a leader,
‘Hold for your lives!’
Othello says this to hold his authority over the two men fighting; his entrance causes the men to break up almost immediately, which proves to all just how much dominance and control Othello has over his men.
Othello can also be seen to be very respectful of is wife; this is a trait that was very rare in Shakespearian times.
‘…let her speak of me before her father.
If you do find me foul in her report,
The trust, the office I do hold of you,
Not only take away, but let your sentence
Even fall upon my life.’
Othello honours Desdemona and treats her with admiration and value. This shows that Othello regards everyone as equal, man or woman. It also shows his great love for Desdemona; ‘…but let your sentence Even fall upon my life.’ This shows Othello’s great commitment to Desdemona, if she gave an unsatisfactory answer, Othello would gladly give up his life; she is what he lives for. And his immense love for her is the thing that tortures him the most whilst under Iago’s poison later on in the play.
Michael Cassio is Othello’s lieutenant. He is a chivalrous and ‘proper’ man with a great gift of formal speech and leadership. An example of his utmost courtesy is in Act 2, Scene 1:
‘You men of Cyprus let her have your knees.
Hail to thee lady!…’ – Lines 83 and 84
This quotation shows Cassio thinks men should honour ladies and his limitless respect for ladies and all those he believes are of a higher rank than him is clear in his words. This also shows that Cassio has a gift of speech and the fact that his demands command the men, shows his authority and skill as a leader. Cassio is also the only character out of these three who is true throughout the entire play; this is a fact that Iago is jealous of.
Iago is Othello’s ensign; he is very unsuccessful in all areas of his life, which is the reason for his loathing and jealousy for Cassio and Othello. Iago has three different personalities and the audience gets to see them all. His first persona, he uses to most people, especially Othello. Iago plays an honest, loyal man to win people’s trust and so manipulate their thoughts.
‘Probal to thinking and indeed the course
To win the Moor again…’
This passage is in Act 2, scene 3 and shows that Iago will continue to play up to Othello, ensuring Othello’s trust and using innuendos are all very typical of this kind of Iago.
The second Iago is only revealed to Roderigo, he reveals a lot more of his twisted nature in this character, though Roderigo recognizes none of this because of Iago’s ‘help’ with his infatuation with Desdemona.
‘I retell thee again and again, I hate the Moor…’
must change for youth…’ – Lines 350 and 338-339
This quotation shows the two points of Iago’s two separate personalities colliding, forming this new individuality, the first citation relates to Iago’s true, bitter personality while in the second, Iago is merely telling Roderigo what he wants to hear, a part of his first personality.
Iago’s third personality is only shown to the audience through soliloquies and Iago’s attitude towards his wife Emilia.
‘When devils will the blackest sins put on,
They do suggest at first with heavenly shows
As I do now…’ – Lines 318-320
In this extract from Iago’s soliloquy in Act 2, scene 3, the audience is able to see the play through Iago’s eyes and they can tell that he is indeed the ‘villain’ of Othello. This personality is all about hate, jealousy and deceit, in this passage its almost as if Iago is calling up the devil, a technique Shakespeare often uses in his play to demonstrate absolute evil inside a character. The true Iago has no pity for anyone, all he knows is his jealousy and his plan, all he does is follow is own evil and will continue to do so until all he’s jealous of about Othello is destroyed.
‘I’ll pour pestilence into his ear,’
‘So will I turn her virtue into pitch,
And out of her own goodness make the net
That shall enmesh them all.’
How Iago’s plan of attack develops over Act 3 Scene 3.
Iago’s plan develops rapidly because Othello undergoes an immense change from his usual valiant nature; he becomes an insane monster to whom everything is a suspicion. Iago’s tactics also change from games for simple pleasure and for the satisfaction of his hate, into a life tarnishing manipulation spiral, to which at the end death is sure but for whom Iago has yet to find out.
Iago’s plan begins with subtle suggestions of his lies about Desdemona and Cassio having an affair and he plays on Othello’s insecurities by drawing attention to the slightest things Cassio and Desdemona do that could be seen to be guilty. For example, Iago draws attention to Cassio absconding Desdemona after seeing Othello approach.
‘…I like not that.’
‘…steal away so guilty-like,’ – Lines 34 and 38
Actually, Cassio was just being polite, but as a result from Iago’s devious words, Othello’s curiosity and mistrust grows.
Another of Iago’s more subtle manipulation techniques is his frequent use of innuendos. An example is:
‘My lord, you know I love you.’ – Line 118
This declaration is intended so Othello is conscious that Iago is his ‘friend’, Iago knows Othello is becoming increasingly dangerous so he makes sure Othello never questions Iago’s motives. From his previous talk with Cassio, Iago has now learnt of reputation:
‘O! I have lost my reputation. I have lost
the immortal part of myself, and what
remains is bestial…’
After this talk with Cassio, Iago learns of the utmost importance of reputation and now continually builds his respectability up, to keep Othello’s trust in him and not in Desdemona. An example of Iago ingratiating Othello is:
‘To show the love and duty that I bear you
With franker spirit…’
This shows Iago’s favorite method of captivating Othello, telling him that he loves him so in turn Othello loves him.
Another early technique is by revealing Iago’s own insecurities about Cassio; he plays with Othello’s thoughts and passes on his own anxieties to Othello:
‘…I think Cassio’s an honest man.’ – Line 130
Iago only ever drops hints at this point, and his persistent repetition of Cassio antagonizes Othello and though Iago is making his point extremely clear Othello refuses to believe Desdemona is having an affair, without Iago’s actual confirmation. Thinking boldly, Iago’s plan shifts audaciously.
When Othello finally begins to suspect Desdemona from Iago’s coy, withholding nature, Iago begins to tell the complete truth, he warns Othello of Iago’s own jealousy and hatred for him but Othello thinks he’s talking about himself and Cassio.
‘…Oh beware, my lord, of jealousy:
It s the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on…’ – Lines 167-169
This advice also refers to bestial behavior and this echoes Othello’s monster metaphor. It creates a sense of unease in Othello and he begins to list his virtues, Iago notices Othello’s weakness and immediately begins to unearth some of Othello’s vulnerabilities.
After telling Othello of the supposed affair, Iago acts sympathetically towards Othello as if he needed pity, and though at first Othello claims he’s not moved by Iago’s words, after a while Othello starts to feel sorry for himself and believe Iago’s lies.
‘I see this hath dashed your spirits.
Not a jolt, not a jolt.’
Creating insecurity in Othello is another of Iago’s manipulation techniques used later on in the scene. One example is how Iago takes advantage of Othello’s foreign status.
‘In Venice they let God see the pranks
They dare not show their husbands…’ – Lines 203 – 204
In this quotation, Iago explains to Othello that Desdemona is probably of no exception to the unfaithful tendency of Venetian women. Iago is completely aware that this is untrue, but Othello cannot know this because he hasn’t been in Venice for that long.
‘And yet how nature erring from itself-‘ – line 229
This quotation shows Othello’s increasing insecurity, he begins to wonder why Desdemona chose him when she could have had a white, young man. In Shakespearian times, it was considered ‘unnatural for two people of a different colour to marry, which is what he means by ‘nature erring from itself’ Iago encourages these thoughts and causes Othello to begin to think back through every time he saw Desdemona and Cassio together, suspecting. From here on, everything will be a suspicion for Othello. Following this, Iago begins to burrow deeper into his apprehensions.
During a soliloquy, Othello addresses his weaknesses and distances himself from Desdemona; evidence of this is in lines 269-270:
‘She’s gone, I am abused, and my relief
Must be to loathe her…’
In this quotation it is clear to the audience that Othello is beginning to turn hostile. Within this soliloquy, Othello mentions that he is a bad public speaker; the audience know that this is completely untrue; this proves just how vulnerable Othello feels, and just to make matters worse, he is completely in love with Desdemona.
Later, there is clear evidence of antagonism in Othello. He is completely convinced of Desdemona’s infidelity. He bids farewell, not only to his nobility but also everything that makes him a man.
‘Farewell! Othello’s occupation gone.’ – Line 358
There is a repetition of farewell, which shows Othello’s despair. He is also incredibly aggressive towards Iago:
‘Villian, be sure thou prove my love a whore,
Be sure of it; give me the ocular proof…
Thou hadst been better have been born a dog
Than answer my waked wrath.’
This shows Othello’s becoming of a barbarian and his need for proof. As is typical of Iago, he attempts to truly break Othello down by asking for what kind of proof and speaking aloud rude images:
‘Were they as prime as goats, as hot as monkeys,’
This is on line 404 and this annoys Othello, as they are not only sexual but also animalistic references. Iago begins to put provocative images in Othello’s head deliberately so he’ll go mad. Seeing this dramatic change from a noble man into a bestial creature Iago’s alienation of Othello begins to get increasingly bolder and he then begins to initiate in pure lies.
‘…I lay with Cassio lately,’
‘In sleep I heard him say, ‘Sweet Desdemona,
Let us be wary, let us hide our loves.’
These are lines 414 and 420-421. They are an utter lie that cannot be proven, but it settles as proof for Othello, from here on, all he speaks of is darkness, his heart is torn asunder and all he feels is pain ‘eaten up with passion’.
Whether it was for his security or for his hunger for manipulation, Iago uses reverse psychology on Othello for further exploitation.
‘…But let her live.’ – Line 475
Othello wasn’t even thinking of killing Desdemona, Iago is saying this to put it into Othello’s corrupted mind, there isn’t a particular reason for this and it shows the audience just what a twisted man Iago is.
How Othello’s use of language changes.
Othello begins the play with strong, eloquent language even when he’s in the face of danger, for example:
‘Keep up your swords, for the dew will rust them
…you shall command with years than your weapons.’ – Lines 59 and 61
This quotation is from Act 1, Scene 2. Othello is faced with troops, who intend to take him to the Duke and come armed with weapons, Othello could potentially be in danger, but he handles the situation with such ease, this shows he’s in control of his emotions and knows how to command people without violence or force.
Othello is very gifted with his speech and can also speak formally; an example of this is Act 1, Scene 3:
‘Most potent, grave and reverend signors, my very noble and approved good masters…’ Lines 76 – 77
Whilst speaking formally, even the way Othello addresses those around him sounds incredibly good and decorous. This particular skill of language means that he can win people onto his side easily and it proves that he is a very good public speaker.
Othello is also very modest and has very little faith in the power of his voice; he states this in Act 1, scene 3:
‘…Rude am I in my speech and little blessed with the soft phrase of peace…’ – Lines 81-82
This shows that Othello compares himself to those whom he feels are better than him and he respects them. It shows Othello doesn’t think particularly highly of himself and that he has insecurities about himself.
Othello speaks respectively about Desdemona especially at first, for example in Act 1, scene 3:
‘Send for the lady to the Sagittary’ – Line 115
Othello treats Desdemona admirably; one reason for this is because Othello generally treats everyone as equals, and another reason is because she began loving Othello for the beautiful imagery that came from his stories and speech. Just by being there, Desdemona boosts his self-esteem and he loves her, which always helps!
‘And often did beguile her of her tears
When I did speak of some stressful stroke
That my youth suffered…’ – Lines 155-157
This quotation is full of imagery alike to that which Desdemona fell in love with. It shows Othello’s words strike emotion and he speaks with breathtaking description. His ability to do this shows that he’s experienced, he’s very profound and an incredible story teller. In spite of this, by Act 4, Othello would of lost all these incredible abilities and instead taken on the murderous qualities of Iago, the change is absolutely immense.
‘Farewell the tranquil mind! Farewell content!
Farewell the plumed troops…O farewell!’
This repetition is situated in Act 3, Scene 3, lines 349 and 351. The repetition of farewell is meant to show Othello breaking down and disregarding everything that makes him a noble man; everything he ever worked for. After this reiteration of farewell Othello’s words get a lot darker, he begins to use his imagery talents to describe bestial images creating a hellish ambience.
Othello begins to talk aggressively towards everyone especially Desdemona and Iago, here’s an example in Act 3, scene 3,
‘Villain, be sure thou prove my love a whore;
…Thou hadst been born a dog
Than answer my waked wrath!’ – Lines 360 and 363 – 364
Shakespeare has used this utter resentment to show the audience what a dramatic change Othello is going through; even to his supposed best friend, he’s completely malicious. It shows his uncontrolled passion and his new bestial approach to life.
The dramatic significance of the play.
In Othello the dramatic effects cause the audience to be brought forward into the play so they can witness the misery and horror radiating intensely from this play. One of these effects is how the play is not what it seems. Controversial to the normality at the time, Shakespeare made a black man an army general and one of the play’s most important characters. Iago’s multiple personalities also support this theory of a contentious play; this creates the innovative atmosphere and generates humor in the audience.
A different technique is the apprehensive timing and positioning of each character’s entrance on stage. For example, in Act 4, scene 1, lines 97-161. Before this passage Othello and Iago devise a plan to catch Cassio talking about what happened with Desdemona, Othello withdraws and conceals himself. When Cassio enters, the audience is silent with trepidation, will Cassio see Othello? Will Iago err and give the game away? Once Iago begins to question Cassio about Bianca (Othello believes they’re talking about Desdemona), Bianca herself walks in. The audience would lock their jaws with anticipation at this point, the incongruity and tension is overwhelming, this entrance surely would undo Iago’s plan. However, Iago improvises and makes it seem to Othello, that Cassio is doing it with everyone; this scene definitely shows just how sly Iago is.
‘(Aside) Do you triumph, Roman?
Do you triumph?
‘I marry her? What! A customer! I
Prithee, bear some charity to my wit. Do
Not think it so unwholesome. Ha, ha, ha!’
In this quotation, Othello is being tortured by his own, poisoned thoughts. Cassio’s laughter makes this even worse for Othello as he realizes Desdemona has also been cheated. This shows Othello’s compassionate nature and even though he believes Desdemona has cheated him it shows he still loves her.
A third dramatic effect is the dramatic irony, the fact that the audience sees everything and every view from each character. This effect drives the audience in and connects them to the characters feelings, this way everyone can relate in someway to at least one character, especially seem as there are so many different personalities in this play.
The fourth dramatic effect is suspense; this is a dramatic effect that appears frequently throughout the play. Suspense is the essence of Othello and it’s the greatest dramatic effect for drawing the audience closer to the characters and creating relationships with them.
‘Damn her, lewd minx! O damn her, damn her!
Come go with me apart. I will withdraw
To furnish me with some swift means of death
For the fair devil…’
This quotation really just proves to the audience what a beast-like human-being Othello has become. The audience can see in this passage that Othello intends to kill Desdemona; this fills them with fear and suspense. What could be more exciting than a murder based on lies? The audience can easily guess that someone is about to die, but the question of ‘who’ exclaims in each head of every member of the audience.
Othello is most certainly one of the most incredible tragedies I’ve ever read, this play could so easily be made into a multi-award winning film the play is timeless, so beautifully crafted and carefully pieced together that it doesn’t matter that the timing and structure of the play is impossible, Shakespeare knew how to give the ingenious edge to fiction, transforming it into fact.
My favorite character was the notorious Iago, the most frightful and complex character Shakespeare ever created. Iago is the character demonstrating all the evil in a play full of strangely noble, unprejudiced people. In the time of Shakespeare, the circumstances would leave Desdemona and Othello’s marriage in shambles; in the play all these vicious forces of society are centered on Iago, he’s the representative of the tribe in the real world. And his wonderfully malicious nature is emphasized by the fact that he’s the only one quite so horrid in this play. The audiences shudder at Iago, not because he is horrifically brutal but because of the aspects in his personality that we recognize in our own lives but don’t have enough courage to utter.