The first act of Othello is important in setting up not only the plot of the play, but the ‘Othello’s’ characteristics. Act one gives an insight to ‘Othello’s’ character and the opinions of the people he is surrounded by. This is informative for the audience as it will help their understanding of ‘Othello’s’ actions later in the play. Shakespeare establishes different components of ‘Othello’s’ character in act one. We first learn that he is the conventional tragic hero who is portrayed through his actions and words.
Through the attitudes of surrounding characters, we detect that he is an outsider because of his ethnicity, however in act one the audience sees he is able to rise above the racism which shows his nobility. We also discover his love for ‘Desdemona,’ who loves ‘Othello’ for his struggle, which reinstates his heroism. ‘Othello’s’ goodness does not always work for him. The vice character of this play ‘Iago’ deceitfully plots against him for both personal and professional reasons, which results in ‘Othello’s’ fate in the end of the play.
To be a tragic hero, Shakespeare has to intelligently introduce the qualities of a ‘Othello’ in act one that makes him a tragic hero. “From year to year – the battles, sieges, fortunes/ That I have passed. ” ‘Othello’ has fought against the Turks in a war, which he has proven to be quite successful in saving Venice, therefore making him a hero. The characters that he is encircled by, in either a crude or proud manner comment upon his heroism. Iago negatively states ‘Othello’ is “horribly stuffed with epithets of war. Although this is said disapprovingly, it shows the characters that dislike him notice ‘Othello’s’ heroism of fighting in the war. The Moor is called “Valiant Othello” by the duke, and it is this epithet that reinforces ‘Othello’s’ heroism.
From the lack of response of this, the audience is given an insight that ‘Othello’ remains modest and humble towards the comments given to him. In act one ‘Othello’ is also shouted at by ‘Brabantio’ because ‘Othello’ has secretly eloped with his daughter ‘Desdemona. ‘ “O thou foul thief! Where hast thou stowed my/daughter? Shakespeare uses the term “foul thief” to describe ‘Othello,’ and it is a significant in showing how ‘Brabantio’ feels toward ‘Othello. ‘ However ‘Desdemona’ was not stolen from her father, she fell in love with ‘Othello’s’ struggle, which shows irony because a thief is someone bad, but ‘Othello’ is filled with goodness. In ‘Brabantio’s’ rage of anger, ‘Othello’ still remains calm and collected, which is seen through his actions and words. This is another quality in ‘Othello’ which contributes to ‘Othello’s’ heroism, and greatness.
Act one also introduces the audience to ‘Othello’s’ authoritative side. “Keep up your swords, for the dew will rust them. ” This portrays ‘Othello’ to be an impressive and powerful speaker. The power of his words is re-established in act one scene three when he speaks in defence of his elopement with ‘Desdemona. ‘ “she loved me for the dangers I had passed,/ And I loved her that she did pity them. ” The audience witnesses ‘Othello’s heroism through his words of romance.
It is also in this speech where the audience hears about the self-less acts ‘Othello’ has experienced. Of hair-breath scapes i’th’imminent deadly breach/ Of being taken by the insolent foe/ And sold to slavery. ” ‘Othello’ speaks how he has fought against enemies and that he has suffered slavery, which again is another sign slavery. ‘Othello’s’ heroism can be questioned and has been done so by critics. Leavis (1952) says “the stuff of which he is made begins at once to detonate and show itself unfit. ” Leavis has said that ‘Othello’ is too trustworthy and gullible which is his flaw.
Bradley (1904) opposed to this and has positively criticised that ‘Othello’ is the “most romantic figure” of all Shakespeare’s lovers, as well as the most noblest of all Shakespeare’s heroes. Indeed ‘Othello’ is very noble and honest, therefore in my opinion he fulfils the label of a hero. However these characteristics does not always work for him. Along side with the noble characteristics, comes the gullible nature, and this is the early signs of ‘Othello’s’ flaws, which leads me to contemplate if ‘Othello’ really fulfils the heroism label.
Act one is important in establishing the qualities of ‘Othello’ that gives the title tragic hero. It introduces his personality so that in the latter part of the play we can interpret the reasons behind his actions and witness his character development. Act one is important in establishing the fact ‘Othello’ is an outsider. ‘Othello’ is different in many ways compared to other characters. The main feature, which makes him unique from other characters, is his race. The fact ‘Othello’ is black is harshly remarked upon.
Othello’ is referred to as “thick-lips,” and when ‘Iago’ is deceitfully and intentionally spilling the beans to ‘Brabantio’ about ‘Othello’s’ and ‘Desdemona’s’ newly marriage, he refers to ‘Othello’ as an “old black ram. ” Shakespeare uses harsh terms to reveal to the audience how ‘Othello’ is seen by others in the play. ‘Othello’ does not hear this but the audience does and the audience can view the racism during that time period. ‘Othello’ is a black man in a white world. The importance of that is he is not your conventional tragic hero.
This in itself can be looked upon in a positive light considering it adds a lot more drama to the plot, it can also be looked upon as a reflection of renaissance thinking. Another thought which perhaps reflects the renaissance thinking, is that ‘Othello’ seeks equality through marrying a white aristocrat, however this is highly frowned upon by the characters in the play and this also could be a reflection of pre-renaissance society. ‘Brabantio’ is dead against his daughter’s marriage, he accuses ‘Othello’ of practising “foul charms/ Abused her delicate youth. ”
A connection could be made between ‘Brabantio’s’ comment and ‘Othello. People who practice the black magic are considered as outsiders to society, just like ‘Othello’, which could be why ‘Brabantio’ made that comment. ‘Othello’ as an outsider does not fulfil the role as a hero, because my perception of a hero is that he/she is the centre of everyone’s attention and the only person who he revolves around is ‘Desdemona,’ so it can be said that ‘Othello’ is ‘Desdemona’s’ hero. Bradley notes that ‘Othello’ is the noblest, however he fails to look at the aspect of ‘Othello’ being an outsider, his opinion focuses on the positive features of the main character.
The fact that ‘Othello’ is seen as an outsider has to be established in the first act for the audience’s purpose. This can draw empathy from the audience towards ‘Othello’ and is another element to his struggle. Act one is necessary to begin the relationship between ‘Othello’ and ‘Desdemona. ‘ In this act, Shakespeare feed the audience with the history of their relationship through the speeches made by the lovers. It could be said that the first act is a narrative tool to set the plot going. The newfound love and marriage is what the play is mainly based around, and it is what everyone is out to sabotage.
Every character in the first act has mentioned the elopement, which reinforces the fact that the relationship is big deal. ‘Iago’ is responsible for informing ‘Brabantio,’ and through his language he reduces the love between ‘Othello’ and ‘Desdemona. ‘ ‘Iago’ describes ‘Othello’ “is tupping your white ewe. ” His language is course. This reference of animal imagery is reducing the human act of love to a physical animal act. ‘Brabantio’ is convinced that the relationship is a result of black magic but ‘Othello’ sets him straight. She loved me for the dangers I had passed,/ And I loved her that she did pity them. / This only is the witchcraft I have used. ”
The sincerity of this speech empowers the audience of their love and Shakespeare wanted it to appear that this love would be hard to diminish. ‘Desdemona’ confirms what ‘Othello’ says about his seduction of words, “I may profess/ Due to the Moor my lord. ” The audience witnesses the loyalty to her husband. However it is this very thing which can lead to his downfall. Brabantio warns ‘Othello’ against trusting ‘Desdemona’, but his love for her is too strong and stands by his woman.
This could be taken as a hint on how the play might progress. The newly solid relationship between the lovers connects in with what Bradley says about ‘Othello. ‘ ‘Othello’ is supposed to be the “most” romantic of all Shakespearean lovers, and he has been able to lull ‘Desdemona’ away from the negative comments and the frowns that come from her father. Traditionally tragic heroes have a lover, and in act one that is shown, and their love story is told, which is why act one is not superfluous. The first act of each play is important because the plot of the play has to begin.
The small background knowledge, which needs to be known either about the character or the setting of the play. In this case the first act establishes ‘Othello’s’ character and his relationship with his wife. His qualities have to be stated so that his later actions can be connected with that making act one important. Act one also gives early indications to ‘Othello’s’ flaws, such as his naivety. The audience is also given indications about the future of ‘Othello’ in act one therefore the audience would not be too surprised what the fate of ‘Othello’ could be.