Show in detail how characterisation, atmosphere, and dramatic qualities are created by Shakespeare’s choice of language and express your own thoughts and feelings about the scene at this point in the play as well as suggesting how other audiences might respond to it.
From the very onset of the scene the audience feel that Iago is a devious character who plots against his friends in using Cassio’s weaknesses against him:
‘Sir, he’s rash and very sudden in choler, and haply with
his truncheon may strike at you.’ -Lines 255-6
Even though Iago thinks that Rodrigo is unintelligent and detests him, he addresses him as ‘Sir’, because he is trying to convince Rodrigo. Already the audience have an indication of the two faced nature of Iago, and how he can use words to create the ‘right’ image. Iago doesn’t just want to humiliate Cassio but ’cause these of Cyprus to mutiny’, making the audience feel that Iago will go to any lengths to bring down Cassio.
Even though Rodrigo is seen as Iago’s accomplice here, that of course does not mean that Iago will treat him any better than the treats anyone else, even though Rodrigo is going to do Iago’s ‘dirty work’. Iago’s frequently refers to money as if to imply that Rodrigo will be rewarded:
‘I shall then have to prefer them, and the impediment most profitably removed without the which there were no expectation of our prosperity.’ -Lines 260-262
This of course also highlights Iago’s obvious irony, as instead of Rodrigo benefiting from his ‘partnership’ with Iago, he is in fact loosing money as clearly shown in the very first scene when Rodrigo says to Iago:
‘Tush, never tell me, I take it much unkindly
That thou, Iago, who hast had my purse
as if the strings were thine, shouldst know of this.’
-Act 1 Scene 1 lines 1-3
This degradation of Rodrigo is not necessary as Rodrigo does treat Iago with respect for example on departure Rodrigo says ‘ Adieu’, which is polite and higher class than Iago’s simple ‘Farewell’. Rodrigo has never harmed Iago or ‘leapt into Iago’s seat’ so to the audience it seems that Iago is being cruel to Rodrigo because he likes treating people badly and using people without their knowledge. Though in this case Iago is not really hiding the fact that Iago is using Rodrigo it is just that Rodrigo is a bit too simple to realise it fully. This adds to the audience’s image of Iago as a cruel and calculating character.
Iago uses prose to speak to Rodrigo showing that he is trying to make it easy for Rodrigo to understand, and hence convince him. The enthusiasm instantly conveyed by Iago’s passionate and fast paced speech creates an atmosphere of urgency and excitement from the downfall of Cassio. But when Rodrigo leaves, the atmosphere turns more heavy and dark, it conveys Iago’s deviousness and grim intentions as we are taken into Iago’s macabre mind.
Act 2 Scene 1 ends with a soliloquy from Iago. Our whole attention is fixed on him, making the scene far more effective and dramatic as there are no distractions. Also it highlights the importance of Iago’s speech. Of course, being alone with only Iago while he speaks of his plans sets up dramatic irony for the rest of the play as the audience know Iago’s cruel intentions and therefore sense the greater significance of character’s words, yet unknown to the character. Therefore the soliloquy gives the audience psychological depth to the tragedy as a whole and also to Iago. This heightens the intensity of the drama.
Iago uses the word ‘love’, and after what the audience have seen of Iago, most would assume that Iago does not know the meaning of love, yet Iago uses it saying:
‘That Cassio loves her, I well believe’t
That she loves him, ’tis apt and of great credit.’
Here the audience cannot be sure whether Iago is being sarcastic, actually believes what he says or is merely trying to convince the audience with a feebly weak excuse. This is one of the main troubles of trying to understand Iago; does he actually mean what he says or is what he says just convenient lies to cover up the real motives and reasoning that only Iago can justify and understand. This represents a problem for the viewer and deepens Iago’s character.
The audience would feel that Iago is especially evil in his actions to break up Othello’s and Desdemona’s marriage because he believes that the Moor is actually in love with Desdemona and that they will be a happy couple as in lines 270-1 he says:
‘The Moor, howbeit that I endure him not,
Is of a constant, loving, noble nature,
And I dare think he’ll prove to Desdemona
A most dear husband.’
This probably gives Iago extra joy at turning Othello against his wife as he can remember that they started off as a happy and devoted couple. This too makes his task of turning Othello against his wife that much harder as they are so close, and Iago wants to make this clear to the audience so his triumph will be even more greater when he finally manages to break them up. This shows the audience that Iago takes great pleasure in other people’s pain, and shows how sadistic and cruel Iago is.
It is almost a relief to the audience when Iago says that even though he does not lust after Desdemona – he ‘stands accountable for as great a sin’, because at least Iago realises what he is doing is cruel. But then this fact too can add to the greater evilness of Iago as he does realise what he is doing is wrong yet still takes great pleasure from it.
When Iago explains his behaviour as to ‘diet’ his revenge it reflects back in the scene when he referred to sex and lust as food using the words ‘satiety’, ‘fresh appetite’ and ‘disrelish’. This hints that Iago’s plotting and deviousness gives him the same pleasure and satisfaction as other people gain from sex. Which of course adds to the unconscious idea that Iago might be homosexual, and hate all women, therefore he enjoys being disrespectful and cruel to Desdemona.
In Act 1 scene 3 Iago says,
‘… I hate the Moor,
And it is thought abroad that ‘twixt my sheets
He’s done my office. -Lines 368-370
But now in Act 2 Scene 1, this ‘rumour that is merely a ‘thought’ has transgressed into a fact that can not be denied; Othello has had an affair wife Iago’s wife! This highlights Iago’s weakness not to find out whether something is true or not, but to let it envelop him and twist itself to suit his preconceptions about people and situations. This of course becomes a weakness for Othello later, and so sets the audience up for dramatic irony in seeing Iago’s influence rub off on Othello and turn him into a simplified version of Iago.
Iago refers to the thought that Othello might have slept with his wife as a ‘poisonous mineral gnaw my inwards’. It seems that Iago has decided on the same gradual torment as a way to get his revenge on ‘Othello’ by pouring ‘pestilence into his ear’ that will over time sow doubts in Othello’s mind and ‘gnaw’ at Othello inwards until his jealously becomes so strong he has to act on it. Therefore here the audience can see that Iago relates to the saying ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ and actually says he will not be happy until he is even with Othello ‘wife for wife’. Therefore he does not go about anything at half measures; he will never forgive and forget. Iago always has to have revenge until he is satisfied, which adds an ominous atmosphere to this scene as the audience feel that Iago will not turn back now but that fate is irrevocably sown as Iago as the catalyst.
Next, Iago tells the audience how he is going to take revenge on Othello. This plays a major role in making this passage very sinister as the audience are ‘with’ Iago while he’s trying to think out his devious plans and therefore the audience are watching the procession of thoughts and ideas in Iago’s evil mind for Cassio’s, Othello’s and Desdemona’s downfall. This makes the audience feel like they are part of it and so they in effect feel responsible or at least part of the plot as they see what Iago is going to do yet can do nothing to stop him or warn the other characters.
The fact that Iago wants to put Othello into a ‘jealousy so strong that judgement cannot cure.’ Shows that Iago wants to do irreversible and unchangeable damage to Othello’s marriage, which yet again adds to the audience’s picture of Iago as heartless and almost inhuman character.
Rodrigo is referred to as ‘poor trash of Venice’; therefore Iago sees himself above Rodrigo and treats Rodrigo as such. Hence Iago is no better or rather worse than these master’s he talks of earlier in Act 1 scene 1 who reward their servants thus:
‘For nought but provender, and when he’s old, cashiered.’
Act 1 Scene 1 Line 48
During Iago’s soliloquy, he frequently cuts between different characters; first Cassio, next Othello, then Desdemona and back to Othello etc… thus conveying to the audience that his mind is constantly thinking about all these different people he can wreak havoc on. This adds to the dark and brooding atmosphere showing that Iago is always reveiwing and on the look out for ways to ‘improve’ his plans, therefore making the audience aware of Iago even when he is not talking, but silently watching, and taking everything in.
Iago reveals another and similar feeble excuse to ‘have our Michael Cassio on the hip’ in repeating that he also fears that Cassio has slept with his wife too, showing that Iago is probably sexually insecure and again hinting at his contempt of women.
Finally, Iago reveals the sick and twisted desire that not only will he make Othello ‘egregiously an ass’ but also he wants Othello to be grateful to Iago through his ignorance of who Iago really is. This really shows the audience how utterly abhorrent and fanatical Iago is to bring Othello to little more than a hollow husk of a man. And the fact that Iago says,
‘…’Tis here, but yet confused;’ Line 292
emphasises how cold and calculating Iago is as he wants to polish off his plan to perfection and even though his idea do not seem confused to the audience, to him it needs to be flawless. In perfecting his plans the audience are sure that Iago will take great pleasure as they have gathered a sound indication of Iago and what he draws his pleasures from earlier during this passage.
Iago ends his soliloquy with,
‘Knavery’s plain face is never seen till used’ Line 294
As plain can also mean honest, Iago is clearly referring to himself and using his image as gathered from the characters around him of man with ‘honesty and trust’ (Othello, Act 1 Scene 3, lines 280). Iago hints that these people who see him as ‘honest’ have never truly seen him and never will until he starts his devious plans. This reminds the audience of Iago’s speech in Act 1 where Iago again speaks of a facade that covers his real intentions,
‘…Others there are
Who, trimmed in forms and visages of duty,
Keep their hearts attending on themselves’
-Act 1 Scene 1 lines 49-51
Iago therefore ends the scene by reminding the audience that he is two faced and they are privileged to have seen behind his ‘cover’ This creates dramatic irony and tension as the audience know Iago’s motives while the characters are at mercy to his whims. Also it reveals to the audience his real intentions behind all the self-justification and flimsy excuses, that he wants to be admired and respected for his cunning and flexible improvisation skills to suit any occasion and person.
I feel that we learn more about Iago from his final soliloquy that he would wish us too. It makes the me feel like Iago, in that I can not innocently and naively watch the play thinking that Iago might actually be helping people as I have seen what a ‘nasty piece of work’ he really is. Therefore I can not help but be aware of the details of his scheming and dramatic irony, as result of being taken into the villain’s mind.
I feel that the appearance of Iago makes it impossible for viewers to relax as they are always holding their breath as they are frequently treated to an aside or soliloquy, revealing more ways in which Iago is determined to bring about a tragedy, this passage being one of them.
Also, I find that this passage highlights the difference between the two main characters, merely in speech as Othello’s speeches full of ‘love and peace and joy’ while Iago’s are full of contempt and hate and suspicion.
That which I find most disturbing is the apparent pleasure Iago takes in plotting the mental torture of his fellow ‘acquaintances’; to Iago it is a terrible but highly enjoyable game, it seems that he does not view them as people but merely as parts in a play or pieces in a game. Iago delights in his skill of bringing his victim down through the careful charade of pretending to be the victims friend, so the victim is not even aware that his misery is caused by Iago.
It seems this passage is an example of where Shakespeare is trying to say that society is complex and not everything can be explained. People act in mysterious ways that are incomprehensible to other people simple because they are other people, and therefore as everyone has different agendas there are occasions were people will not be able to understand another persons actions. I don’t think that Shakespeare is trying to condemn this or even make Iago out to be the villain but rather that whether a tragedy happens or not is not because of Iago but because of how he is received by others. This passage shows that by conveying how totally convinced Iago was that he could turn fiends against themselves and thus make ‘Othello’ a tragedy.
Of course different audiences will perceive the play in different ways. It really depends upon the moral standards erect at that time:
In an Elizabeth audience they would not puzzle over what drove Iago to ‘diet’ his revenge, and whether he really was a villain. To the Elizabethan audience they expected a villain to be a villain and it was not essential for him to be clearly motivated. Just as they would not be surprised that Iago should make plans to lie (rank garb) and be believed as the believability of the cool calculating Iago was a typical standard widely accepted. Just as was the impenetrability of disguise (both physically for Rodrigo and character-wise for Iago).
During Shakespeare’s time there was a shift from an essentially religious world to an essentially secular world, a central aspect of this change is that people felt they are living in world less familiar, somewhat disturbing. Therefore an Elizabethan audience would feel that Iago is this new secular world, that is full of evil, clearly demonstrated by the language in the passage (as discussed earlier) and only out to bring this present religious world down, with his lies and deceitfulness. Therefore an Elizabethan audience would be less sympathetic with Iago than a modern audience might be as he is the chaos brought out in the seemingly idyllic world of Desdemona and Othello.
In terms of a modern audience Othello can still be received with understanding and comprehension even though Othello was written in the early seventeenth century. There are of course some points that at first are hard to understand, as they were morals of the Elizabethan period, for example the uproar that Desdemona should want to marry a black person, but as a modern audience would have a more open mind than the Elizabethans they could actually interpret the play in many different ways.
In the passage the main aspect a modern audience would feel that they can relate to their times is the way people believe what they want to believe without finding out the truth demonstrated by Iago’s reason for revenge as ‘the lusty Moor has leapt into my seat’ i.e. stereo-casting. The way people can be totally two-faced, easily conveying in the passage by Iago’s plots against people who thought he was their friend. Also that we are not totally responsible for what happens to oneself, demonstrated in the passage by Iago’s determination to control the fate of other people through his lies.
Any audience must agree that the passage conveys the sophistication of Iago in being able to play a number of roles convincingly by adapting his tone and style; in this passage in convincing Rodrigo. Also that Iago’s has mysterious and intangible motives for being so fanatical about the ruin of those who like him.