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Othello GCSE Essay Essay, Research Paper
When Iago’s treachery is fully revealed, Othello asks “Why hath thou
thus ensnar’d my soul and body?”+
Explain Iago’s motives for hating both Othello and Cassio, analyse the
methods he uses to ruin their lives and show how Shakespeare reveals
Iago’s thoughts and plans to the audience.
The play “Othello” was written by the playwright William Shakespeare,
one of the best and well-known writers of that period and upto the
current day. He wrote it in 1604 to be performed to the new King: King
James I and for that reason he included themes in it such as Turkish
history, witchcraft and black magic which he knew King James I liked.
The play is named after one of the main characters who has a fatal flaw.
The character in question is Othello, the Moor of Venice, a believing
and honourable member of the Venetian community and a general of the
Venetian army. Although the play was named after Othello, Shakespeare
brings in a true villan whose name is Iago. At the time Spain was
Englands enermy and Iago being a Spanish name makes the audience sure
that Iago is evil. Iago could arguably be the main character, making the
play a tragedy which is a play in which characters must struggle with
circumstances in which most meet death and despair which in this case
the Moor’s torture and eventually his, and other innocent characters’
demise. Shakespeare seems to suggest in this play that white Iago is
a very negative character and Othello the black general is the hero.
This would have been at a time when much of England would have questioned
these views. Shakespeare may have been trying to make a social comment
and putting forward a negative attitude towards racism.
The story is based around a tale by the Italian writer Giraldi Cinthio.
It begins in Venice, a `nice’, civilised city, and moves to the chaotic
war in Cyprus. This change has a lot of significance and relevance in the
play because it symbolises the changes in Othello’s life and perceptions.
Cyprus is an island that is exposed and can be easily attacked which
brings in irony when Othello moves there Iago’s plan succeeds.
The play begins with a conversation between Iago and a Venetian nobleman
Roderigo. They are discussing about how Desdemona, whom Roderigo loves,
has eloped with Othello. Through this early conversation it is evident
that that Iago is manipulative and cunning as he is already taking
advantage of the rich and love struck Roderigo, whose money he has full
“Thus do I ever make my fool, my purse..”
The first word we hear from Iago is “Sblood”, a strong swear word in the
British language at the time. We learn through the conversation that Iago
uses crude language and is not well spoken, or noble, but a simple man,
a soldier. Iago explains to Roderigo why he hates the general, Othello.
It seems that he had pleaded with Othello for the position of lieutenant
in the army, but despite his efforts Othello promotes Cassio, a nobleman:
“One Michael Cassio, a Florentine,….That never set a squadron in
>From this statement we know that he despises Othello for this decision
because not only is Cassio inexperienced, but he is also not from Venice
but from Florence.
As Iago tells Roderigo of what he thinks as a mistake we become more
aware of his bitterness. Iago here also gives a further reason why he
hates Othello to the audience in the way of a soliloquy, a dramatic
device whereby a character talks directly to the audience about his
feelings and opinions. This way of conveying an idea to the audience
is used by Shakespeare a lot because it builds up tension because the
audience know things the other characters don’t.
In this soliloquy, Iago tells the audience of his suspicion that Othello
has slept with his wife, Emilia:
“And it is thought abroad that `twixt my sheets He has done my office.”
At this point we start to become more aware of his jealous nature and
suspect that it may be based mostly on his paranoid mind. Not only does
he believe that Othello has slept with his wife he also believes that
Cassio has as well,and with has good looks, his charm and his luck with
women also the fact that Cassio got the promotion and not him makes Iago
totally jealous of Cassio and this is why he hates Cassio so much.
“He hath a person and a smooth dispose to be suspected – framed to make
a woman false.”
He suggests in this sentence that Cassio is irresistible to women because
of his charm and looks. Shakespeare is showing here how jealous Iago
is but also showing that sometimes Iago can be honest.
In the first act of the play, Iago convinces Roderigo to help him arouse
Brabantio, Desdemona’s father, in order to tell him of the secret marriage
between his daughter and Othello:
“Even now, now, very now, an old black ram is tapping your white ewe.”
Iago again uses crude, racist language bringing sexual animalistic
images which would have been despised in the city of civilised and
sophisticated Venice. Shakespeare makes Iago does this to anger Brabantio
into violence and to make the audience question their own views on racism.
This method of manipulation is used by Iago as he knows how his words
will affect others. He uses this method against Othello to convince
Othello of Desdemona’s affair and also uses it against other people
during the length of the play.
“Were they as prime as goats, as hot as monkeys, As salt as wolves in
pride and fools as gross as ignorance made drunk” (Act III Scene III)
Here he compares Desdemona and Cassio to animals to bring into Othello’s
mind terrible and horrific images to make him angry. Iago is confident
that his words will hit their target. Iago frequently uses racist terms.
In the presence of Roderigo and to anger Brabantio, he is often being
racist. He refers to Othello as a “Barbury horse”, a type of Arab horse,
which is not only racist but adding animalistic terms in as well.
In the play, the scene changes from Venice to Cyprus. Shakespeare uses
Venice to symbolise truth and civility and, in contrast to this, the
setting moves to Cyprus, bad, terrible and war-torn, and the setting for
Othello’s similarly tumultuous trial. Whilst Othello’s mind is at rest,
the audience enjoys a Venetian setting, and when he becomes provoked
and disturbed, we see the backcloth of Cyprus. The other characters in
the play also seem pleased and contented of the implications of being
in Venice. Brabantio himself explains:
“What tell’st thou me of robbing? This is Venice; My house is not
a grange.” (Act I Scene I)
This is just proving that the idea of robbery in Venice is just outrageous
to a man like Brabantio, content with his Venetian home and his Venetian
blood and not used to uncival behaviour.
The difference between Venice and Cyprus is really shown by Iago whose
plan is unsuccessful in his attempts to bring comedown to Othello in
Venice by telling Brabantio that Othello has slept with his daughter in
no uncertain terms, while in Cyprus he succeeds, by breaking up Othello’s
marriage and then annihilating Cassio. He makes Othello believe that
Cassio is Desdemona’s secret lover, thereby ruining both of his enemies
with the same liebut first of all he makes sure everyone thinks he is
“Touch me not so near I had rather have this tongue cut from my mouth
than it do offence to Michael Cassio.”
He does this so no one will suspect him of foul play. This brings
a lot of dramatic irony into the play by characters such as Othello
and Cassio continually calling him “honest Iago” while the audience
know he’s not. Therefore Iago can continue his evil plan without being
suspected. Next Iago loses Cassio his position of lieutenant. In doing
this he brings cleverly into the plan stupid, lovestruck Roderigo.
Iago tells Roderigo that he should pick a fight with Cassio while he is
on duty. Iago does this because he knows that this would hurt Cassio’s
reputation and ruin his friendship with Othello. Othello holds a party
and Iago joins Cassio. Iago asks him to partake in a glass of wine.
Cassio agrees, but insists that he can only have a little for he has
“no brains for drinking”. But he gives way and soon gets drunk.
Iago gets Cassio drunk to help him with his plan. When Roderigo starts
on Cassio, Cassio will respond, therefore upsetting Othello when he
sees them, giving him no choice but to take Cassio’s position from him.
Iago then cunningly tells Cassio that to get his position back he needs
to persuade Desdemona to speak to Othello on his behalf.
“Confess yourself freely to he … requested”
Iago does this so when he has filled Othello’s mind with thoughts,
having Desdemona coming up to Othello wanting to talk about Cassio will
upset Othello further. While Desdemona is trying to speak to Othello
about Cassio, Iago is planting lots of sexual animalistic thoughts in
“Were they as prime as goats, as hot as monkeys, as salt as wolves.”
While Othello is thinking about this, Iago also reminds Othello of
Desdemona being disloyal to her father and leaving him in secret stating
that she could so easily do it again. In the end, with Iago making
more and more comments and Othello becoming more and more suspicious,
Othello is pushed over the edge, killing his wife and himself.
Act III Scene III is the most important scene in the play and is often
called the Temptation Scene. it contains lots of tension and works up the
audience a great deal. This is because this is where Iago’s plan seems
to change everything so quickly. At the start of the scene Othello says:
“Excellent wretch: Perdition catch my soul But I do love thee: and when
thee not, Chaos is come again.”
He means that if he didn’t love Desdemona, it would be chaos. This builds
up the tension because of the dramatic irony because we, the audience,
know what’s going to come. Iago continues to make Othello suspicious
and then says:
“Utter my thoughts? Why say, they are vile, and false?”
Shakespeare again questions society by putting in he play what lots of
people have done and will do. Here Iago is actually getting Othello
to ask him what he is thinking, not directly telling him, but using
his suspision against him making him ask what Iago thinks so that,
cleverly, he cannot be blamed later on. He does this by telling him
that he doesn’t want to hear what he has to say. He does this, making
Othello’s suspicions work against him, making him ask and from there
onwards puts concocted words into Othello’s mind. The things he tells
Othello mostly are to make his suspicions grow, but Iago does add the
slightest of truths in to prove it a bit more:
“She did deceive her father, marrying you..”
Here he reminds Othello that Desdemona did deceive her father, so could
deceive again. While Iago is reminding and telling Othello what has
happened, and what could be happening, he is adding language in which
he is saying how a lady could fall for Cassio, building up Othello’s
fatal flaw – jealousy. Here we see a big change Othello turning into
someone almost like IagoThe audience see Othello’s language change from
gentlemanly to crude:
“Damn her lewd minx…”
Here is Othello uttering in Shakespearian times very bad words.
Shakespeare makes Othello change his languageand thoughts just to
show the audience how someone can easily change from mere suspision.
Then the last statement Othello says in the scene proving the point for
the audience that Othello has changed:
” O damn her, damn her. Come go with me apart, I will withdraw To
furnish me with some swift means of death”
This changes the way the audience perceive Othello from Othello saying
life would be chaos if Desdemona wasn’t there at the beginning of
the scene to damn her, get heraway from me and kill her at the end.
This really starts the tragedy with the audience now knowing that evil
Iago’s plan has worked and the play will have a tragic ending, This
builds up the tesnion as well, because the charaters in the play still
refer to Iago as “honest” when the audience can see plainly he is not.
The handkerchief scene is another important scene in Othello. The scene
is full of tension, which Shakespeare keeps on cleverly adding to, to
bring more furore from the audience. This tension is brought about by
Desdemona speaking for Cassio which compounds Othello’s fears and at
the same time Othello asking for the handkerchief bringing in dramatic
irony creating tension.
Throughout the scene, Othello gets more and more desparate making the
audience sit on the
edge of their seats even more and then at the same time Desdemona
interrupting with words for Cassio. Here you can see that, even though
Desdemona keeps on denying it, Othello won’t rest and keeps on asking
her, showing how well Iago has worked up Othello with evil lies.This
scene and the temptation scene bring the play up to its climax full of
dramatic tension Shakespeare has cleverly made. Lots of Iago’s motives
were based on suspicion and his truly wicked and cunning ways forced
Othello’s weakness to come from him – jealousy. Othello changed during
the play from a polite general to a badly spoken murderer all because
Iago thought Othello may have slept with his wife and Othello didn’t
promote him but Cassio. In this play Iago was prepared to ruin and end
peoples’ lives just because of his jeaousy. His motives were small and
his actions huge and horrific. So what most people would wonder and what
Othello asked on the brink of death was:
“Why hath thou thus ensnar’d my soul and body?”
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