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Act One Of Othello Essay, Research Paper

What Is Shakespeare s

Achievement In Act I Of Othello?

Shakespeare s own personal aim was not to write a social and political reflection of his era, as many contemporary readers believe, it was; purely and simply, to entertain his audience. This does not mean that there can be no social and political reflections within Othello, it means that the reflections are there, not for the sake of social and political commentary, but for the sake of entertainment and pleasure. Aristotle explained in Poetics that the audience s pleasure consists not merely in observing the play, but criticizing, evaluating and making comparisons. These activities produce pleasure, thus it is not a mindless pleasure. There must be intellectual and emotional engagement on the spectator s part. According to Aristotle, to stimulate the intellectual engagement of the audience and thus create this pleasure in the spectator, a masterful piece of art or literature must contain a degree of ambiguity in its ideas. This is the reason for the social commentaries that Shakespeare includes in his work:

The play commences with two characters apparently arguing over money. Shakespeare immediately sets the mood of conflict for the remainder of the play, it is important because the reader at the outset is given a choice; who to believe and who is right. Shakespeare instantly sets about creating the mood of ambiguity which will result in the reader contemplating and analyzing the situation in hand. This will, according to Aristotle, create pleasure for the audience.

As with all Shakespeare s plays, Othello is written (for the very vast majority) in a form of verse and with a definite rhythm. This helps the general flow of the text, and when the rhythm is broken, we are alerted to a significant event or to a particular trait in a character. When Iago tries to insult and animalize the Barbary horse Othello, to Brabantio (line 108), verse reverts to prose and we are alerted to the evils behind Iago s deeds. Shakespeare, so far, is strictly adhering to Aristotle s guidelines and certainly understands the essential qualities of art itself . In Poetics it is explained that language into which enter rhythm, harmony and song will create each kind of artistic ornament necessary to imitate an action that is serious, complete and of a certain magnitude (Aristotle s description of tragedy).

In the first verses the audience is presented with a mood of intrigue and confusion, Othello is never referred to by name, but Iago s feelings are perfectly clear. Othello is described by Iago as being pompous and immodest, Iago is only serving Othello to serve [his] turn upon him , this immediately shows the self-serving nature of Iago. We are quickly shown that Iago is bitter and twisted that he has not gained the rank of Othello s lieutenant, thus his estimation of Othello is not fully believed or accredited by the audience. Furthermore Iago goes on to admit to his own deceptive nature by explaining he is not what he seems to be, he explains I am not what I am . In the first scene Iago launches into a speech of how he despises knee-crooking knave who serves his master for nothing but provender (bed and board). He then explains how he admires the servant who wears a visage of duty while serving no one but himself. These servants have lined their coats and then when they have used their master for money they Do themselves homage . Iago, once more, confesses to being one of these self serving and deceptive men. By showing Iago s true colours, Shakespeare is casting Iago s view of Othello in a very low estimation.

Shakespeare s initial portrayal of Roderigo, is of a rather dim and na ve man. Firstly, he has paid a clearly dishonest self serving man, Iago, to promote a match between him and Desdemona, to her father, Brabantio. Secondly, nearly all Roderigo s conversation consists of subservient comments towards the manipulative Iago. He is constantly agreeing and promoting Iago s theories on Othello; explaining the obvious that he would not serve him then . Roderigo is not portrayed by Shakespeare, in Act I, as being completely twisted, like Iago. He is seen merely as Iago s rather worthless tool. The contrast between the two characters can be easily seen when each takes their turn to awake Brabantio; Roderigo exclaims What ho! Brabantio, Signior Brabantio ho! ; Iago takes his turn and cries out thieves, thieves, thieves! Look to your house, your daughter, your bags! . Roderigo also fails to see that Iago, who has already admitted that he is a deceiver and a crook, could be deceiving him. This dramatic irony shows Roderigo in an even more gullible and na ve light.

During the first scene we encounter the first racial comments in Othello. Iago explains to Brabantio that the old black ram , Othello, is tupping your white ewe , Desdemona. These crude, racial, animalizing comments really do hit home; for it is now that the previously stubborn Brabantio is prepared to listen to the undesirable Roderigo and Iago. Iago senses this reaction and continues with the racial animalizing comments, he crudely describes Iago as a Barbary horse , and explains that Othello s, and thus Desdemona s, and thus Brabantio s, descendants will be jennets and coursers both types of horses. These are racial comments, yet are not necessarily comments which would have differed from public opinion. At the time that Shakespeare wrote Othello, it was widely accepted that Negroes were socially, biologically and actually sub-human. Bearing this in mind, Iago s comments would not have caused any real offence to the viewing public, and thus is not one of Aristotle s ambiguous notions, which would have resulted in the pleasure derived from intellectual debate. Today society has a completely different set of values and it is widely accepted that Negroes and other ethnic minorities are not inferior, hence Iago s views, and therefore the views of much of Shakespeare s society are abhorrent in our eyes. We must however, take extreme caution not to condemn the likes of Iago and Roderigo for their deceivingly racist comments; we should not judge seventeenth century values with twentieth century ideals.

There are, however other views that can be taken on Shakespeare s depiction of Iago (and others) view on Othello and their racism . Some people believe that Shakespeare recognised that Negroes and white man were equal and wrote this play to demonstrate this to his viewing public. Iago dislikes Othello and his origins the most and he is the most morally corrupt character in the play. Whereas the, arguably, morally purest character, Desdemona, shows no regard for Othello s colour. By casting the views of these two characters in such a way, Shakespeare could be commenting on the moral standing of these views on Negroes.

This view throws up yet another issue, however. It is evident that Iago harboured a huge hatred for Othello. Yet did he really believe that Othello was actually sub-human? Or did he express such views merely because he knew the way society would judge Othello? He could have predicted the hatred that certain sections of society would show towards Othello, once he triggered their racial hatred with his comments. The fact that Othello was so high in the social and political standings of Venice would not dull the hatred, and may even have compounded the colour prejudice. The public would resent such an inferior outsider holding an office so high, the foundations of this resentment may have been observed by Iago, and used by him as a tool to turn the public towards the hatred for Othello that he felt. The fact that the ensuing hatred would have different origins (the public hatred founded on baseless race hatred, and Iago s hatred based largely on jealousy) would have made little difference to Iago, so long as the hatred was there. In summary the hatred was the important thing, not the reason for the hatred. In existentialist terms, Iago s hatred would be morally justified, for there was a real and true base for it, yet society s hatred would be morally wrong, for it would be founded on mere prejudice. If Shakespeare agreed with the likes of Camus and Sartre (though they were well after his time) then Shakespeare could be making an unprecedented comment on society.

The first scene is full of decepetion, and Shakespeare shows us the significance that decpetion will play in the latter stages of the play. Othello and Desdemona have deceived her father and all around them, by getting married in private; Roderigo initially believes he has been deceived by Iago, but Iago deceives Roderigo that he hasn t been deceived; and Iago feels that he has been deceived by Cassio and Othello, having not been made a lieutenant.

This is the first time that we are personally introduced to the play s namesake. Shakespeare has created a crescendo of mystery and confusion around Othello, by using the warped Iago to describe him. Therefore, all though the audience has already heard much about Othello, the first time we meet him is a judgement on Iago. For now we can judge Iago s criticisms with the facts of Othello which are presented right before us. Othello appears to be calm and his love for the gentle Desdemona seems true, sincere and endears him to the audience. We now can judge Iago as truly dishonest, for all he has said appears to be wrong and deliberately misleading; in summary, by meeting Othello we learn more about Iago.

The second scene opens with Iago explaining how Brabantio despises the match between the Moor and Desdemona, and how insulting Brabantio had been about the Moor. Once again Iago is deceiving Othello to evoke trust and appear to be loyal, by warning Othello of Brabantio s intentions to break up the marriage. This is a depiction of huge hypocrisy, though by this point, and especially after Iago s own admissions, we expect nothing more from Iago. His hypocrisy is underlined when he swears By Janus . Janus is the Greek g-d of two faces representing the two faces of Iago s multifaceted opinions, that he displays for the purpose of his own self-advancement.

Othello does seem to have a certain degree of self confidence in his morals and in the morals of his elopement, self confidence that almost borders on the arrogance. When he suspects the raised father has come for him, Othello remains outside, for he has confidence that his perfect soul shall prove his honourable intentions to Brabantio.

Once Othello is out of earshot, Iago continues his mission to turn society against Othello and uses his crude metaphors to shock and reinforce his point, and Othello s immorality . Iago explains to Cassio that Othello hath boarded a land carrack , this makes Othello out to be some kind of thief or pirate. Here we can see that Iago has no real capacity or understanding of true love; he is judging Othello by his own standards and feels that Othello is using Desdemona for his own corrupt purposes.

Brabantio and Othello meet for the first time and Brabantio almost immediately launches into an attack on Othello. Brabantio accuses the damned Othello of being a devil, of using foul charms and abusing her delicate youth with drugs or minerals . Although the audience does not agree with Brabantio, he is not hated with the same passion as Iago. Brabantio is seen merely as an over protective, doting father who loves his daughter. Once again we should be careful not to judge Brabantio s mystic views with twentieth century values. He is not a madman, people genuinly did believe in magic, enchantment and suchlike. A black man (the devil is black) was sometimes seen as the most mystical of all, not just by Brabantio but by society as a whole these were not written by Shakespeare to be the ramblings of a madman.

The third scene begins with the duke and two senators talking of the approaching Turkish fleet, and its undetermined destination. The second major theme of the play is now introduced war. Once the depleted war council has decided that the fleet is making for Cyprus , they are interupted by the arrival of Othello and his entourage. We immediately notice a difference in the way the Duke addresses Othello and Brabantio. To Othello, the Duke is sharp, to thepoint and dismissive, though not impolite. Yet he talks to Brabantio like a friend and pescribes that We lacked your counsel and your help, tonight.

Othello responds to Brabantio s accusations of sorcery with an eloquent description of his love and is so confident of his beloved s affections that he calls for his wife to back confirm his innocence. Othello and Desdemona deliver an unequivocal testament of their love for each other, which convinces all, even Brabantio reluctantly blesses their matrimony, G-d be with you he says. Although Othello and Desdemona love each other, their respective speeches betray a dubious origin to their love. It seems that Desdemona loved Othello for the dangers I had passed and he loved her that she did pity them . Desdemona was seduced by the moor s storytelling powers, while the moor was touched by her sympathy, it could possibly seem that each fell in love with an image, not necessarily a person. The theme of the basis of their love, and their love itself, will be extrapolated throughout the remainder of the play.

Once the business of Othello and his love is passed, the Duke resumes the talk of war and battle against the Turks, and heeds Othello to prepare to depart for Cyprus. Brabantio, before his depature, turns to Othello and warns him against trusting Desdemona, for she has deceived her father and may thee . The subconscious seeds of mistrust have been planted in Othello s mind by Brabantio, this is dramatic irony and warns the audience that the future of the marriage will not be as smooth as the na ve lovers expect.

In the act finishes with the almost satanic Iago warning of his deception to come, he shows us that the Barbarian and a super-subtle Venetian will not live calmly. If the audience is in any doubt as to Iago s feelings for the Moor, he explains I hate the Moor . He goes on to outhline the plan of double knavery that he shall use to split the lovers in an act of serious deception.

The first act of Othello signals to the audience the coming themes of love and war, deception and trust and arguably; stereotypes. The issues Shakespeare brings to light, create thought and internal debate, this leads to the pleasure that Aristotle described; and achieves Shakespeare s primary aim to entertain.


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