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Shakespeare's Othello was written in 1604, and was one of Shakespeare's best-known tragedies. Othello is a tragedy and according to Aristotle's poetics, "a tragedy involves a protagonist of high estate who falls from prosperity to misery through a series of reversals and discoveries as a result of a "tragic flaw," generally an error caused by a human frailty." Shakespeare's Othello is often thought of as being a perfect tragedy because of the amount drama Shakespeare creates about the love between Desdemona and Othello at the beginning of the play, and then the guilt and wrong felt by Othello after he realizes his errors are incomparable to the drama created by Shakespeare in his other plays. Othello was written for a Jacobean audience, who were often very rowdy and unruly and so the play had to contain a lot of drama to keep the audience's attention. This is one of the reasons why Shakespeare's Othello is one of the best known plays ever written. It is important to remember that Othello was written for the stage, not as a novel, so Shakespeare uses a number of dramatic devices to create drama such as characters that are sophisticated and interesting based on stock Jacobean characters, but had major differences that would have shocked the audience. Themes can be easily seen throughout the play and especially in the opening scene, creating apprehension and drama as the audience wants to know what will happen next. Shakespeare uses imagery to make his message clearer as then the audience can imagine what is going on better or what the point is that is being made. Setting and stage is also important in creating drama as the audience can get excited by the setting alone such as in Act 1 scene 1 which is set in Venice, where women were rumoured to be very beautiful but controlled in a patriotic society. Throughout the scene Shakespeare uses other dramatic devices as well such as dramatic irony to create suspense and interest to the scene by using soliloquies.
Act 1 scene 1 is vitally important to the play as it sets up drama for later on in the play and tells us of some of the traits and motives of the characters in the play, without them we would not understand the rest of the play. This scene is a great opening, as it gets straight into an argument between Iago and Roderigo over Iago not helping Roderigo to get Desdemona to love him even though Roderigo has paid him. Roderigo says in the first line of the play, "Tush! never tell me; I take it much unkindly/That thou, Iago, who hast had my purse" There is no build up so there is drama right from the start so Shakespeare gets the audience's attention right away as they start to see that Iago is not all that trustworthy.
There are many interesting characters introduced to us in Act 1 Scene 1. We are first introduced to Iago. The audience would have known straight away that he was evil as he had a Spanish name not an Italian name (England and Spain had a fierce rivalry for a number of years during and around when this play was written and the English saw the Spanish as evil and deceitful). Iago is a very refined Machiavellian character. A Machiavel is a sophisticated liar who delights in manipulative evil; they often disguise their true identity in plays, this is exactly what Iago does in Othello. Early on in the scene we learn of Iago's hatred for Cassio when Othello elects him, as his officer instead of Iago. He says in a conversation with Roderigo "That never set a squadron in field./More than a spinster, then a bookish theoretic" He hates Othello for this as he thinks he has more experience than Cassio as he is just a "bookish theoretic"; he only knows about battles through books so he knows how to fight in theory but has never actually "set a squadron in the field". This creates drama as the audience learns of Iago's motives of wanting to harm Othello in Act1 Scene 1 but later on in the play he reveals he also wants to harm Cassio.
Iago explains his tactics to Roderigo in a soliloquy. He tells us that he does not follow Othello out of love or duty but because he feels he can exploit him for his own personal gain so he can revenge himself for being overlooked by him "in following him I follow but myself;/Heaven is my judge nor I for love and duty". This causes dramatic irony as audience now knows for sure that Iago is an enemy of Othello and is actively trying to harm him. Dramatic irony is when the development of the plot allows the audience to possess more information about what is happening than the characters themselves have.
Iago tells us that he thinks people who are what they seem are foolish. He says that when he demonstrates what he feels on the inside will be the day when he is most vulnerable (typical Machiavel behaviour): "I will wear my heart upon my sleeve / For daws to peck at." He uses this metaphor to say that when your heart is displayed so openly, as if upon your sleeve, the 'daws' (jackdaws) will come and pick away at it. By admitting to his treachery, Iago would seem, in effect, to 'wear his heart on his sleeve" and come to his demise. The audience now knows that Iago has no intention of revealing himself to any one and will put on a front for Othello. It creates drama as the audience wonders how Iago will change in front of Othello. Shakespeare creates the main sense of dramatic irony through Iago. Phrases such as "Were I the Moor I would not be Iago" and "I am not what I am" are good examples as they hide as much as they reveal creating drama, as the audience wants to know exactly who Iago is. "Were I the Moor I would not be Iago" creates drama as the audience starts to realize the sincerity of Iago's hate for Othello. "I am not what I am" creates drama as they know that Iago will be deceitful to get what he wants. They also give the audience information that the characters do not have this also creates drama. However, it is not as plain and simple as it may look Shakespeare continues to use Iago to deceive the audience, Roderigo and Othello creating drama. This also sets up drama for later on as Othello says "Honest Iago . . . "(V.II.88), when we know he is not.
Othello is the main character in the play, however, we only hear of him in the first scene through the words of Iago and Roderigo. They dubiously refer to Othello as "him" or "he" for much of the first scene. This creates drama, it keeps a certain mystery around the character of Othello and the audience wants to know more as they do not know whether to believe Iago as he is evil. However, later on in the scene outside Brabantio's window n the middle of the night Iago and Roderigo begin to give a bit more detail about Othello as they try to arouse Brabantio's anger at Othello, with racial epithets such as "the Moor","the thick-lips","an old black ram", and "a Barbary horse". The language they use about Othello is very derogative as they try to put on all accounts a false image of Othello in Brabantio's head such as a Barbary horse, referring to the famous horses of the Arab world, but also playing on the associations of 'barbarian' with paganism and savagery. By saying these things Shakespeare sets up drama for later in the play as the audience thinks that Othello is a typical "Moor"(African, cunning, ruthless, lecherous like Aaron in Titus Andronicus) but then are shocked when they find out that he is noble, just, well spoken and heroic later on in the play. However, being an outsider makes him prone to attacks by Iago who replaces Othello's wisdom and judgment with anger and jealousy which leads to the murder of his beloved wife under false accusations. The drama in the tragedy part of this play is therefore set up within the first scene.
The audience is introduced to Roderigo in the scene. There are weaknesses in his character that exploited by Iago of course. he appears to be very gullible and Iago manipulates his jealousy for Desdemona for his own personal vendetta against Othello. When Iago tells Roderigo to "Call up [Desdemona's] father/ and poison his delight" he then continues to manipulate Roderigo to make him say it with a "timorous accent and a dire yell". Iago continues to exploit Roderigo and makes him into his pawn to do his bidding later on in the play. This creates drama as the audience tries to guess what part Roderigo will play in Iago's future plans. There is also drama as the audience begins to see how manipulative Iago and how he manipulates people. The audience would start to wonder what consequences Iago's actions would have generating drama
Brabantio plays a key role in the first scene. He treats Desdemona as a possession as that is what women were in a patriarchal society. Iago and Roderigo awaken him in the middle of the night shouting "thieves" as they inform him that his daughter has eloped with a "black ram" or "Barbary horse," Both Iago and Roderigo address him in the most disgusting way possible about his daughter's disappearance saying that a "lascivious Moor" has spirited her off; Desdemona has "made a gross revolt". Iago and Roderigo shout "thieves" as if a possession has been stolen even though they were talking about Desdemona. This creates drama for today's audience as well as when it was written but in different ways. A Jacobean audience would have been horrified to see Desdemona eloping without her father's consent. However, in today's world this is common but they would be shocked to see how Desdemona was treated like a possession.
We can see many themes in the first scene of Othello. The most prominent is jealousy. Iago displays his jealousy for Cassio after he tells Roderigo of how he was passed over for promotion, he calls Roderigo a "counter-caster" which tells us that Cassio has the job he wanted while he has to keep on being "his Moor's ancient". Roderigo is also jealous of Othello as he is madly in love with Desdemona and even gives money to Iago to put a good word for him. Roderigo expresses this jealousy of Othello's marriage to Desdemona by exclaiming "What a full fortune does the thick lips owe,/If he can carry't thus!" as he reflects bitterly on the Moor's good fortune. This creates drama as the audience wonders what the two men are going to do about it. To some this may imply that Iago may want Desdemona as well which creates drama as the audience may consider Iago having an ulterior motive.
There is also a theme of reputation and honour as Iago tries to prove to himself and Roderigo that he really does hate Othello, Iago says that there are men who serve only to get what they can, "and when they have lin'd their coats / Do themselves homage" This tells us that he Iago thinks that to be honorable to yourself you must be dishonorable to those that you serve. This creates drama as the audience sees throughout the play Iago using his good reputation for detestable purposes.
The black and white aspects of the scene as when Iago tries to ignite Brabantio's hatred for Othello he uses racist remarks "Even now, now, very now, an old black ram / Is tupping your white ewe". Iago also is involved in the Devil theme as he says "Awake the snorting citizens with the bell, / Or else the devil will make a grandsire of you:" Iago is trying to say that if Brabantio did nothing to try and separate Othello (the black devil) from Desdemona then he would become the "grandfather of a little devil". When Brabantio then starts hurling abuse at them calling them "ruffians" or robbers, Iago replies "Zounds, sir, you one of those that will not serve God, if the devil bid you/because we come to do you service and you think that we are ruffians"." He is trying to say Brabantio thinks he is talking to ruffians but he should listen to what they have to say, because they're trying to do him good. This is ironic as Iago is the most devilish person in the play and he is not trying to do any good at all. He says also says that Brabantio would not serve God if the devil told him to. This would evoke a lot of drama, as it is a very insulting as in those days everyone believed in God.
Shakespeare uses imagery and metaphors in Act 1 Scene 1 to reinforce his main themes; he also uses it to convey meaning as it establishes the dramatic atmosphere of the play. Iago makes images of poison predominantly, which is appropriate as he demonstrates the characteristics of poison, lethal and deadly. He says, "Poison his delight to Rederigo showing his intent to do harm to the characters in the play creating. He also says "Thou art a villain" the argument raises drama because we know that Iago is a villain through the use of dramatic irony. Iago's use of language creates drama as it is a key element in manipulating Roderigo and Othello later on in the play too.
Iago also uses animal imagery to convey his hatred and to downgrade those he despises. He shouts to Brabantio "your daughter, and the /Moor, are now making the Beast with two backs." He says this to evoke an emotional response (anger); this builds up drama. Iago then goes on to say, "An old black ram is tupping a young white ewe", The 'black' and 'white' has connotations of good and evil and the 'young' and 'old' shows that Othello and Desdemona's relationship is something that should be despised, he uses animals to create a disgusting image in Brabantio's head.
When Iago is talking about his hatred for Othello he says "I do hate as I do hells pains" so he is saying he hates Othello as much as the pain of hell's fire. These two comparisons would create drama as they effectively show the nature of Iago's character.
Shakespeare also creates pictures of military heroism through Iago when he says "horribly stuff'd with epithets of war". The key word uses is "horribly" as he thinks Othello is too proud so it ties in with the jealousy theme of the play.
Shakespeare chose Venice to be the setting of his play, which is entirely predictable for a play about jealousy and passion. Italians would be very exciting for a Jacobean audience, as they were known for being wicked, murderous, and of loose morals, especially Venetian men and women as the women were rumored to be very beautiful and interested in making love and the men aggressive and jealous. A Jacobean audience would be very suspicious of Desdemona, as running of a getting married behind Brabantio's back was simply not done in a patriarchal society. Iago would have created a lot of drama as for many people in Jacobean times would have thought he was the kind of villain that ran raging throughout Italy.
In Othello, Shakespeare uses interesting imagery to bring the dialogue to life as well as using sophisticated themes that allow the audience to relate and follow the play. His characters are created to evoke emotion and response from the audience generating drama. Shakespeare chooses the stage and setting wisely as he can express his play better in a foreign country as he can say what he likes without repercussions, also the setting itself creates drama just because of the rumors around it. Overall, Shakespeare is able to incorporate all of these dramatic devices in the first scene in a way that makes the audience want more.