Discussion questions from Act 1 of Othello
How does Shakespeare present the world of Venice in the first act, and how does he construct the interactions of his central characters (Iago, Othello, and Desdemona) with that Venetian world and with each other. How are these interactions complicated by the fact that Othello is a Moor (and we’ll have to puzzle out what exactly that means) and that Desdemona is a young women (and so we’ll want to remember what we learned about the relation of young women to their fathers in The Taming of the Shrew and A Midsummer Night’s Dream)?
Shakespeare presents Venice as the centre of hot politics. Hew constructs the interactions of these characters in a manner that it appears very important things related to politics and military are going on in Venice. A heated discussion between Roderigo and Iago opens the drama where they are talking about Othello is a military general. The initial settings give an impression that Venice is at the centre of everything important. Soon, the two move to Brabantio’s house to wake him up and the way Iago talks before him makes us feel that the Venetian environment is ripe with dirty politics and self-service. Amid all this power and politics and the related crap, Desdemona and Othello’s love is blooming. The Venetian world is a world of power, politics, revenge and conspiracy and also romance.
These interactions grow quite complicated at the point Iago reaches Brabantio’s house to inform him of what has been cooking behind his back between his daughter and the Moor. He utters profanity against the Moor and soon readers have learnt of the Moor’s skin color and the reason Iago calls him a Moor. All these people in the first Act are notable people. Iago has brought Brabantio and Othello against each other and the situation has been made complex by the fact that both of them are powerful people, influential nearly as much as the Duke himself. Cassio enters the scene and beings with him Duke’s message regarding some important military issue.
The unrest that is about to follow gets clear from the way these people are talking. Desdemona’s youth and Othello’s skin color are particularly adding fuel to the fire. The way Othello has taken her away has left Brabantio feeling badly disgusted since his clan’s reputation is a stake. Iago is disgruntled over Cassio’s promotion and he is poisoning both sides’ minds. Situation is very badly complicated and the matter has been raised to the Duke. Shakespeare has constructed the interaction of these characters in a manner to bring out the military and political importance of Venice.
What sort of person is Iago, as he appears in act 1? Are you satisfied by the reasons he gives for hating Othello? What is Iago’s relationship with Roderigo?
Iago is everything but honest and noble. His dialogue with Roderigo exposes his cunningness and his hatred for Othello. All his reasons for hating Othello are dissatisfactory. He is self centered and cannot appreciate Othello because of his jealousy. He is just as adept at treachery as cunning he is with his words. He is manipulating Roderigo who is not even half as cunning as him. The sort of person that he appears in Act 1 can be called malicious, selfish, treacherous and manipulative. He utters profanity before Brabantio so as to turn him extremely furious at Othello. It shows that when it comes to cheating people and causing conflicts Iago holds some extraordinary skills. He is an adept politician and a cunning fox. Roderigo is an ally but it is amusing to find him being treated like a fool by Iago. This means that he has some original villainy inside him. However, the way Iago does things shows that he can get even dreadful in the later parts of the drama.
What sort of language does Iago use? What sort of language does Othello use? What might be the significance of this difference?
Iago uses politically charged language. His dishonesty is evident in the way he twists his words to create the desired impact. He has kept fooling Roderigo and has used him and his money. However, he can be sweet and unapologetically painful. When he informs Brabantio, he uses profanity of a level that leaves Brabantio badly disgruntled. He would like to kill Iago for using such foul language before him but he is confused.
“Zounds, sir, you’re robbed! For shame, put on your gown.
Your heart is burst, you have lost half your soul.
Even now, now, very now, an old black ram
Is tupping your white ewe. Arise, arise,
Awake the snorting citizens with the bell
Or else the devil will make a grandsire of you.
Arise, I say”
Othello, on the other hand is composed and disciplined. He does not resort to profanity or abuse words to make others feel bad. In comparison to Iago he shows better control over his words. He talks with dignity and is not manipulative in his conversation with others. He is also far more respectful even when talking of his adversaries. He does not waste his words or use them to ignite politics.
“Let him do his worst. The services I have done for the Venetian government will count for more than his complaints will. No one knows this yet—and I don’t like to brag, but I come from a royal family, and I’m as noble as the woman I’ve married”.