Othello is a play about jealousy. In it we meet an array of characters whose characteristics change throughout the play. In Venice, Othello elopes with Desdemona, the daughter of a Venetian senator. Iago, who despises Othello and who believes has been looked over for a promotion, plots to bring down Othello. Through Iago’s deceit and exploitation, Othello believes that Desdemona has been disloyal and kills her. When the reality comes out, Othello stands on his reputation and kills himself. The play is set primarily in Cyprus however; it starts in the cosmopolitan town of Venice. This makes us assume that the characters are civil and arguably, learned.
Act 1 scene 3 kicks off in the duke’s council chamber. The beginning of the scene sees the Duke and Senators discussing the Turkish threat to Cyprus. At the beginning of the scene, the first stage direction is ‘set at a table with lights’. This stage direction can be seen as being important as the light could signify importance. Furthermore, in the 1600’s, light could also have been interpreted as enlightenment and we can infer from this fact that it means that there is to be little trickery or deception in this scene. It also focuses the scene on and around the table. Furthermore, this play was written at a time where religion was mandatory and therefore the light could represent a religious meaning. The common Christian conception of the meaning of light originated from the first day of creation when God separated light from darkness.
In this context, the light could be seen to be a sign of the creation of a new problem. Conversely, David M. Zesner states in his guide to Shakespeare that “Cyprus stands as an insecure Christian outpost on the frontier of Barbarism” which could mean that Shakespeare was trying to remove this stereotype. However, this is rather unlikely as there is evidence suggesting that Shakespeare was not a religious man. The Duke and Senators are worried about the numerous reports that have been received from Cyprus, all stating that a Turkish armada is expected to attack. The reports vary in the strength of the fleet, but all tell of the risk as the force has turned back in the direction of Cyprus.
Throughout the military argument, we discover that Cyprus is of great military significance, and it would affect Venice’s sea trade if taken. The Turkish threat is revealed in three gradual steps. First the duke and senators receive contradictory reports, then the messengers suddenly enter and finally a messenger arrives. Shakespeare reveals the Turkish threat to us in three steps for various reasons. One may be that he wants to lengthen the play and allow time for the characters to converse throughout the play thus giving them time to talk about other matters for example Brabantio’s accusation against Othello. Another reason may be to show confusion and a chaos like state within the senate.
It also hints to us that the play is going to be moved to Cyprus. All of this creates dramatic impact. We should be aware that this change of location opposes Aristotle’s unity of place, which states that the stage should “cover a single physical space and should not attempt to compress geography, nor should the stage represent more than one place”. Some critics have considered why Shakespeare done this; for example, Samuel Johnson stated, “Whether Shakespeare knew the unities, and rejected them by design, or deviated from them by happy ignorance, it is, I think, impossible to decide”. We should however take into account that although Shakespeare does not match Aristotle’s rules, he was still hugely successful, and is regarded as a model writer.
After the third and final messenger has arrived with news about the Turkish armada. Brabantio, Othello, Cassio, Iago, Roderigo and some officers enter the stage simultaneously. At this point, we know of the incident which took place outside Brabantio’s house where Roderigo and Iago woke him up to tell him Othello has eloped with his daughter. We also know that Brabantio intends to “apprehend…the moor” as he called out a search party in scene 1. There is a sense of ill feeling between Othello and Brabantio. The Duke and the Senators know not of this. Therefore, when Othello walks in they still address him as “valiant”. This in itself could be seen as dramatic impact as it shows Othello is in high regard in front of an enraged Brabantio. Brabantio also come up as a sort of whinging character that is interrupting the meeting to talk about his own life which can be seen as rather dramatic.
Throughout the argument, Othello is referred to many times as a ‘Moor’ whilst Brabantio is referred to by name. This has been viewed by some to be racist; however, you only need to look at the context in which it is used to be able to know it is not used in a racist perspective. For example, the Duke and the senator both refer to him as a valiant moor which completely rules out the possibility of them being racist. Throughout the play, many racist remarks are made. For example: an old black ram, a lascivious Moor, the sooty bosom of such a thing as thou. Many of these remarks are made by Iago and at no point in the play does it state that Iago is Venetian. Most racist comments in the play are said by people that are angry or upset; for example, Iago’s racism towards Othello is because he is angry with Othello for giving Cassio the job as lieutenant. Othello has also been given the job of commanding the Venetian army.
Overall, apart from the occasional racist comments made by some of the characters during the play there is nothing to suggest that Venice was a racist community. When Othello first enters the stage, the duke addresses him as ‘Valiant’. This shows the audience that Othello is in high regard to the duke. During the scene, Brabantio accuses Othello of using black magic to get Desdemona to run away with him. This is a rather serious accusation to make as in those days, witchcraft was a capital punishment. However, the duke brushes the accusation aside as he needs Othello to defend Cyprus from the Turkish threat.
In Act 1 Scene 3, Othello portrays himself to be a noble, dignified gentleman with a composed personality. This is apparent during his speech to the Duke of Venice concerning Brabantio’s allegations of witchcraft. Brabantio lets his negative emotions have an effect on his personality, whereas Othello uses graceful and intelligent words which depict his calm manner whilst he explains to the Duke of his & Desdemona’s love for each other. It is through his calm and rational manner that he persuades the Duke of Venice to dismiss Brabantio’s accusations. While Brabantio speaks thoughtlessly and often very antagonistically to Othello, Othello does not do the same. Instead of shouting back at Brabantio, his language is seemingly poetic and wise showing his calm and rational character. Although saying `Rude am I in my speech’ Othello presents his modest and tranquil nature when compared to Brabantio.
He knows that he is speaking civilly but feels he ought to apologise in case he may offend Brabantio. Othello often says intelligent statements throughout his speech. For example `unvarnished tale deliver of my whole course of love’ when telling the audience of how he came to marry Desdemona. He also explains that his love for Desdemona `is the only witchcraft’ he used. Othello also uses Iambic Pentameter in his speech. A rhythm that the words make in each line. The rhythm is made through the use of stress, alternating between unstressed and stressed syllables. There is also a frequent use of alliteration, for example ‘flood and field’ and ‘good grace’. We have no evidence that Othello meant to use these words however; we can certainly infer this as his speeches have a high standard of vocabulary. His use of alliteration also makes us think that he is a learned character.
From these clever statements, it is obvious that Othello is rational and calm when dealing with confrontation. Throughout Othello’s speeches, we find out a bit about Othello’s life. He has been a soldier in the field from the age of seven until nine months ago, when he came back to Venice. He says: “I will a round unvarnished tale deliver… of my whole course of love” what this means is that he will deliver a plain, undecorated tale of his love life which gives us the impression that he is modest and not one to show off. Throughout the scene, Brabantio says that ‘Desdemona feared to look on Othello’. This simple statement could be playing havoc upon Othello’s feeling and may start to plant some seeds of doubt into his mind about Desdemona’s loyalty to him. Another possible feeling he may be experiencing is fear. Fear that it was him, Othello may be scared that he has done something to Desdemona to make her afraid of him.
Another controversial point Brabantio makes is that Othello and Desdemona’s relationship was ‘against the will of nature’ implying that black and white people ought not to have relationships. This inference I have made is rather reliable as racism was common in Shakespeare’s day. Othello could feel anger at this moment. Or he could be feeling inferior due to his ethnicity. Whatever he may be feeling, he composes himself very well and we do not know of his true feelings. This is, in my opinion, why Othello is a highly regarded character. He has the ability to compose himself and maintain his dignity whereas Brabantio has come to be seen as a winging character by the duke. Brabantio’s accusation that Othello has used magic to gain his daughters love (‘mixtures powerful o’er the blood’) may make Othello astonished. Othello’s reaction to this is, again a calm approach.
He makes a very profound speech that persuades the duke and senators that he is innocent. Furthermore, we have further reason to believe Othello when he calls upon an alibi. Desdemona. Throughout this scene, Othello reveals to us that he is a very rational man. Othello is a mixture of greatness and weakness, in his own words “an honorable murderer”. He is a general in the Venetian defense forces, and, although a foreigner from Africa, he has won this post by superiority in the field of war. He has bravery, cleverness, control, and the respect of his troops. Under pressure, he makes an inspiring speech. When the colony of Cyprus is threatened by the enemy, the Duke and Senate turn to “valiant” Othello to lead the defense. All of this makes us think of Othello as a noble person.
When Desdemona enters the stage in act one scene three, she explains why she married Othello “Othello’s visage in his mind, And to his honours and his valiant parts” (Act 1, 3 Line 250) she then gives an explanation to her father about why she chose Othello over him. “I am hitherto your daughter. But here’s my husband; and so much duty my mother showed to you, preferring you before her father, so much I challenge that I may profess due to the Moor my lord.” (Act 1, 3 Line 183) Desdemona then insists on going to Cyprus with Othello. All of this shows us that Desdemona is a confident girl as in Shakespeare’s day the common approach to women was unlike from that of today, and the majority of women had a smaller amount of authority than most men. Nevertheless, England had a strong single Queen on the throne at that point in time, so it wouldn’t have been right to depict all women as totally helpless. Desdemona is a lady of strength and intelligence.
Out of all the military straightforwardness of some other characters, Desdemona is the most direct and honest speaker in the play. Her speeches are not as extensive as those of the men. Brabantio can also give us some sort of an idea of how women were treated in Shakespeare’s time. When he enters the scene, he moans “O, my daughter!” when the senators ask him what has happened his reply is “She is abus’d, stol’n from me, and corrupted.” This is his interpretation as to what has happened when Desdemona has eloped with Othello. We can infer from Brabantio’s speech that in Shakespeare’s time, it was customary for women to ask for the parents’ permission before marrying somebody. Brabantio’s choice of words shows us how angry he is at Desdemona’s actions. Women played diverse roles in Shakespeare’s plays; they could play a weak character or a strong character. In Shakespeare’s plays women were portrayed as being inferior to men, the males in their lives overpowered most of the women in these plays. (For example Othello to Desdemona).
The male characters overpower all the women, because in those days that’s how the women were treated. William Shakespeare lived during the Elizabethan period and wrote his works based on the culture of that time. The Elizabethan era was a time where women were portrayed to be weaker then men. During this time it was said that “women are to be seen, and not heard.” Marriages at this time were usually arranged by your parents, and you were to marry whomever they’ve set you up with without even seeing them first. At this time people married for wealth and the well being of their family not for love. Desdemona has clearly gone against this “rule” which is why Brabantio has reacted in such a way.
At the end of Act 1 Scene 3, Iago makes a speech where he refers to Roderigo as “my fool”. He refers to him as this because he is manipulating him into selling his land to get money. He says his aim is to get profit and sport out of Roderigo. By profit he is referring to money and by sport he is referring to fun. What he means by getting “fun” out of Roderigo is his own amusement. Iago then goes on to say “‘twixt my sheets he’s done in my office” or in other words, Othello has slept with Iago’s wife (Emilia). From our prior knowledge of Othello, it seems unlikely to us that he has committed such an offence. Throughout the speech, Iago is formulating a plan against Othello; Shakespeare shows this to us by giving Iago the lines “let me see now; to get his place and plume up my will in double knavery. How? How? Let’s see.”
In plain English, it could be translated as “How could he get Cassio’s position of Lieutenant and get his revenge on the Moor at the same time? How? How?” as Iago says these words we can imagine a look of maliciousness on his face whilst he is stroking his chin and grinning manically. Iago admits that Michael Cassio is a “proper” (good) man and that Othello is “of a free and open nature”. The main reason he wants to destroy them is because he is jealous. Jealous of the fact that he has been rejected by a moor who he thinks has slept with his wife and who has also appointed a less qualified man to be his lieutenant. Iago wanted to cause destruction for the sole purpose of satisfying his desires. The last two line of his speech (I have’t. it is endanger’d. Hell and night must bring this monstrous birth to the worlds light.)
Shows Iago having thought of a plan. It is an apprehensive and somewhat exciting moment for the audience as we know that this is the beginning of a treacherous plan. This speech can be described as a soliloquy as Iago is only talking to himself. By the end of his soliloquy, there has been a large amount of dramatic impact upon both the play and the audience. Iago’s speech also makes us view him in a different light. We do, to some extent hate him and fear his evilness. He cleverly chooses his words to include imaginative humour for example when he compares Othello and Roderigo to animals. Shakespeare has made the character of Iago from an idea already existing in the culture of his era; the Devil.
This developed into the villain in his plays. Iago says “I am not what I am,” which can be understood as “I am not what I seem.” But it may have a religious meaning: In Exodus (a part of the Christian new testament bible), God gives his laws to Moses, and Moses asks God his name. God replies: “I am that I am”. If “I am that I am” depicts God, then Iago’s self-description, “I am not what I am” is the opposite. Iago is the opposite of God, i.e. he is the devil. Iago in this play has the traits of the Devil; He is a liar, he makes promises he has no intention of keeping, he tells far-fetched stories in order to trap people and lead them to their destruction, and he sees other’s greatest weaknesses and uses these against them. Iago does all this not for any good reason, but for cruelness and as mentioned before, jealousy.
Act 1 Scene 3 is a significant scene in “Othello”. We learn about Othello’s life and personality, the setting of the play begins to change and we become aware of Iago’s plans. What we learn about Othello is of great importance as we learn about Othello’s expressiveness. Othello makes use of calm, touching and controlling language right the way through Act 1, 3 which bring out a lot of fondness and respect for him from the audience, and it may have been this which led to the Duke not taking action against him. We must note Othello’s eloquence in this scene, because we need to be aware of how this plunge into a resentful person alters him from the rational man we observe in Act 1, Scene 3 to a brutal, “green-eyed” and mistrustful “devil”.
Consequently, Othello’s eloquence in this scene is essential to the rest of the play. At the last part of this scene, Iago states a soliloquy in which he tells of his plan for the forthcoming scenes. This is one more vitally significant part to the rest of the play. This is so because it explains to the audience how Iago aims to control the victims. If we did not have this short account of how Iago will accomplish his goals, the audience will be left in the dark and may not be aware of why Iago is carrying out some acts in the scenes to come. Iago’s speech is also a clever way to finish the act it leaves the audience wanting to read on, which creates dramatic impact.