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Explore the Significance of the Aspects of Tragedy in the Following Passage in Relation to the Play as a Whole – Act I Scene I.
This is the first scene of the play. In this scene, Iago and Roderigo are introduced. Roderigo accuses Iago of taking advantage of how he has been paying Iago so that he can have Desdemona’s love. Iago distracts him with a long speech about how he detests Othello – Desdemona’s husband – because Othello did not make Iago his lieutenant. The two eventually come to Brabantio’s –Desdemona’s father – house. Later in the scene, Iago and Roderigo tell Brabantio of his daughter’s secret marriage to Othello, leading to Brabantio organising a mob to accuse and attack Othello.
The play Othello was written in 1603,though the play was set between 1570 and 1573, as evidenced by the ongoing War of Cyprus, described later in the play. Act I Scene I is set in a street in Venice, during night time, as shown by Brabantio’s inability to see clearly later in the Scene. Venice, in the 16th century, was both the cultural and economic hub of Europe. As such, the supposed stability and honour associated with Venice is in contrast to the turmoil that goes on in the first Act. The street setting is significant because it demonstrates Iago’s deceptive and serpentine nature; if Iago really did intend to help Roderigo, then it would seem odd to meet on the streets, rather than inside a building.Additionally, the night time setting further exemplifies this; Iago insists upon meeting under the cover of darkness.
Roderigo is easily manipulated and deceived by Iago. This is shown in numerous ways.Firstly, when Roderigo accuses Iago of deceiving him, Iago begins a long speech, designed to reassure Roderigo of his motives for hating Othello .Roderigo forgets his accusation, and instead interacts with Iago on the subject of Othello. ‘By heaven, I would rather have been his hangman.’ ‘I would not follow him then.’ This shows how Roderigo is easily manipulated. It also showsthe cunning nature of Iago, and his skills as an orator. Iago also says ‘I amnot what I am.’ This represents Iago blatantly telling Roderigo that he is lying to him, and that he is deceptive by nature. This not only demonstrates Iago’s contempt towards Roderigo’s intelligence, but this is also the greatest manifestation of Roderigo’s inability to recognise when he is being deceived. Afailure to recognise such blatant deception most likely suggests that Roderigois used to being deceived. That, therefore, is his hamartia – he is too trustingof others and too easily manipulated. This may result in the audience pitying Roderigo, for he only places such trust in Iago because of his desperate love for Desdemona. For this, he is unjustly manipulated and deceived by Iago.
Iago’s role as the tragic villain is established very early in the play. His very first word is ‘‘Sblood’, a curse word, showing his temper and his poor moral character. He laments over how Othello did not choose him to be his lieutenant,giving Iago one of his multiple motives for hating Othello. Iago tells Roderigo ‘I follow him to serve my term on him’, indicating his malicious intentions. He makes references to the ‘peculiar end’ to which he works, giving the audience an insight into the disastrous conclusion of the play, ending with the death of Othello, Desdemona, and Roderigo. Furthermore, his intense jealousy is shown by how he condemns Michael Cassio – the man who Othello promoted to be his lieutenant – as a ‘bookish theoric’, who ‘never set a squadron in the field’.This jealousy will manifest itself in other ways later on in the play, such as when Iago gets angry when Michael Cassio kisses Iago’s wife, Emilia, in greeting. However, another possible interpretation could be that the audienceis meant to admire Iago for his skills as an orator, and the extent to which hecan persuade people. Additionally, it may be that he is not jealous, but is infact genuinely concerned that Michael Cassio is not suitable for the role dueto his inexperience. This is an interpretation that has less grounding andsupport than the first, though.
Lastly, the audience gains an insight into Iago’s character from this scene in numerous ways. Firstly, whilst Iago initially claims that he hates Othello because he did not promote him, it is evident that his real reason for hating Othello is because Iago is racist. His racial attitude is demonstrated by the many times in this extract when he refers to Othello by his race – ‘the Moor’. Later on in the same scene, Iago refers to Othello as ‘an old black ram’, and ‘the lascivious Moor’. This shows that, to Iago, Othello is defined primarily by his race. His racial prejudice is not limited to only Othello though. He also refers to Michael Cassio as ‘a Florentine’. At the time, Florence had a reputation of being a city of bookkeepers and accountants, which Iago is subscribing to by identifying Cassio by his nationality. The racial attitudes of the time are demonstrated when Roderigo also makes racial comments, referring to Othello as ‘the thicklips’.This shows that racism was commonplace in Venice between 1570 and 1573, and this is the source of Iago and Roderigo’s attitudes. This may make the audiencepity Othello, for he is an innocent victim of racism. However, it is also a possibility that an Elizabethan audience would share Iago and Roderigo’s views, and hold disdain towards Othello for his race. It is likely that, whilst audiences today would pity Othello, an Elizabethan audience would not pity him. Elizabethan England was racist, as shown by how in 1596 – 7 years before Othello was written – Queen Elizabeth I ordered black people to be expelled from the country.
Firstly, in your introduction you should do two things - firstly, briefly describe the extract and what happens in it; secondly, clearly demonstrate your point. In this essay for example, the question is asking you to 'explore the significance' of the extract, so in your introduction you should briefly summarise the 'significance' of this extract i.e. significant because it demonstrates Iago's abilities of manipulation or for 'evil' for the first time, therefore establishing him as a character (as you've explained later in the essay). This generally helps with the structure of the essay, and means that you actually 'answer' the question.
Secondly, in order to boost your marks, I would highly recommend throwing in some 'different interpretations'. You start doing this in your final paragraph when you talk about how an Elizabethan audience (might be Jacobean, actually) would react differently in response to Iago's racism compared with a modern audience. This extract in particular is actually quite difficult to add in different interpretations, but for future reference, adding them in will definitely help you out. I'll give a, not very good, example for a different potential extract - "Within this extract, Desdemona is repeatedly abused and ridiculed by Othello (blah blah). From a feminist perspective, the fact that Desdemona is being treated in such a manner is explicitly 'tragic' when considering that it clearly highlights the patriarchal society the play is set within" etc.
Hope this helps. Slightly rushed, but I hope you can tell where I'm coming from.