'How does Shakespeare present Iago and Othello in act one?' But an essay no less!
|'How does Shakespeare present Iago and Othello in act one?"
Shakespeare presents the central characters of Othello in various ways, he clearly makes the distinguishing differences between both the characters; Iago and Othello obvious in their personalities throughout Act one. One way Shakespeare presents Iago is as a tragic villain, through his bitterness and resentment towards Othello we are able to see the negative qualities that are brought in to light by his actions. Shakespeare also presents Othello as the tragic hero, or he could even be seen as a false hero due to his misconceptions in the play which ultimately later on lead to his and Desdemona's death. However, in Act one we are shown his heroic characteristics more than anything until his thoughts are misled due to Iago's manipulative influence.
Iago for the most part - if not always, is seen to be the negative character in the novel. He is probably best known to be one of the most sinister characters out of all of Shakespeares literature. In Act One - Scene One, he shows his bitterness and hate for Othello through his use of language and his jealousy of not being chosen to take the position as Lieutenant of Othello’s army. Instead, Othello handed the position to Michael Cassio who is said to be a 'great arithmetician', in retaliation Cassio becomes the first target of Iago's jealousy and resentment. Iago believes the position was rightfully his as he is the ancient and therefore should rightfully obtain the position of Lietenant, however, Othello ignores this and does things his own way favouring Cassio over Iago. Iago is greatly offended, as he believes he is better qualified for the position and that Cassio is nothing in comparison to him 'never set a squadron in the field, nor the division of a battle knows” meaning he has no or little experience of the battle field, which increased his resentment as he believed his right had been snatched away from him.
Iago also has deep suspisions that Othello has 'twixt [his] sheets' and ‘has done [his] office' insinuating that his wife Emelia has been cheating on him with both Cassio and Othello, heightening his anger. He believes Othello has not only taken away his position of power, but is also attempting to steal away his wife increasing his paranoia and hatred for the man. He also desires Desdemona who is close with Cassio and sharing a romance with Othello. The fire to his sexual jealosy burns brighter, as he sees Desdemona as a 'most fresh and delicate creature' but is fully aware Othello has stolen her heart, and that he will never be able to have an influence on her thoughts or mind. This once again, leads to Iago feeling as if Othello has stolen something from him.
Iago is also seen to hold a racist view point of Othello, he constantly refers to him as 'The Moor' which was a derogatory word used for black people. He even goes as far as to say '[he] hate[s] the Moor', hate being a strong word which shows the utter resentment he feels towards him. When criticizing Othello, he mentions him as having 'thick lips' and calls him 'an old black ram'. Bigotry is used a lot as Iago is clearly prejudice to anyone from outside Venice as he does not like or take kindly to foreigners as he believes them to be outsiders and not one of them. This could be a contributing factor as to why Iago showed so much dislike for Othello, as he saw an outsider whom was black and had a higher position than himself to be insulting. Shakespeare has portrayed Iago as being racist, prejudice and malicious in only the first few pages of the play, which makes the audience wonder how he will react towards the negative feelings he is experiencing.
When Othello is first presented to the audience, he is presented in a negative light. It takes the audience a while to grasp whom Iago and Roderigo are even discussing as they constantly refer to him as 'he' and 'him' and 'The Moor' and not by his name. This could suggest that other characters such as Iago and Roderigo have little or no respect for him at all, and could also tell the audience that before they even know who he is, that he is dark skinned due to the name 'The Moor.' Iago talks about how Othello is savage and animalistic through his use of animal imagery, he accuses him of being a thief for 'stealing' Desdemona by force even though that isn't the case. This does not give a good impression to the audience of Othello at first, and Shakespeare has indirectly used Roderigo and Iago's opinions of Othello to show the audience the viewpoint of the other characters. It also allows the audience to get a feel of whether Iago's or other characters judgements can be trusted, but for obvious reasons of how Roderigo and Iago can not hide their resentment and jealousy of Othello it allows the audience to get a feel that in actuality - what they are saying probably isn't true but a stereotypical view point of a foreign black man in that time.
Iago immediately reveals himself as the villian which allows us to automatically feel sympathy for Othello as we get the sense a lot of hardship and tragedy is going to occur for the character and that the play probably won't end well. The audience is also included in Iago's plotting which makes us feel connected with Iago's criminal behaviour, even if we don't want to be - this makes us indirectly feel even more sorrow and sympathy for Othello as we know what Iago's plots are and have a wider perspective but obviously Othello and the other characters do not.
Othello is seen at first to be the victim as he is constantly being led astray by Iago's mnipulative behaviour, he is unaware of Iago's malicious behaviour and does nothing to stop it because of this reason. He falls victim to Iago's plots. He is even portrayed to come off as a bit of a holy figure, or holy force when he is approached by Brabanzio and his men with swords and torches. This is very much alike to when Jesus is approached by soliders to be arrested due to the betrayal of his friend Judas. Iago is like Judas, who is consumed by the thought of profit. Othello also rebukes the violence quickly by saying “Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust ’em” just like Jesus said to Peter “Put up thy sword into the sheath” (John 18:11). So, overall, Othello is far from what Iago describes him to be and Shakespeare battles Iago's opinion with the image of Othello being similar to Christ.
Roderigo and Iago make Othello seem evil through the use of animal imagery such as 'old black ram' and the colour of his skin as he strongly differs from the typical white Venetian. Othello is clearly naive as he is not able to judge people properly claiming that Iago is an 'honest' man when in reality, he is actually severely dishonest. It gives the audience the view that Othello isn't as intelligent as he is cut out to be, and makes the audience feel slightly annoyed at his lack of judgement as it is one of the reasons why Iago is able to get away with plotting his demise. Iago also refers to Othello as a 'Barbary Horse' once again using animal imagery and racism to strip him off his humanity, individualism and identity through his skin colour. Iago hasn't got much else to pick on as Othello is highly respected in the military ranks of Venice.
Shakespeare is trying to overturn the stereotype the black people were evil as black was commonly associated with evil in Elizabeathen England. He does this by allowing the villian to express such indignant racism and by having Othello as the victim and Hero. This would have been new to an Elizabeathen audience and would have possibly confused them however since Iago is constantly referred to as the devil, they wouldn't want to be associated with him at all - including his ideas and opinions on black people. So in short, this may have been an attempt by Shakespeare to overturn the racism.
In conclusion Shakespeare portrays Iago as a man who is far more devious and intelligent than he lets on. In Act 1 he allows his anger and hatred towards the other characters push him to cook up a plan with the wanted result of ending in everyone elses demise. He never bothers to look at the other side of morality or his conscience and instead acts upon the only negative emotions he is feeling. He is clearly motivated by greed and envy, which also gives his emotions a Bibical outlook on the seven deadly sins which leads him to look undoubtably evil and Satanic. He is already portrayed in Act 1 to show representations of the devil which heightens his demonic personality. Iago is constantly contrasted with Othello's character, Iago is seen to be dishonest, unloyal, manipulative and sinister whereas Othello is noble, truthful, naive and very easily led. By the end of Act one we ultimately have a conclusion as an audience that Othello is presented in a heroic light and Iago is presented in a negative light as the villain.