Hello again! Your homework this week is to read Act I of Othello, watch my videotaped lectures below, and then post a comment about the assigned reading at the bottom of this page. The speeches that I refer to in my lectures are printed below each video. At the bottom of this page, below all of the videos, I give you some simple study questions to help you formulate a post. The study questions follow up on things I say in my lectures, so you may want to watch the videos first. Leave your post in the comments section at the bottom of this page.
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Noteworthy speeches in Othello I.1-2: Iago's first words, 1.1.4: 'Sblood, but you'll not hear me! If ever I did dream of such a matter, Abhor me. Iago continues, 1.1.8: Despise me if I do not. Three great ones of the city, In personal suit to make me his lieutenant, Off-capped to him; and, by the faith of man, I know my price; I am worth no worse a place. But he, as loving his own pride and purposes, Evades them, with a bombast circumstance Horribly stuffed with epithets of war, Nonsuits my mediators; for, "Certes," says he, "I have already chose my officer." And what was he? Forsooth, a great arithmetician, One Michael Cassio, a Florentine (A fellow almost damned in a fair wife) That never set a squadron in the field, Nor the division of a battle knows More than a spinster, unless the bookish theoric, As masterly as he. Mere prattle without practice Is all his soldiership. But he, sir, had th'election; And I (of whom his eyes had seen the proof) At Rhodes, at Cyprus, and on other grounds Christened and heathen) must be beleed and calmed By debitor and creditor. This countercaster, He, in good time, must his lieutenant be, And I--God bless the mark!--his Moorship's ancient. Iago's "bad guy" speech, 1.1.40: O, sir, content you; I follow him to serve my turn upon him. We cannot all be masters, nor all masters Cannot be truly followed. You shall mark Many a duteous and knee-crooking knave That, doting on his own obsequious bondage, Wears out his time, much like his master's ass, or nought but provender, and when he's old, cashiered. Whip me such honest knaves! Others there are Who, trimmed in forms and visages of duty, Keep yet their hearts attending on themselves, And, throwing but shows of service on their lords, Do well thrive by them, and when they have lined their coats, Do themselves homage. These fellows have some soul, And such a one do I profess myself. For, sir, It is as sure as you are Roderigo, Were I the Moor, I would not be Iago. In following him, I follow but myself. Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty, But seeming so, for my peculiar end, For when my outward action doth demonstrate The native act and figure of my heart In complement extern, 'tis not long after But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve For daws to peck at. I am not what I am. Othello's first speech, 1.2.17: Let him do his spite. My services which I have done the signory Shall out-tongue his complaints. 'Tis yet to know -- Which, when I know that boasting is an honor, I shall promulgate -- I fetch my life and being From men of royal siege, and my demerits May speak unbonneted to as proud a fortune As this that I have reached. For know, Iago, But that I love the gentle Desdemona, I would not my unhoused free condition Put into circumscription and confine For the sea's worth. But look, what lights come yond? Brabantio thinks Othello has used witchcraft to steal his daughter, 1.2.62: O thou foul thief, where hast thou stowed my daughter? Damned as thou art, thou hast enchanted her! For I'll refer me to all things of sense, If she in chains of magic were not bound, Whether a maid so tender, fair, and happy, So opposite to marriage that she shunned The wealthy curled darlings of our nation, Would ever have, t'incur a general mock, Run from her guardage to the sooty bosom Of such a thing as thou -- to fear, not to delight, Judge me the world if 'tis not gross in sense That thou hast practiced on her with foul charms, Abused her delicate youth with drugs or minerals That weakens motion. I'll have't disputed on; 'Tis probable, and palpable to thinking. I therefore apprehend and do attach thee For an abuser of the world, a practicer Of arts inhibited and out of warrant. Lay hold upon him. If he do resist, Subdue him at his peril.
Noteworthy speeches is Othello I.3: Othello on his and Desdemona's courtship, 1.3.128: Her father loved me, oft invited me, Still questioned me the story of my life From year to year -- the battles, the sieges, fortunes That I have passed. I ran it through, even from my boyish days To th' very moment that he bade me tell it. Wherein I spoke of most disastrous chances, Of moving accidents by flood and field; Of hairbreadth scapes i' th' imminent deadly breach; Of being taken by the insolent foe And sold to slavery. Of my redemption thence And portance in my traveler's history, Wherein of anters vast and deserts idle, Rough quarries, rocks, and hills whose heads touch heaven, It was my hint to speak -- such was my process; And of the cannibals that each other eat, The anthropoqhagi, and men whose heads Do grow beneath their shoulders. These things to hear Would Desdemona seriously incline; But still the house affairs would draw her thence, Which ever as she could with haste dispatch, She'd come again, and with a greedy ear Devour up my discourse. Which I observing, Took once a pliant hour, and found good means To draw from her a prayer of earnest heart That I would all my pilgrimage dilate, Whereof by parcels she had something heard, But not intentively. I did consent, And often did beguile her of her tears When I did speak of some distressful stroke That my youth suffered. My story being done, She gave me for my pains a world of kisses. She swore in faith 'twas strage, 'twas passing strange; 'Twas pitiful, 'twas wondrous pitiful. She wished she had not heard it, yet she wished That heaven had made her such a man. She thanked me, And bade me, if I had a friend that loved her, I should but teach him how to tell my story, And that would woo her. Upon this hint I spake. She loved me for the dangers I had passed, And I loved her that she did pity them. This ony is the witchcraft I have used. Here comes the lady. Let her witness it. Iago's soliloquy ends the act, 1.1.375: Thus do I ever make my fool my purse; For I mine own gained knowledge should profane If I would time expend with such a snipe But for my sport and profit. I hate the Moor, And it is thought abroad that 'twixt my sheets H'as done my office. I know not if't be true, But I, for mere suspicion in that kind, Will do as if for surety. He holds me well; The better shall my purpose work on him. Cassio's a proper man. Let me see now: To get his place, and to plume up my will In double knavery -- How, how? -- Let's see: -- After some time, to abuse Othello's ears That he is too familiar with his wife. He hath a person and a smooth dispose To be suspected -- framed to make women false. The Moor is of a free and open nature That thinks men honest that but seem to be so; And will as tenderly be led by th' nose As asses are. I have't! It is engendered! Hell and night Must bring this monstrous birth to the world's light.
Write a comment on Othello Act 1 and post it in the comments section below. Be sure to quote the text of the play at least once in your post. Consider answering any of the following study questions:
1.) How does Shakespeare use language (that is, the way a character speaks, including his/her vocabulary, meter, verbal logic, verbal mannerisms, etc.) to depict a character’s personality or otherwise tell us what we need to know about him/her? Discuss any specific example.
2.) How does Shakespeare depict Othello’s marginality? You might consider aspects of his racial difference, his foreignness, or other ways in which he is different.
3.) I’ve emphasized that comedy and tragedy are closely intertwined. Even though Othello is a tragedy, in what ways does this play resemble a comedy in Act 1? (Hint: you may draw on your knowledge of comedy from The Merchant of Venice.)
4.) Compare and contrast the Venice of Othello and the Venice of The Merchant of Venice. What sort of environment is it?
5.) What difference does it make that Iago eclipses Othello as the main character of Act 1? Why do you think Shakespeare might have made this artistic choice?
29 thoughts on “Week 6 (Spring ’21): Act 1”
Shakespeare initially introduces Othello’s marginality by having him be spoken about and not seen. He is described by Roderigo and Iago as a violent and sex driven foreigner who is capable of rape. Roderigo calls him the racist term “thick lips” and Iago describes him raping Desdemona to her father by saying “Even now, now, very now, an old black ram Is tupping your white ewe” and “you’ll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse.” After hearing these horrid things being said about Othello and his race, Shakespeare turns the tables on his reader by finally showing in Act 1, Scene 2 Othello as a peaceful and trustworthy man. He uses his race as a “don’t judge a book by its cover” type of lesson and also discredits Iago and Roderigo who are judging Othello based on his race and cannot see past it.
1. (Iago and Othello) At the beginning of the play, Iago is portrayed as the villain/main antagonist. It is later established at the end of Act 1 that Iago plans his revenge against Othello (the Moor) by having him abandon his wife, Desdemona. Iago is confident he will succeed because he claims he and Othello have a well-established relationship (line 433) and that Othello is easily influenced (line 442).
Act 1, Scene 3 (410-411, 429, 432-434, 438-439, 441-442):
Let us be conjunctive in our revenge against him.
I hate the Moor.
But I, for mere suspicion in that kind,
Will do as if for surety. He holds me well.
The better shall my purpose work on him.
After some time, to abuse Othello’s
That he is too familiar with his wife.
To be suspected, framed to make women false.
The Moor is of a free and open nature.
#4) In my opinion, Venice in Othello, is very different from Venice in The Merchant of Venice. In The Merchant of Venice, Venice is very run down and there are sections that the Christians live in and sections that the Jews live in. Many of the Christian people that live in Venice have loads of money and dress in expensive clothing. But, I see Venice in Othello to be quite different. In my opinion, I see all different kinds of social classes coexisting with each other. There are rich people, poor, and middle class people living here. I also picture there to be soldiers roaming the streets often, creating a lively vibe. I think that there are bursts of energy in the streets when soldiers come marching in or when news comes in about the war. I believe that the environments are different because one play is a comedy and the other is a tragedy. But, there are also different themes running through each play as well as different historical events happening.
Shakespeare’s play Othello, although described as a tragedy opens with dialogue that is characteristic of a comedy. In the Merchant of Venice which is considered a comedy, Shakespeare’s characters were able to be made fun of no matter how distastefully because they were “worse off” either morally or financially than the audience. The same can be seen in Othello. The characters of Iago and Othello are significantly more deficient than the audience in morality and status. At this time, the majority, if not all audience members would have been white, therefore making it more difficult for them to sympathize with Othello while also giving them feelings of superiority over him, making it easier to make fun of him. The audience is also given this sense of moral superiority when it comes to Iago who’s main character trait thus far is being ruthless and evil. In Act one, scene one Iago’s nature is exemplified by his statement “ Rouse him, make after him, poison his delight…and though he in a fertile climate dwell, plague him with flies.” Since nobody in the audience is this morally cold hearted, they are able to make fun of him. In this way, the play acts more like a comedy rather than a tragedy.
Shakespeare uses a different language in Othello when Iago is speaking. Being that Iago is the villain of the play we see that he speaks in a different tone compared to the other characters. He frequently uses insults and curse words when speaking to other characters. For example, when Roderigo and Iago go to talk to Brabantio, Roderigo talks in a polite tone and is very respectful. Iago on the other hand shouts at Brabantio in a rude way and says some not too favorable things. When Shakespeare does this we see what kind of character and the traits Iago has and his true colors really show. After a scene like this we can see that Shakespeare uses a different language to show that Iago is the true villain in this play.
In the plays Othello and The Merchant of Venice, Venice appears very differently. In The Merchant of Venice, Venice there is a division in where the Jews and Christians reside. There a section for both of them. The Christians were often people with money. In Othello, there is not only two social classes but a whole bunch. We have low class, middle class, rich people, the poor etc.
I think that the decision to make Iago the main character over Othello in Act 1 reflects Shakespeare’s choice to put the audience members in the shoes of Iago in order to truly understand his intentions. If Othello was considered the main character of the first act, we wouldn’t fully comprehend Iago’s thought process and therefore his actions may not seem to make as much sense. We can clearly see that he is the villain of the story just when it comes to how aggressive he acts and how he speaks about Othello.
I think that Iago eclipsing Othello as the main character in Act 1 is Shakespeare’s way of introducing him and setting the tone of him as the villain of the play. Iago is mentioned right from the beginning of the play, while we do not see Othello until the end of Act 1. Iago mentions Othello numerous times but never calls him by name. I think Shakespeare does this so that the audience forms negative opinions of Othello since all they know about him is what Iago has said about him. I also think Iago’s main presence in Act 1 is to show how manipulating he is and how he easily manipulates the others around him.
A quote that shows how Iago speaks negatively about Othello is from Act I, Scene 1, Lines 35-37, “Now, sir, be judge yourself, / Whether I in any just term am affined / To love the Moor.” In this quote, Iago refers to Othello as a Moor, in a derogatory manner.
Shakespeare’s tragic play, Othello, begins in Act 1 seeming to be similar to a comedy. The play is similar to a comedy as it introduces the audience to flawed characters. During Shakespeare’s time, people of wealth went to watch his plays and laugh at his comedies which usually consists of characters that the audience can view as inferior. Unlike the Merchant of Venice, the characters introduced in Act 1 of Othello are of a higher social class. Though, every character seems to display flaws such as Othello’s race, Iago’s envy, Roderigo’s gullibility, and Brabantio’s brash behavior. Brabantio in particular is a clown character archetype like Launcelot from the Merchant of Venice. For example Brabantio exclaims, “Damned as thou art, thou hast enchanted her!” (1.1, 82). He is accusing Othello of casting a spell on his daughter to kidnap her. Brabantio’s statement is disproven in Act 1 scene 3 when Desdemona explains why she loves Othello. Thus, Brabantio looks like a fool as he accused someone of practicing magic and not knowing his own daughter. Brabantio’s behavior is one of the many reasons why Othello begins similar to a comedy.
I believe there are more similarities between the Venice of Othello and the Venice of The Merchant of Venice than differences. Both Venice’s are presented as huge bustling cities where something is always happening, whether that be commerce, prostitution, or war with soldiers marching down the streets. No matter how many unique ways Shakespeare can attempt to differentiate the two Venice’s, at their core they are both an enormous city that cannot be mistaken for anything else, such as the rural countryside. A quote from Brabantio is very fitting here, in which he says “This is Venice. My house is not a grange.” (I.i.119).
Both Venice’s are presented as very multicultural and diverse cities for their time; it makes sense that Shakespeare would not change this feature as it is historically accurate. In the Merchant of Venice, Venice’s diversity of religion is highlighted with the character Shylock, while in Othello, it is diversity of race that is the primary focus with the main character of Othello. Both also show a diversity of social classes among the people of Venice and underscore the differences between the opportunities higher and lower social classes have.
However, there are some differences too. The Venice in the Merchant of Venice is a city within a comedic play, and the city seems to be more lively. Meanwhile, the Venice of Othello is set within a tragic play and thus can seem more gloomy, especially with its focus on constant war and death. Furthermore, the Venice in Merchant of Venice focuses more on the political and court structures of Venice, as it is important to the plot, while the Venice in Othello focuses on the military structure and chain of command of Venice, as that is what is more important for Othello’s plot.
(It didn’t let me italicize the play titles)
Venice in Othello and Venice in The Merchant of Venice do have some diffrences. In the Merchant of venice it was easly seen that there was a speration between 2 main religions. The Christians and Jews. and they had there own districts. Also there was a large gap between the wealthy and poor. In the Merchant of vennice it was eaither you were wealthy or you had no money at all, no middle class seemed to exist. So there was welathy homes and rundown homes and that was pretty much it. While in Othello on the other hand there seems to be more social classes wich exist, such as rich, poor and middel class. Of course Othello is more of a play based on Tragedy while Merchant of vennice was based on a comedy but even in the merchant of vennice some tragedy was meant to be comedy as shakespere wrote his comedy kind of like dark humor.
In Act 1 scene 1 Iago’s character voices a lot of what marginalizes Othello. In one of his lines he comments on Othello’s skin color through the usage of a metaphor –
“Even now, now, very now, an old black ram
Is topping your white ewe”
This not only is a comment on his skin color, but also a reference to how he views Othello’s morality. A black ram is symbolic of the devil, and even in the line following the one above he says
Awake the snorting citizens with the bell,
Or else the devil will make a grandsire of you”
Iago claims that Othello is tainting the purity of Brabantio’s daughter, represented by a white ewe which is often used as a symbol of innocence in Biblical terms. He says that if Brabantio isn’t careful Othello will rape his daughter and essentially she will birth the antichrist.
One example of where Shakespeare uses language to depict a characters personality is in the first scene of act I. In this scene Iago is talking with Roderigo and says “O, sir, content you. I follow him to serve my turn upon him. We cannot all be masters, nor all masters cannot be truly followed. (act I, scene I, lines 44-47). Iago is showing how manipulative he truly is. His plan is to get close to the Moor in order to betray him and ruin his reputation, because he feels as though he should’ve been promoted to lieutenant and not Cassio who he believes is unfit for the job.
The Merchant of Venice and Othello have similarities and differences.
One similarity is that Shylock and Iago are almost the same people. They want to seek revenge on those that have done them wrong. One difference is that The Merchant of Venice is a comedy and Othello is a tragedy. With that being said, I think that has a lot to do with their environment since they are different based on those aspects.
The difference between these two plays is that Othello is described as a tragedy but the Merchant of Venice is known as a comedy. The reason for the comedy was based on making fun of someone who is not Christian or poor. In Act 1 Sence 1 “O thou foul thief, where hast thou stowed my daughter? Damned as thou art, thou hast enchanted her.” But in Othello, it is based on a higher social class. Shakespeare shows the flaws that the characters have which we can’t see that in The Merchant of Venice unless we analyze the play.
In the first act of Shakespeare’s Othello, Othello is marginalized due to his race. Constantly throughout the act he is referred to as “Moor” as opposed to his name. This is especially noticeable when those that dislike him speak of him; however, even those that respect him, such as the Duke, also refer to him as “Moor.” He is also marginalized by Brabantio with him assuming that Othello partakes in witchcraft, which is his explanation for how Othello could possibly win over Desdamona.
3. Even though Othello is a tragedy, Shakespeare starts Othello off as resembling a comedy. He does this by the language that the characters speak. Brabantio’s language when he finds out that Desdemona has run off and married Othello is over the top for a tragedy. “It is too true an evil. Gone she is, and what’s yet to come of my despised time is naught but bitterness.-Now, Roderigo, where didst thou see her?-O, unhappy girl!-With the Moor, sayst thou?-Who would be a father?-How didst thou know ’twas she?-O, she deceives me past thought!-What said she to you?-Get more tapers. Raise all my kindred.-Are they married, think you?” (1.1, 178-189). He is all over the place with his thoughts much like Viola is during the ring speech in Twelfth Night. When I read this line, I could imagine the actor playing Brabantio changing directions as he paces on each new thought that pops into his head.
In the Merchant of Venice the difference of being rich and poor was shown by where you lived. If you lived in Venice that was made out to be more of the slums than a nice area. The way Belmont was made out was a nice area where the rich live. In Othello it seems like the rich and poor are among each other. Rodrigo is rich but so is Desdemona and her family. They are all in Venice unlike in the Merchant of Venice. Another difference between Othello and the Merchant of Venice is when villain is introduce into the play. Iago is introduced immediately while Shylock has a dramatic entrance into the play.
2. Shakespeare tries to depict the marginalization of Othello from the rest of the characters throughout the first act not only to his face, but also behind his back, because of him looking physically different from typical people in Venecian Society. For example, Iago is speaking to Brabantio about Othello’s relationship with Desdemona and refers to Othello as his skin color and as an animal to further incite his racially driven prejudices.
Iago says to Brabantio (Act 1, Scene I, Lines 87-91)
Zounds, sir, y’are 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.
Shakespeare introduces the villain, Iago, in the very beginning of the play. Iago first speech in Act 1 says, ” ‘sblood, but you’ll not hear of me! If ever I did dream of such a matter, abhor me.” shows that he speaks in profanity. Also, he uses offensive statements that are negotiating. In your second video you explained how Iago’s speeches show that he is a negative person and is a clever speaker. Lastly, throughout the first Act, Iago comes off as a trouble maker and two faced because in the first scene he is all about going after Othello with Roderigo kind of forming the jealousy that angers Roderigo. In the second scene you have Iago engaging conversations with Othello.
The difference between “The Merchant of Venice” and “Othello” in terms of scenery would be that the MOV had a more light induced scenery while we start Othello off with darkness. Also, while both stories take place in Venice, the MOV seemed more lively than Othello. And then while both deal with people of a higher class, to me Othello seems to be sort of duller than the MOV when it comes down to that regard.
1) In Act 1, Iago’s personality was shown. In the beginning of the act, Iago talks about how he hates Othello, because Othello was given the better position of Moor. Also, he is jealous that Cassio was given the Lieutenant position. Iago states, “I follow him to serve my turn upon him” (1, 1, 46). He is saying how he continues to serve under these people to get revenge and take advantage of them. Iago also thinks that Othello slept with his wife so he comes up with a plan to manipulating Othello to believe that Cassio is intimate with Desdemona, his wife.
4)The environment in the Venice of Othello and the Venice of The Merchant of Venice is very dependent on the use of ships in war/trade. Both plays start off by discussing ships out at sea and the importance of the the return of these ships.
The environment and feeling of Venice in the Merchant of Venice compared to Othello is very different. In the Merchant of Venice, Venice has groups of people segregated based off of religious beliefs and economic status. It also is not a very upbeat place and is not somewhere people enjoy being. In Othello, Venice has all people of different groups and economic status involved with each other, meaning they are coexisting. Venice is also a place that people enjoy being in this play.
To have the main character of a play called ‘Othello’ not be the title character in question is extremely bold. Iago is indisputably the main character of the play. Swearing his revenge against Othello, his tenacity and ambition and pure evil are extremely palpable. Othello isn’t even present for the majority of the first act, which is odd. Iago certainly steals the spotlight and is presented as a person to be feared and one who commands attention.
But I, for mere suspicion in that kind,
Will do as if for surety. He holds me well.
The better shall my purpose work on him. (432-434)
For the language that Shakespeare uses to describe a character is very intense and obvious to tell how a character acts or feels. For example, right in the beginning of Act 1 when Iago is introduced he curses out Roderigo within the first few lines of the entire play. Iago exclaims, “‘Sblood, but you’ll not hear me! If ever I did dream of such a matter, abhor me”(1.1.4-5). He starts off by saying that he should have gotten the role to be in charge instead of being second in command, Shakespeare uses the language to show that Iago is a furious and proud man who thinks that he is worth more than being second in command.
The differences that I noticed in Othello and The Merchant of Venice are that there is a religious difference in Venice’s Merchant; it’s between the Jews and the Christians, Anti- Semitism vs. Semitism. Also, in the Merchant of Venice, economic welfare is portrayed difference; Venice represents the rich and the wealthy, while in Venice in Othello is that there is a mix of social classes living there.
I feel as though in Act 1 Iago eclipses Othello as the main character because understanding him is key to understanding the entire play. Iago is consumed with hatred and envy, he is jealous of Cassio for obtaining the Lieutenant position over him, jealous of Othello because he believes Othello slept with his wife and jealous of Othello’s position. Iago is also happy to ruin others happiness. A lot of his characteristics makes him out to be a villain. Iago is the main character because the story is told from his perspective and he seems to be the one who tells us/ the audience the story.
To depict Othello’s marginality, Shakespeare did not introduce Othello into Act I until the beginning of scene II. This gave us a look as to what Brabantio, Iago, and Roderigo think about Othello behind his back. They make comments about his race, particularly about his violence and sexual activity. The line that stood out the most to me was Act I, Scene I, 94-101: “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!” In this scene Iago and Roderigo inform Brabantio about sexual activity that Othello and his daughter are participating in. They talk about how Othello is stealer her away from Brabantio and how he will make him a grandfather. This shows how much predisposed hate that they have toward Othello just because of his appearance.