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An analytical commentary on Othello; Act 1 Scene 1 Lines 42-66 [I i 42-66]

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Introduction

IB English Othello An analytical commentary on Othello; Act 1 Scene 1 Lines 42-66 [I i 42-66] Act 1 is an exceptionally indicative passage of writing in which Shakespeare attempts to divulge the coarse essence of Iago's nature to the audience. Indeed, by the conclusion of line 66 the audience not only understands - in broad terms - Iago's motives and grievances, but also something of the manner in which he intends to consummate vengeance against his ostensible antagonists. Iago's interactions with Roderigo also serve to adumbrate, or perhaps anticipate, his adroit manipulation of those under his sphere of influence throughout the text. It is a credit to Shakespeare's astuteness that he is able to present the crucial circumstances of the play well before the end of the first act. During the formative stages of Act 1, Iago's argument with Roderigo provides a context for both men's grievances. Initially Roderigo accuses Iago of cheating him, of using his money 'as if the strings [of his purse] were [his]' (I i 3), and only later is Roderigo's obsession with Desdemona (and subsequent dislike of Othello) revealed. Iago uses unambiguous language to describe his grievances, essentially asserting that he was entitled to gain the promotion gifted to Cassio - 'the bookish theoric' - through an act of cronyism whereby Iago had been unjustly overlooked by the corrupt system of promotion whereby 'Preferment goes by letter and affection' (I i 36). ...read more.

Middle

He explicates the rudiments of his plan to Roderigo, asserting that 'In following [Othello], [he] follow[s] but [him]self' - that his service to Othello is only a means by which Iago is to secure his own ends. Essentially he attempts to convey a notion of self-serving ambition; that he, Iago, is willing to '[throw] shows of service on [his] lord', but that to genuinely subjugate himself to any master would be to demean his very soul2. Indeed, Iago issues an acerbic malediction of subjugates and servants, describing their 'obsequious bondage' and sad dependence on subsistence wages3 in the most contemptuous and scornful manner, savagely ejaculating 'whip me such honest knaves'! In this way, the oration itself takes steps toward establishing the essence of Iago's character, his disdainful condemnation of servitude, inaction and lack of ambition serving to exemplify and rationalise his feelings of superiority throughout the text. However, Iago continues to define a second and (in his way of thinking) more honourable or intelligent type of servant. While this 'knee-crooking knave ... wears out his time' in his grovelling service', there are others who 'Do themselves homage' by keeping 'their hearts attending on themselves' and, as has already been suggested, putting up only a fa´┐Żade of service. Iago goes so far as to say that although 'We cannot all be masters,' that not all masters should ever 'be truly followed' and implies a certain nobility in serving oneself. ...read more.

Conclusion

Here Iago is attempting to convey that if his true inclinations were known, it would leave him dangerously vulnerable, and that common sense should preclude any notion of disclosure or sincerity. This statement proves to be a sad truism, since Desdemona, Cassio and Othello are all sincere creatures, and Iago is able to consistently use that fact to his advantage to cause Othello's downfall. So Iago proves his own case for the virtues of insincerity and the dangers of honesty, and thereby concludes with the line 'I am not what I am.' This declaration epitomises the character of Iago, being a statement that describes not only his present state, but serves to describe his way of being. Everything Iago does is false, directed toward achieving his own ends. Even during his declaration his interlocutor, Roderigo, is being subjected to Iago's falsity, scorn and utter disdain. While he explicates his detestation of abject servitude, he holds the same silent contempt for Roderigo himself, whom he sees as an idiotic and subservient human being. It is, then, ironic that the only person with whom he shares his contempt for the grovelling servant, is one of his own. Chris Bolton 1 Used in Oxford's first sense: "the expression of meaning through the use of language which normally signifies the opposite" where Iago's literal suggestions are diametrically converse to their intended effect as demonstrated by his confessional soliloquy's 2 ' These fellows have some soul,' (I,i,54) 3 'For nought but provender' (I,i,48) ...read more.

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