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How does the first act of 'Othello' prepare us for the rest of the play?

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Introduction

A2 English Literature Shakespeare's 'Othello' How does the first act of 'Othello' prepare us for the rest of the play? Shakespeare's 'Othello', believed to have been written in 1604, is one of his most popular plays, with a long and successful stage history and was one of the first plays to be performed after the theatres were reopened in 1660. As with all of Shakespeare's other plays, he had various sources of inspiration and transformed them for his own dramatic purposes, 'Othello' being no exception. Whilst his concept of a heroic Moor as the protagonist of a tragedy was an unusual one, Shakespeare set about to explore and challenge the medieval stereotypes of the black man, where they were associated with the devil, lust, sin and death. The plot of 'Othello', whilst inspired by, and closely aligned to, a series of short stories by the Italian writer Giambattista Cinzio Giraldi, 'the Hecatommithi', there are significant differences between this story and Shakespeare's 'Othello'. 'Othello' differs from Shakespeare's other great tragedies, 'Macbeth', 'King Lear', 'Hamlet', in several ways: the action is more concentrated in time, and after the first act (effectively a prologue) has a single location. 'Othello' has no secondary plot which, arguably, can lead to a unique emotional intensity in the play, but also gives problems to the actors in sustaining it. ...read more.

Middle

Structurally, the brief reference to Roderigo's "suit", what he has asked Iago to do for him and is what is to help him win Desdemona's love, leads to Iago's description of Othello and his own disappointment regarding the lieutenancy; this leads to Iago's praise of himself, followed by the rousing of Brabantio, when the two men reach the senator's house. As we have yet to meet Othello and Cassio, we have, at this point, no reason to doubt that Iago's comments on each are substantially true. Modern audiences may know that Iago is evil, but this would not have been so for the Jacobean audience. When we meet the characters Iago refers to, we may judge for ourselves. Where language is concerned in Act I, Scene I, as the audience, we are impressed by the fluency and plausibility of Iago, and the venom of his insults, the eloquence of which contrasts with the stupidity of Roderigo's calling Othello "the thick lips". As Othello will originally have been played by a white actor, such detail must be given verbally, of course. Iago has not exhibited especial interest in Othello's race in his speech to Roderigo (which seems to reflect his own concerns) ...read more.

Conclusion

The directness of the speakers who open Act I Scene III, and the brevity of their remarks, create a sense of bustle and some confusion, which they do well to sort out. This works excellently as a prelude first to the near-raving of Brabantio's fantastic charge of witchcraft, another smear on Othello's background, though the handkerchief he has given Desdemona is alleged to have magical properties, then to Othello's moving account of himself, his courtship and Desdemona's returning of his love. Notably, the speeches are longer, more stately and measured. When Iago speaks it is in prose: this informality is precisely one of the reasons why he is thought "honest" (his speech is not marked by the qualities of public rhetoric which Othello deals in, but he has his own tricks of persuasion, which are no less effective, not least because they pass unnoticed). We should note that when Iago is being genuinely honest (or as near as he ever comes to this), that is, with himself, the "honest" simplicity of prose is dropped: Iago's pentameters are fluent, and sometimes vigorous, usually in the choice of insults, but show his obsession with himself, his enemies and his revenge: there is no trace here of the wonder and generosity which characterize Othello's view of the world, and which we have admired earlier in this scene. Joanna Lowe Mrs Hillyard ...read more.

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