Show how Shakespeare sets out the contrasting characters of Othello and Iago in Act 1 of Othello

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Show how Shakespeare sets out the contrasting characters of Othello and Iago in Act 1 of Othello. The characters of Othello and Iago are central to the plot in the play Othello. They are two of the play's main characters, but couldn't be more dissimilar. The ways in which Shakespeare outlines these contrasts in character in Act 1 of the play will be analysed with examples from the text given as evidence of the contrasts. We know Othello is going to be a key figure in the play as it is named after him. However, we meet Iago first. Shakespeare indicates in Act 1 Scene 1 that Iago will also have a significant part to play in the play and in fact a lot about his character is revealed in his opening exchanges with Roderigo and Brabantio. We learn very quickly that he is two-faced in lines 59-65 when he tells us that he is only putting on an act of obedience to serve his own ends, while concealing his true feelings, which are of contempt and dislike of Othello. Shortly after this, we get our first glimpse of Iago's ability to mastermind and engineer plots, while at the same time arousing emotions in others, when he incites Roderigo to wake up Brabantio and destroy his peace.


Mirroring the fact that Iago is two-faced and deceitful is his use of two different types of language in Act 1. Whereas most characters in Shakespeare plays, and Othello in particular, use either poetry or prose as their prominent form of persuasive speech, Iago, although more inclined to prose, uses both, freely moving and interchanging between the two to great effect, as he manipulates various characters throughout the play. Othello, by contrast, follows the common Shakespeare practice of using just one of the two in his speech - poetry - when he is attempting to persuade someone or win someone over. A clear example of this is in Act 1 Scene 3 when the Duke asks Othello to put his case for escaping punishment forward. Othello uses the rhyming form of poetry in lines 77-80 and then iambic pentameter in lines 83-89. Iago, however, does not necessarily need to resort to poetry to persuade others; as shown in the same scene where he manages to win Roderigo over while using prose (this could be seen as patronising to Roderigo!). He does, though, return to poetry when addressing the audience in a soliloquy at the end of the scene, and at the end of it he uses a rhyming couplet to emphasise his satisfaction in his plan ('Hell and night must bring this monstrous birth to the world's light.')


and knowing he is not a great articulator, has to rely repeatedly (somewhat arrogantly?) on his past achievements and services to try and win people over. However, although Othello can appear slightly overconfident and big-headed at times, he never lies or aims to deceive others. In this way, he is hugely opposed to Iago. Once one takes into account all the subliminal and major differences in the characters of Othello and Iago, it is alarming to discover actually to what a large extent they contrast with each other. Vocabulary, type of language used, attitudes to others, honesty and intelligence are all key factors of distinction between Othello and Iago, as previously discussed. Iago is intellectually superior and is a master of language, but is morally inferior to Othello, who is honourable and honest despite being less intelligent and sophisticated than Iago. Othello is not very articulate but is brave and strong and possesses physical superiority; but Iago has the brains and the subtlety required to conceive and engineer major plots and plans; a central difference between the two. Iago is mentally superior whereas Othello is physically superior. Unfortunately for Othello it is the mental side of things where this play is lost and won; and of the two of them, Iago is the winner in the end!

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