Shakespeare’s Othello was first performed by the King’s Men at the court of King James during the Jacobean era (November 1, 1604). The play was written in the course of Shakespeare’s great tragic era, during this time he also had composed other famous plays, some of the likes of; Hamlet (1600), King Lear (1604-5) as well as the renowned Macbeth (1606). The contextual background of Othello is set in the later fragment of the sixteenth century, during the wars between Turkey and Venice. The plot of Othello originated from Giraldi Cinthio’s ‘Gli Hecatommithi’, the focal theme was based on mixed-raced marriages not working. One of the main themes of race in Othello was established from Queen Elizabeth when in 1601 she had issued a decree dismissing all Africans from the country for the compelling jobs. As during the Elizabethan era there was a mixture of cultural experiences which hadn’t formerly been experienced, Shakespeare used this cultural context and had altered the fear into plays of social connotation. In the play Othello he had portrayed the protagonist, a Moorish general who was leading the Venetian society and marries the daughter of Venetian senator, Brabantio. He becomes manipulated by Iago and overtime he learns that his wife has been unfaithful which is false and ends up killing her. In reference to the historical context of race, Othello on numerous occasions is referred to as ‘Moor, an old black ram, the devil, Barbary horse’ and also by Brabantio as ‘foul thief…damned’ as he is accused of using witchcraft for luring his daughter.
Immediately when the play instigates we learn of Iago’s jealousy and resentment towards Othello, the mere reason being that he was not given the position of being ‘the moor’s lieutenant’, which was given to the honourable Cassio of ‘Florentine’. Iago being a long-lasting compatriot of Othello is in disbelief of his final decision, blindly neglecting their friendship and giving this role to an outsider who doesn’t have the equivalent level of experience or passion as Iago. Having ultimately made this verdict to assign Cassio the role in which Iago has been yearning for all these years is the most apparent motive for his hate. His scheming plans to demise Othello seemingly for vengeance is at first ambiguous to some extent, we know of how he wishes to be Othello’s lieutenant, once he does succeed Cassio his greed for more does not end yet. This insatiability for more shows that revenge for not being promoted wasn’t the only reason, he describes Othello as the ‘lusty moor’ and that he had ‘leaped’ into his chosen position. This shows that Iago was beyond doubt discouraged by Cassio’s appointment that he would have brought death to him and the individuals who came in between this too would have been hurt, this shows that there are further, more profound reasons behind Iago’s plot.
Their relationship at first seems to be harmonious and pleasant; however Iago’s plan just steps into place. In Act 1 Scene II the audience witness Roderigo, an accomplice of Iago, slurring Othello’s good nature, Iago uses this opportunity to gain Othello’s trust and confidence as he replies to Roderigo, ‘Nay, but he prated…spoke such scurvy and provoking terms’, Othello seeing Iago support him when he is being slandered, starts to bring them both closer together. Iago’s intelligence is productively used at this point as he is aware of Othello’s high stature and how he is recognised in the Venetian society, he uses this to his benefit as he is aware of the existing insecurities which Othello has and how gullible and naïve he is. Iago makes the most out of this situation in such a way that not a soul could understand his plan right until the end of the play. Iago is unquestionably a man of feat and commitment. Once he comes to a decision about something there is no way back, nevertheless Iago is also contemplative, graceful and seemingly strategically smart on the battleground. However this undaunting determination is successful in conflict and war, this is his breakdown in his regular life and Iago utilises this attribute to breakdown Othello's mentality. Iago is depicted as one of the utmost greatest manipulators in all of Shakespeare’s plays. When Iago deceives Othello and the other characters, they tend to believe him as when he spreads his lies he is very subtle and elusive which makes it acceptable but really convincing.
There is much criticism from Arthur M. Eastman on the grounds of whether Iago was responsible for the downfall Othello, he contradicts this and states that Othello is at fault for his breakdown as he doesn’t believe that Iago was the only influence in his downfall, ‘nothing that is in Iago is absent from Othello, though there is much in Othello of which Iago never dreamed. It would be misleading to say that Iago is an extension of Othello, for Iago is complete in himself. But it may be illuminating to point out that the response of one to the other is immediate, or if not immediate, sure’.
A significant aspect of the play is Iago’s monologues; this is when the audience are able to learn of his intention and how he really feels. The audience becomes aware of Iago’s true goal as his soliloquies shows how powerful and cruel his feelings really are; in Act 2 Scene I his emotive language emphasises this hatred, ‘At least into a jealousy so strong, that judgment cannot cure’, this quotation shows how Iago’s disgust had stemmed from jealousy. The outward dialogue gives the audience a clear and concise insight into Iago’s true appearance, he uses grotesque imagery very well describing how he feels, ‘Though I do hate him as I do hell's pains, yet for necessity of present life’ as well as ‘let her rot, and perish, and be damned to-night’.