Discuss the dramatic impact of Act 1 Scene 3 and its importance to the whole play

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Md. Dalim Chowdhury 11Q


Discuss the dramatic impact of Act 1 Scene 3 and its importance to the whole play

Othello is a tragic play by Shakespeare, set in Venice during the Elizabethan time. It portrays the growth of unjustified jealousy in the noble protagonist, Othello, a Moor serving as a general in the Venetian army. The innocent object of his jealousy is his wife, Desdemona. In this domestic tragedy, Othello’s evil lieutenant Iago draws him into mistaken jealousy in order to ruin him. Othello is destroyed partly through his gullibility and willingness to trust Iago and partly through the manipulations of this villain, who clearly enjoys the exercise of evildoing just as he hates the spectacle of goodness and happiness around him. At the end of the play, Othello comes to understand his terrible error; but as always in tragedy, that knowledge comes too late and he dies by his own hand in atonement for his error. In his final act of self-destruction, he becomes again and for a final time the defender of Venice and Venetian values.

During the Shakespeare time, there was no electricity and therefore, the special effects that ‘invigorate’ up of a scene and which we take for granted these days, was not possible to do. This ‘invigorating’ up a scene attracts the audience’s attention, which was very crucial for Shakespeare to embark on as his theatre was open, which meant that his audience could come and go as they pleased. So in order to refrain them from leaving and to enchant their interest, Shakespeare had to include something important and dramatic in every scene, which would grab and retain the audiences attention and also build up a scene of suspense. Therefore Shakespeare, in act 1 scene 3 commence with these stage directions:

“Enter Duke and senators, set a table with lights, and attendants”

This immediately notifies the audience that if it is night time and introduces the theme of dark and light, where dark symbolizes bad or evil and light symbolizes good and innocent. The main action that occurs at the beginning of this scene is the meeting between the Duke and the senators of Venice, in the council chambers. Council meetings are usually held during the day; but the fact that it is night time now, makes the audience think that the topic of this meeting is so important that the council members cannot wait till it is morning to discuss it. This strategy used by Shakespeare motivates the audience to focus on the scene.

The purpose of this meeting is to decide the future of one of the Venetian colonies, Cyprus. Cyprus is a trading island, where merchants from all over the world come to trade and therefore Cyprus has become the target of the Turkish fleet to conquer, as Turkey has an interest in Cyprus’s wealth in this meeting. It is to be decided what the Venetian’s will do to protect their colony from the imminent attack of the Turkish fleet. The Turks are non-Christians and therefore considered to be malevolent during the era, and anybody who’s not white and a Christian, were always associated with evil. Shakespeare subtly introduces the theme of racial discrimination on the grounds of religiously.  

The council members are in a predicament as to what to do, as each member have a different report of the size of the Turkish fleet and also its destination. The first senator’s report says that there are:

“My letter says a hundred and seven galleys”.

The second senator’s report states that there are:

“And mine, two hundred”,

And the Duke’s report states that there are:

“A hundred and forty galleys”.

They also are not sure about the destination of the Turkish flotilla, as some of them believe that they might be heading for Rhodes and not Cyprus. This creates the theme of confusion and forms suspense, as the audience will want to know the actual number of galleys in the Turkish fleet. This theme of confusion is carried all throughout the play, as Iago confuses Othello about the doings of his trustworthy wife, Desdemona and his good friend and lieutenant Cassio by poisoning his mind.  

When Brabantio, Cassio, Iago, Othello, Roderigo and the officers enter the stage, it attracts the audience attention immediately because all the male characters of the play are present at the same time and same place, also there is a dramatic irony taking place.

By placing the key characters on the stage at the same time it is obvious to the audience that something ‘big’ is about to occur and will be very significant to the outcome of the play. This would keep the audience interested in the play, something that was really hard in those days.

The audience know that Brabantio has bought Othello to the Duke because of Othello’s secret marriage to Brabantio’s daughter, Desdemona.

Brabantio is really angry about the marriage but the senators don’t know this. Therefore, when they meet on the stage, the audience is feeling really excited because they would want to know how the duke responds. Brabantio is always referred by his name because he has a lot of respect due to the wealth he has. Almost every single time Othello is called by the racist term “the moor”. But when they enter the sagitary the duke is one of the first people that call him by his name:

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“Valiant Othello”

Here the duke had used the powerful adjective ‘Valiant’, which indicates that he is brave, strong and honourable and consequently praises Othello’s abilities in war. This also shows that the duke has a high opinion of Othello. The duke talks to Brabantio in a respectful way by saying:

“Welcome, gentle signor”

This shows us that the duke speaks to both Brabantio and Othello in a very respectful way. On the other hand, there is also a lot of evidence showing that Venice is a racist society for example in act 1, scene 1 when ...

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