The strongest emotion Shakespeare shows us in Act 1 is Iago’s jealousy of Cassio and Othello
Shakespeare shows a range of intense emotions throughout Act 1. Although the majority are dark, like the jealousy felt by both Iago and Rodrigo, love also heavily features in many different forms. Love is often juxtaposed against the darker feelings, and occasionally the two emotions combine to cause a rage or hatred that is blinded by love, as happens to Rodrigo and Brabantio when they find out that Desdemona has married Othello. Hatred also features strongly throughout the act. There is a constant racial hatred aimed directly at Othello, with racist remarks made in every one of the first three scenes. The final main emotion that Shakespeare shows us is pride. Othello feels a lot of it about himself and Iago’s pride is undeniably damaged when Othello promotes Cassio over him (this is the trigger event that allows all of Iago’s emotions to spiral out of control, but it also gives him the focus to ensure that he destroys Othello). Iago’s loss of pride and hatred of Othello drives his need for revenge and thirst to prove himself (in his own twisted way). However each emotion individually isn’t enough to motivate the characters, it is only once their many emotions are combined that their actions become extreme. The play has an emotional intensity as it has no real secondary plot, as is common in Shakespeare’s plays. So although the jealousy Iago feels is very powerful, it is when all of his emotions act together that they reach their strongest point as they become focused and intensified, as happens to every character.
Iago is one of the most intriguing characters Shakespeare has ever devised; he is also possibly the most villainous (with the obvious exception of Richard 111 who was portrayed by Shakespeare to be entirely evil in order to please Elizabeth 1). Shakespeare is quick to show Iago’s jealousy of Cassio in the first scene, having him complain about Cassio’s promotion and how it should have been his, Iago criticizes the fact that Cassio had ‘never set a squadron in the field, Nor the devision of a battle knows’. However to say that this is the strongest emotion shown in Act 1 would be a serious misjudgement in my view. Although Iago is bitter, the language he uses doesn’t evoke strong emotion, create powerful imagery or use any other of the numerous techniques Shakespeare uses to make an important line or feeling stand out. Iago’s reasons to be jealous of Othello are equally weak. Although he believes that Othello slept with his wife, ‘twixt my sheets He’s done my office’, he isn’t sure. This not only leads him to feel jealous of Othello but angry and more importantly, his pride is hurt. He feels betrayed by his wife and emasculated by Othello. Although you could argue that he is jealous of what Othello has, i.e. a loving relationship, a beautiful wife, a good reputation and an honourable job, the fact remains that Iago never specifically voices any of these reasons during the first act. Indeed he never gives any strong reason for disliking Othello, and the ones that he does give are varied and often dropped in the next scene. The fact that his motives seem to be so weak and vague when his emotions and actions are so strong is what makes him such a volatile and dangerous character.
This is a preview of the whole essay
It is when Iago is speaking about Othello that he shows true emotion. He says things like ‘or else the devil will make a grandsire of you.’ This creates a devilish imagery of Othello (who has not yet been on stage) which would have been lapped up by a Jacobean audience who not only had racist views, but believed in the devil. It also uses more than ten syllables, a technique used by Shakespeare to show an outburst of emotion. However these outbursts aren’t entirely motivated by Iago’s jealousy but also by his hatred of Othello. He says ‘I hate the moor’. Iago’s racist language is not only offensive but it strips Othello of his individuality. Iago does not mention Othello’s achievements or attributes. He and Rodrigo refer to his features, ‘thick lips’, and apply Jacobean stereotypes of black people to when there description, ‘the gross clasps of the lascivious moor’. The crude animal imagery, like ‘you’ll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse’ and ‘an old black ram Is tupping your white ewe’, is very derogatory, dehumanising Othello as well as making Desdemona and Othello’s relationship seem repulsive and unnatural. Interestingly a Jacobean audience would have held racist views and would not have seen any of this as a personal attack of hatred against Othello until they meet the character and realise how eloquent and good natured he is. During the first scene the audience would have been laughing with Iago. It would only be in later scenes that they would become aware of Iago’s bias, and might challenged their own preconceptions about racial prejudice.
One of the strongest emotions that Shakespeare shows during Act 1 is love. It is felt by every main character apart from Iago. Love is such a crucial emotion that it even affects Iago in its absence. Iago has consequently developed misogynistic views (indeed he uses sexist language as flippantly as he does racist language) and the lack of love has isolated Iago to the point where he doesn’t have any real relationships, as they are all faked pretence. However this lack of compassion means that Iago has no conscience to trouble him and no internal battles; he is a true Machiavellian villain. Iago’s name derives from the two faced God Janus, and was obviously picked by Shakespeare to highlight not only his two faced, deceiving ways but also the way Iago plays God during the play, manipulating everyone. Both of these points are shown by the fact that Iago has no constant voice or view throughout the play, switching it to suit his need. He changes regularly between prose and verse. Often Shakespeare uses this switch to show how a character is lowering himself by going from verse to prose. However with Iago it is used to show his deceitful and manipulative lies and attitude to other characters. At the end of act 1 Iago is speaking to Rodrigo in basic prose and then switches to verse once Rodrigo has left. Shakespeare is showing how Iago is cleverly manipulating the situation and Rodrigo’s character.
Iago says, ‘I am not what I am’ to Rodrigo and tells him how he is going to manipulate everybody, yet Rodrigo is naïve and doesn’t realise that he himself is being manipulated. Shakespeare makes Rodrigo childish and foolish, falling for Iago’s tricks as easily as he falls in love with Desdemona. Where with Othello Shakespeare broke the stereotype of a black man, with Rodrigo he stereotypically uses his Venetian heritage. Rodrigo’s costume would be fashionable and flamboyant, as in some ways is his love for Desdemona. You can imagine a director playing with the character, giving him a funny accent or a pompous laugh. Rodrigo’s racist hate for Othello and his love for Desdemona combine when he finds out that they have married. However this doesn’t make his emotions strong, or send him into a rage. Instead it makes him weak and vulnerable; his depressed state making it easy for Iago to take advantage of him.
Iago is not the only character to have strong emotions, Brabantio flies into a furious rage that blurs all reason when he hears of Desdemona’s marriage to a black man. His racial prejudice and love combine to form an anger blinded by love. he charges to the council chamber where in front of the duke he says how his daughter marrying Othello is worse than the impending war. When he confronts Othello he makes derogatory assumptions and accuses Othello of having ‘enchanted her’, of binding Desdemona in ‘chains of magic’. Shakespeare uses hyperbolic language and once again exceeds the ten syllables to a line rule to express Brabantio’s anger to the audience. He uses strong, harsh words like ‘damned’, ‘shunned’ and ‘Abused’ to add impact. He says ‘My daughter! O, my daughter!’ The ‘O’ adds drama and emotion to the scene, an actor would elongate it, making it feel heart wrenched as it shows the characters sense of despair. Brabantio uses exaggerated and extreme language, claiming that Desdemona ‘is abused, stol’n from me, and corrupted’. It is only once Othello speaks, with a contrasting use of language, that the audience truly realises how absurd Brabantio has been.
Othello has intense emotions but speaks using soft, pleasant words. He has a monosyllabic way of speaking that is calming. Othello remains in control throughout the whole scene, never once rising to the racist remarks or abrasive accusations. He starts by saying how he is not a very good speaker, as he is ‘little blessed with the soft phrase of peace’. This is ironic as he has not only expressed himself beautifully; he has done so whilst saying that he can’t. He then continues to give an eloquent speech. Throughout Act 1 he disproves everything that Iago has told the audience. Iago crudely described an animalistic relationship between Othello and Desdemona. Othello on the other hand always speaks respectfully of his wife. It is obvious from Othello’s gentle manner and beautiful, calm language that he is in love; he even shares a line with Desdemona showing just how in tune with each other they are.
Act 1 introduces the world of Othello at a point of high emotional tension for the majority of the characters. The play begins at night, which symbolises to the audience that a day had already passed, and that events had already unfolded (e.g. Desdemona and Othello’s wedding, Iago’s developing hatred). It also sets a dark feeling to the play, which is replicated in the characters emotions (pathetic fallacy). However at this point the characters are still in the security of Venice, which at the time was a well established city with a fantastic legal system. Shakespeare uses Venice to symbolise stability for the characters and their emotions. We quickly learn that the characters are moving to Cyprus, a place associated with war and therefore instability and chaos, this therefore foreshadows the chaos that is about to come. Brabantio is also used to foreshadow Othello’s impending doom, saying ‘Look to her (desdamona), moor, if thou has eyes to see:
She had deceived her farther and may thee.’ This is the first Rhyming couplet of the play as Shakespeare is trying to make it stand out to the audience. This and the constant dramatic irony of every one calling Iago ‘honest’ is Shakespeare using the audience’s knowledge to build dramatic tension on stage.
During Act 1 Shakespeare shows a range of intense emotions that he often interlinks for maximum effect. Characters like Rodrigo and Brabantio get a mix of contrasting emotions. It could be suggested, as Brabantio is a politician, and suddenly goes into a mad rage, that this combination makes them act out of character. However this would also suggest that it would only have a direct affect for a short amount of time. Iago’s character is clearly driven by a combination of negative emotions, his hate and damaged pride being just as powerfully portrayed as his jealousy of Cassio and Othello. In contrast love stands out as a truly good emotion. At this point in the play love has consumed Othello just as much as hate, jealousy and pride has consumed Iago. This means that Iago’s jealousy is not the strongest emotion Shakespeare shows us in Act 1. Instead it is love. Iago lacks it, and it is this that allows the bad emotions to take over as well as the reason he can plot to destroy without any distractions from his conscience. It is also Othello’s love for Desdemona that by itself can rival the strength of every single one of Iagos emotions.