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Othello Act 1: Themes of Racism, Jealousy, Deception and Love Related to Iago and Rodrigo

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Shakespeare begins his play in an open street in Venice in which a quarrel occurs between Iago, the mischievous and manipulative man and Roderigo, a rich nobleman capable of believing anything told by Iago, immediately it introduces the idea of the private becoming public when an argument occurs in an open street during the night where anyone can listen to the exchange of words. It becomes apparent to the audience that the argument is based on a man named Othello; audiences learn that Iago’s hatred for him was initiated when he chose Cassio, a man from Florence for the promotion instead of Iago in which it becomes clear of Iago’s repulsive and cunning character. Roderigo on the other hand despises Othello due to him being married to Roderigo’s love, desdemona, a woman faithful to Othello who betrays her own father for her husband.

Throughout the play, Othello is being constantly dehumanized and objectified simply down to his race, his occupation and class fails to be mentioned when in conversation with other characters. Iago refers to animals frequently when speaking of Othello, he mentions to Brabantio how his daughter will be “covered with a barbary horse” a derogatory remark of othello’s race, nevertheless he also sexualises othello Within the 16th century black individuals had a stigma of them to be animalistic and sexual predators due to their race, the reference of a “barbary horse” is said to Brabantio, the senator as a beastial animal with an intense sexual appetite. Iago furthers the racism when he states to Brabantio “an old black ram” will be “tupping your white ewe”. Not only does this exemplify the foul manner of Iago it also presents Desdomona to be a possession by the pronoun “your”. The metaphor demeans a passionate and loving relationship yet it characterises Othello as a mindless and animal who has ruined the purity of desdemona. Iago links Othello to a crude stereotype when using the animalistic imagery, he hopes to disgust Brabantio when distinguishing the difference between the race of desdemona being white and othello being black. The racism is continued when Iago states that the pair will be “making a beast with two backs” , the euphemistic metaphor refers to a couple engaging in barbaric sexual activity, the quote evidently brings about the image of a camel highlighting Othello’s country of origin. It suggests that Othello is not worthy of Desdemona’s love due to his race and further depicts Othello to be a beastly animal. Brabantio adds to the racism he questions why Desdomona can “fall in love with what she fear’d” in which he believes a mixed race couple is “against all rules of nature”. This provides further evidence that Brabantio believes mixed race marriages to be unnatural and fallacious, he discusses that it is impossible that Desdemona could have fallen for Othello thereby there must have been witchcraft involved. This suggests Othello’s race is extremely undesirable. The theme of racism and anger towards Othello for nothing but his race is immediately introduced, it creates a tense atmosphere for audiences and they are intrigued as to what else he has done for so much hatred to occur for one man. The Elizabethan audience may agree with the reasoning of their view on Othello however from a contemporary audience’s perspective they question whether it be just race and prejudice for this foul treatment.

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Iago’s deceptive subversion of duty and loyalty is profound within this scene when he presents his envious, manipulative and chauvinist personality. He initially states he hates Othello because he chose Cassio, a man from Florence to become a lieutenant despite the fact he has “never set a squadron in the field”,this infuriates Iago and sets off his loathing for the protagonist. Iago introduces his character in his monologue and reveals his cruel intentions, he will betray Othello, “in following him i follow but myself” exemplifying Iago’s savage and diabolical intentions, this creates a sense of dramatic irony when the audience already know of how the play will plan out, afterall Shakespeare wrote his play as a tragedy, there will be no happy ending and thereby Iago’s plan foreshadows the following events that will happen. There are further acts of deception when Iago states “i know my price, i am not worth a place”, here he still is in conversation of his envy towards cassio due to him failing to receive the promotion. The alliteration of the “w” sound creates a somewhat dazed state, one may argue this to relate to one of Iago’s key traits of self love. The dazed state relates to his infatuation with himself. The theme of deception and jealousy becomes epitomized when Iago then states “by following him i follow but myself”. Here we see that Iago feels he can dupe and scheme his master in a way of revenge for the suspicion that Othello had an affair with Iago’s wife. This enables audiences to get an understanding of the intentions of Iago, there is an introduction to jealousy,deception and disloyalty immediately just through one character, the most evil character of the play due to his foul traits.

Themes of racism, jealousy, deception and love are all imprinted within the first scene; audiences begin to learn that Iago is an evil, malicious man who fails to engage in honesty and remorse, he uses plans and schemes in order to achieve goals for himself and is a manipulative self absorbed character. Roderigo on the other hand is presented to be honest yet fails to contain his nobility when Desdemona does not take his hand in marriage yet chooses Othello, a man who is hated by all characters within the first scene. The introduction allows audiences to gain an insight to each of the main characters personality and aims within the play, due to the play being a tragedy it is inevitable of death and disaster especially when there is a character such as iago. There is also a level of dramatic irony involved, audiences are able to suspect and guess correctly what will happen to Othello and Desdemona when racial derogatory terms are used frequently and there are plans to jeopardise the couple.

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Othello Act 1: Themes of Racism, Jealousy, Deception and Love Related to Iago and Rodrigo. (2022, Jun 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 3, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/othello-act-1-themes-of-racism-jealousy-deception-and-love-related-to-iago-and-rodrigo/
“Othello Act 1: Themes of Racism, Jealousy, Deception and Love Related to Iago and Rodrigo.” Edubirdie, 09 Jun. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/othello-act-1-themes-of-racism-jealousy-deception-and-love-related-to-iago-and-rodrigo/
Othello Act 1: Themes of Racism, Jealousy, Deception and Love Related to Iago and Rodrigo. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/othello-act-1-themes-of-racism-jealousy-deception-and-love-related-to-iago-and-rodrigo/> [Accessed 3 Feb. 2023].
Othello Act 1: Themes of Racism, Jealousy, Deception and Love Related to Iago and Rodrigo [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 09 [cited 2023 Feb 3]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/othello-act-1-themes-of-racism-jealousy-deception-and-love-related-to-iago-and-rodrigo/
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