Analysis of Act One of Othello by William Shakespeare

1476 Words6 Pages
Analysis of Act One of Othello by William Shakespeare Act 1 is an exceptionally indicative passage of writing in which Shakespeare attempts to divulge the coarse essence of Iago's nature to the audience. Indeed, by the conclusion of line 66 the audience not only understands - in broad terms - Iago's motives and grievances, but also something of the manner in which he intends to consummate vengeance against his ostensible antagonists. Iago's interactions with Roderigo also serve to adumbrate, or perhaps anticipate, his adroit manipulation of those under his sphere of influence throughout the text. It is a credit to Shakespeare's astuteness that he is able to present the crucial circumstances of the play well before the end of the first act. During the formative stages of Act 1, Iago's argument with Roderigo provides a context for both men's grievances. Initially Roderigo accuses Iago of cheating him, of using his money 'as if the strings [of his purse] were [his]' (I i 3), and only later is Roderigo's obsession with Desdemona (and subsequent dislike of Othello) revealed. Iago uses unambiguous language to describe his grievances, essentially asserting that he was entitled to gain the promotion gifted to Cassio - 'the bookish theoric' - through an act of cronyism whereby Iago had been unjustly overlooked by the corrupt system of promotion whereby 'Preferment goes by letter and affection' (I i 36). Iago later goes on in scene 3 to refer to the possibility that Othello has been intimate with his wife, Emilia, and though he himself is the first to admit ... ... middle of paper ... ...t fact to his advantage to cause Othello's downfall. So Iago proves his own case for the virtues of insincerity and the dangers of honesty, and thereby concludes with the line 'I am not what I am.' This declaration epitomises the character of Iago, being a statement that describes not only his present state, but serves to describe his way of being. Everything Iago does is false, directed toward achieving his own ends. Even during his declaration his interlocutor, Roderigo, is being subjected to Iago's falsity, scorn and utter disdain. While he explicates his detestation of abject servitude, he holds the same silent contempt for Roderigo himself, whom he sees as an idiotic and subservient human being. It is, then, ironic that the only person with whom he shares his contempt for the grovelling servant, is one of his own.
Open Document