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In this extract, Othello has a dramatic change of character. No longer serene, he is cast into a state of madness and confusion. He is tormented by jealousy and disbelief. He feels betrayed. However, he is not yet convinced of his wife’s treachery. He looks at her and cannot believe that she might commit such a crime. As she enters, he says, ‘If she be false, then heaven mocks itself, I’ll not believe it.’ Later, provoked by Iago’s words, he proclaims, ‘I’ll tear her all to pieces.’ As Iago shows him ‘damning evidence’ of Desdemona’s adultery, Othello cannot help but believe him. Why would his trusted subordinate lie?
It is interesting to note that, although Othello demands ‘ocular proof’ that Desdemona is false, Iago does not provide it, merely telling him how he saw Cassio wiping his beard on her handkerchief.
Othello grows increasingly violent and aggressive. His well cultured European manner deteriorates rapidly. His speech is filled with abuse and curses. In many theatrical productions, Othello is seen to become much more of the Moor that he is stereotyped to be. He wears African style garments and is seen to become less Christian. Perhaps Shakespeare is insinuating that Othello has lost hope in Christianity, feels betrayed by the Europeans whose taunts he so long withstood, and feels the need to become exactly that which he was accused of being.
There is huge dramatic irony through out the scene. The audience sees Othello falling through the trap laid out for him, but can only watch. It is very frustrating. The more Iago deceives him, the more Othello lays his trust on him. He addresses him as ‘faithful Iago.’
The seen is ended by Iago’s words, ‘I am your own forever.’ This is deeply ironic, as he is no longer really inferior to Othello.
As Othello goes mad, the hierarchy reverses. Iago is the one holding all the strings, manipulating him like a puppet. Othello, blind to the deception, effectively lays himself at Iago’s feet and at his discretion.
Iago’s reaction is of great importance. The audience cannot see his true thoughts, but only the mask that he uses on the outside. One can guess that he would feel a certain degree of smugness at his success. However, he may too, like Othello, be experiencing inner turmoil. It is possible that he feels guilt and regret for his actions.
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He says, ‘Let her live.’ We can see that Iago is by no means a simple villain. Why does he ask for Othello to spare Desdemona’s life? Is he simply trying to aggravate Othello, or does he genuinely feel affection for her and not want someone so utterly faultless to suffer that which was not intended for her?
This is a sharp contradiction to the Iago of earlier on in the play. The frightening thing about the early Iago was that he appeared to have no conscience, bringing about the downfall of people using their good qualities. This is shocking, but nevertheless, the work of a terrible genius. Whilst still scheming of how to deal with Othello, he decides to use the fact that Cassio is handsome and likely to attract a woman’s attentions to stir jealousy in Othello.
Though apparently no longer without conscience, Iago uses much a similar way now – abusing Othello’s trust.
On stage, this scene would be striking. Both Othello and Iago are strong characters, but they also differ in many ways. Othello would likely be storming around, shouting and gesticulating, whilst Iago, calm and composed, would stand and observe, punctuating Othello’s ranting with challenging remarks.
Shakespeare creates strong dramatic effect and significance by accentuating the unfortunate irony of the situation and the cautiously aggravating tactics of the villain Iago.