The Effectiveness of Act 1 of William Shakespeare's Othellow

The Effectiveness of Act 1 of William Shakespeare's Othellow

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The Effectiveness of Act 1 of William Shakespeare's Othellow
I feel that Act 1 provides an
exciting opening to the play because it quickly draws the audience in
to the story from the start and introduces a lot of the main
characters like Othello, Desdemona, Iago and Cassio, and the differing
interpretations of each individual's personality. It also introduces a
lot of themes that run throughout the play like honesty, deception and
jealousy.

The play opens with Roderigo and Iago who seem to be in the middle of
an argument, this tactic used by Shakespeare will immediately grab the
audience's attention and involve them directly into the play. In this
first scene we learn of Desdemona's elopement as Roderigo and Iago
travel to Brabantio's house (Desdemona's father) to tell him of the
news. This scene leads to Iago's description of Othello as the "Moor",
and the audience learns of his disappointment regarding the
lieutenancy. This leads to Iago's praise of himself;

"If I were the Moor, I would not be Iago;

In following him, I follow but myself.

Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty,

But seeming so for my peculiar end."

Where he believes himself to be better than the Moor as he would see
through someone-else's apparent loyalty. This also gives us an insight
into how trusting Othello is. As we have yet to meet Othello and
Cassio, we have, at this point in the play, no reason to doubt that
Iago's comments on each are substantially true. When we meet the
characters Iago refers to, we may then judge for ourselves. However
some in the audience may pick up on the fact that Iago could very well
be lying as he himself proves to the audience and seems quite proud of

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the fact that; "I follow him to serve my turn upon him". If this scene
was omitted from the play then the audience would not understand some
of Iago's reasoning behind his jealousy, we would not see the initial
reactions of Brabantio when he discovers his daughter has gone and we
probably wouldn't have seen straightaway Iago's deceptiveness.

Scene 2 of Act 1, we are introduced to Othello as he is talking to
Iago. We can from here find out a little about his character that is
not revealed further on in the play. In this scene we can see Othello
as a strong general; "my services which I have done the signiory shall
out-tongue his complaints." Which indeed they do as it is proved by
the Duke when he dismisses Brabantio's moans for Othello's captaincy
skills when dealing with the war. We also find out how Othello
believes in his love to Desdemona and defends this when Iago
challenges it.

"For know…that I love the gentle Desdemona,

I would not my unhousèd free condition

Put into circumscription and confine

For the sea's worth."

Also in this scene we meet Cassio, Othello's lieutenant, who appears
to be very scholarly, as Iago told us yet in a charming way. It is in
this scene that Iago first shows directly to the audience what he's
really like, as his actions in this scene towards Othello, as a friend
or advisor, strongly contradicts what was said in the first scene.
Without this scene in the play the audience would miss out on this
opportunity to see this in action straightaway and would also receive
different first opinions of the other main characters, Othello and
Cassio.

In narrative terms Scene 3 explains why Othello must go to Cyprus: the
council's convening at night indicates the urgency of the situation.
Though the reports from the senators are confused, their general sense
is clear that an invasion fleet is heading for Cyprus. In this scene
the audience first meets Desdemona, Brabantio's daughter and Othello's
wife. Here the audience is allowed to form their own opinion on her.
Without this first introduction to Desdemona the audience would miss
her clever argument against her father which proves her wit;

"But here's my husband; And so much duty as my mother showed

To you, preferring you before her father,

So much I challenge that I may profess

Due to the Moor my lord."

Without this scene the audience might not also understand why
Desdemona and Othello's marriage was so scandalous for the time as she
was an aristocrat's white daughter and he a black general. The risk
taken for the two lovers to be together adds to the tragedy of the
end. This scene also introduces an idea which is important throughout
the play; Othello's balancing of public duty to Venice and the private
concerns of his wife. If this scene was left out of the play then the
audience would lose some of the background as it why they end up in
Cyprus. The audience would also miss out on the rebellious side of
Desdemona's character as this is not shown in the rest of the play.

The first act, set in Venice, serves as a prologue to the tragedy
which follows. It allows us to view the main characters in their
normal environments before they move out to Cyprus. The first act
presents Othello's relationship with Desdemona before the positioning
changes. It also establishes Iago's malice and general motivation from
the very start. In some ways the first Act could act as a warm up to
the rest of the play set in Cyprus, like an introduction and
background of what is to come. It also builds up tension from the
audience's awareness of the inner motives of the characters for when
the characters move to Cyprus and how Iago manipulates each into
serving his own interests, while they believe they are receiving his
aid. In conclusion, I therefore disagree with Dr. Johnson's comment
and instead believe that Act 1 provides an effective opening to the
play.
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