Comparison Between the Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice (Act I, Scene I) and Hamlet (Act Iii, Scene Iiii)

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In Elizabethan and Jacobean society, people depended on surprises in highly theatrical entertainment. The playhouses hosted popular theatre performances without stage-sets or props. Unlike today’s modern theatre, the simple ‘stage allowed for swift, fluid action and a concentration on language’. The Jacobean stage would have bought the colours of ‘language’ to life. For example, A vice figure like Iago would use exaggerated words and gestures to stress his strong feeling of antagonism towards Othello. Likewise, a melancholic Hamlet would experiment with words in an overstated manner (to show his conflicted state of mind). The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice (Act I, Scene I) and Hamlet (Act III, Scene IIII) directs the plays to there catastrophic endings. However, the language portrays the relationship between characters in different ways. In Othello, Iago exploits the power of language to manipulate his “family” and “friends” and make them puppets for his revenge plan. In Hamlet, the relationship is also one without trust, but it is presented in a quietly deceitful way. The protagonist feels his private life being usurped by spies: Claudio and Polonius. Act I, Scene I of Othello is striking for today’s audience, and the contemporary audience of the time, since it is abounded in coarse animalistic imagery. Iago uses crude language as a persuasive approach. He understands that Brabanzio embodies a Eurocentric view, so he speaks in offensive terms in order to tempt Brabanzio to believe his words. Derogatory references such as ‘old black ram’, ‘coursers for cousins’ and ‘jennets’ evoke a strong sense of hate and prejudice. Metaphorical expressions like ‘coursers’ and ‘jennets’ completely dehumanize Othello. They are also a reminder of the social context, since Othello would have been played by a white actor in the Jacobean period. Iago’s language is concentrated on the colour of Othello’s skin; he describes him as a ‘black ram’ that will breed a generation of horses because of his ‘black’ skin colour and African heritage. The Jacobean audience would have understood how Iago’s poisonous slanders are targeted towards ‘the Moor’, (because of racial differences). Therefore the audience may have shared a similar view on black Africans in Jacobean society. Iago expresses the stark contrasts between the colours ‘black’ and ‘white’. In Shakespeare’s day, blackness was primarily associated with ‘witchcraft’ and ‘voodoo’ while a ‘white ewe’ would be representative of goodness and purity. Rather ironically Iago embodies these racial stereotypes: he does not refer to Othello by his name but as ‘the Moor’. This suggests how Iago exploits Brabanzio’s fatherly love and vulnerability. He is aware that Brabanzio finds it abominable that his daughter can be snatched away in the hands of ‘the Moor’. Consequently, he abuses the use of animal imagery and the conventional colours (‘black and ‘white’) to produce a desirable response. Like Queen Gertrude who passionately cries ‘thou hast cleft my heart in twain’! Brabanzio is also moved by Iago’s lethal words. Powerful images such as ‘tupping your white ewe’ are highly sexual: they therefore have the capacity to cause an explosive reaction. Brabanzio panics frantically, ‘This incident is not unlike my dream; belief of it oppresses me already’. The other characters reactions are indicative of the inevitable destruction that follows as a result of Hamlet and Iago’s ability to influence their rivals through speech. Hamlet’s potent words are ‘like daggers’, thus they are likely to initiate a reaction. However, he uses a persuasive approach that is different to Iago’s. In comparison to Iago’s spontaneous dialogue, Hamlet’s language is more meaningful because it carries the weight of truth. He does not talk figuratively, but uses simple and indisputable facts: ‘A murderer and a villain […] That from a shelf the precious diadem stole and put it in his pocket’. This approach is more likely...
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