The Importance of How Shakespeare Begins His Play Othello

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Essay 2 – Spring Term

The importance of how Shakespeare begins his play Othello, and what actually happens during the first two scenes?

In this essay my main aim is to investigate how William Shakespeare opens his play Othello written around 1603, and look at the important events of what happens between the first two scenes. I will first focus on some background information that influenced the plays setting, then investigate the ‘entry point’ into the; plays action, plot structure and character relationships. I will also comment on the ‘decision making’ in terms of ‘themes and intentions’ that Shakespeare had in store for his audiences.

The setting and background information for [1]Othello is located in Venice and Cyprus between 1489 to 1571. Venice at this time, was well established as one of the world’s leading sea merchant powers, a central place of great wealth, prospects and also its problems with corruption. Cyprus, located in the eastern Mediterranean about forty miles south from Venice had plentiful harvests of olives and grapes. Assyrians, Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, and Byzantines all fought over the island throughout history in order to occupy it, due to its prosperous fertile land and ideal climate. King Richard I, the Lion-Hearted, conquered Cyprus in 1191 but later lost the island to the French. Venice seized the island in 1489 and in 1571, and Cyprus was then part of the Ventian Empire who was in conflict with the Turks.

Shakespeare immediately opens the play ‘In medias res’, during mid-conversation between Roderigo a wealthy Venetian and Iago a soldier who fought beside Othello for several years, and became his most trusted advisor. Iago and Roderigo are discussing the marriage of Desdemona, the daughter of Brabantion, a Venetian Senator. Roderigo appears very angry with Iago, due to the fact that he had paid Iago a healthy sum of money in order to help him win the love of Desdemona for himself and to keep him completely informed of any movements in her love life. In terms of Iago’s perceived motive, the text suggests that Iago the protagonist is officially just a servant to Othello and that he had aspired to become his lieutenant. Othello had chosen Cassio a Florentine, not a Venetian, who was less experienced in military affairs. Iago points out to Roderigo that he is more qualified to hold the position and regards Othello’s decision unfair. In Iago’s opinion, Cassio is weak and fit only for the company of ladies; his knowledge of battle comes purely comes from theory and not practically through experience. Shakespeare uses Iago’s as an agent of chaos, who plans for revenge through the gullible Roderigo. Iago manipulates and re-directs Roderigo’s anger towards Othello through expressing his own grievances with his superior, in order to acquire sympathy and an understanding through the following lines.

“In personal suit to make me his lieutenant…
…Horribly Stuffed with epithets of war,
And in conclusion
Nonsuit my me mediaters. For ‘Certes,’ says he,
‘I have already chosen my officer,’
And what was he…
…One Michael Cassio, a Florentine”
(Shakespeare, 1997, 1.1:8-19)

Shakespeare provides the audience very early on in this opening scene Iago’s exact intentions as follows.

“I follow him to serve my turn upon him:
we cannot all be masters, nor all masters
cannot be truly followed.  You shall mark
many a duteous and knee-crooking knave,
that, doting on his own obsequious bondage,
wears out his time, much like his master’s ass.”
(Shakespeare, 1997, 1.1:40)

Othello is generally known for its rich terms of figures of speech, with language used, including Shakespeare’s famous memorable verse for Iago:

“But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve
For daws to peck at: I am not what I am”
(Shakespeare, 1997, 1.1:63)

Shakespeare’s use of metaphor here, could be interpreted as...
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