ACT 1, SCENE 2
Shakespeare’s Othello is a play about love, jealousy and racism. Othello is a Moor, who is kidnapped as a child and brought to Venice, where he grows up, becomes a mercenary and through his bravery rises to the rank of General of the Venetian army. Othello is in love with the beautiful Desdemona, daughter of a senator and is secretly married to her. Iago, his junior, jealous of his success attempts to destroy Othello and Desdemona and through his machinations obliterates love, honour and beauty.
This passage marks the beginning of Act 1 Scene 2, and we see Iago come from badmouthing Othello to Roderigo and in this scene, he badmouths Roderigo to Othello. As in the first scene, the reader is sort of a voyeur, listening in to people’s conversations and making judgements or opinions of the characters based on the conversations we hear. Iago is a clever speaker and has a way with words. He has spoken of Othello to Roderigo in the first scene and called him all kinds of insulting names and adjudged him to be a criminal and bestial man. This scene begins with Iago, Othello and some attendants making their entrance. Iago recounts his supposed conversation with Roderigo to Othello and tells him that Roderigo has insulted Othello and Iago had been very upset with him and had tried everything to save Othello’s honour. He had also told Roderigo that despite his experience in battle, he had been overlooked for the job of Othello’s deputy.
In his conversation with Othello, he uses “trade of war” to demonstrate his experience as it his trade and he is an able soldier having killed many men in battle, but though Roderigo insulted Othello, it was only because of his conscience that he had been able to stop himself from stabbing Roderigo. In this manner he is able to show the goodness of his heart and also question Othello, if he remembers that he is an experienced soldier. His use of conscience and “contrived murder” attempt to show Othello that it would have been like murder, which is planned, and not the right thing to do, though he was very angry with Roderigo and would have liked to stab him, “ Nine or ten times.” By using the number of times he would have liked to stab Roderigo and also “yerked him here, under the ribs” he portrays his anger but also his indecisiveness. We also see that Iago’s use of “conscience”, at this time in the play leads to the audience’s knowledge of the reality of his lack of a conscience.
Othello is happy that Iago has not taken any undue action and tells him its better that things are as they remain. Iago on the other hand, continues his tirade against Roderigo and tells Othello that Roderigo kept repeating himself, he “prated” or went on and on insulting Othello and spoke “such scurvy and provoking terms”. Shakespeare’s use of alliteration “such scurvy” only emphasise the point that Iago is trying to make that Roderigo used very contemptible terms, which were an insult to Othello’s honour. Iago then tries to show that he is a compassionate man, saying, “with the little godliness I have”, in an attempt to place himself in Othello’s good books. The use of the words,” full hard forbear him” once again are an attempt to portray Iago in a good light, as he says that it took all of his control not to attack Roderigo. “full” and “hard” both have similar meanings, and are used to show the amount of control it took Iago not to do anything.
The next line is an abrupt departure from the subject of Roderigo and Iago suddenly asks Othello, “Are you fast married?” perhaps this is an attempt by Iago to surprise Othello in to disclosing whether he is really married to Desdemona and the word, ”fast” is used to suggest whether this marriage has been consummated, as if it has not been then perhaps it could still be annulled. He also suggests that Desdemona’s father is a very powerful man, “Magnifico”, a word that was used for the most powerful men in Venice. He also implies that the senator is so powerful that he commands more power than the Duke of Venice and will be able to get Desdemona divorced and Othello punished very severely. Shakespeare’s use of “a voice potential” signifies a power that is extremely strong and that no one will be able to against the voice of the Magnifico. Moreover he will be able to use all the might of the law to destroy Othello, as he is also an outsider and Venetian law favoured the Venetians.
Othello, on the other hand, is not cowed by Iago’s words and tells him that he is not afraid and the Magnifico can do as he pleases. He believes that his service to the state and the rest of the wealthy citizens of Venice will be enough to protect him. He believes that his services will “out tongue” his complaints meaning that his services are worth more than another’s words, even a Magnifico’s. Othello tells Iago that he shall only boast of his descent when it is necessary and will tell the world that he too is a prince and his deficiencies or “demerits” can speak for themselves when he is in front of men of a lineage as regal as his. He also tells him that it is his good fortune that he has been able to win the hand of someone as gentle as Desdemona. He compares her to the treasures of the ocean, as pearls and other sunken treasure litter the sea floor. This comparison to treasure shows the measure of his love for Desdemona and he is willing to sacrifice everything for her.
Othello and Iago are surprised to see some men entering and Iago counsels Othello to hide. He tells him that Desdemona’s father and his friends have come to seek him and suggest he hide. Not surprisingly, Othello refuses as he is a honourable man and has nothing to hide, declaring, “ Not I, I must be found”. The use of repetition, “I” portrays the strength and self-respect that Othello possesses. In the next line he once again repeats, “My parts, my title and my perfect soul” the repetition of the word “my” is once again used to portray the nobleness of his soul and is indicative of his honour. To his question if it is really the senator, Iago replies swearing,” By Janus, I think no.” Shakespeare uses classical allusion her by referring to Janus, the two headed Roman god, signifying Iago’s duplicity.
They are met by Cassio, Othello’s lieutenant and some guards, who bid him accompany them, as the Duke wants an audience with him. Cassio uses the words, “haste-post-haste” signifying the urgency with which Othello is required to accompany them to the Duke. Othello departs while questioning Cassio to the urgency of this command.
This passage lays the groundwork and shows the duplicity of Iago and the lengths he is willing to go to integrate himself with Othello, while plotting his downfall. It also becomes evident that Iago and Othello are diametrically opposite characters. Iago, who is willing to do or say anything to achieve his ambitions, while Othello is a honourable man, who is willing to do anything for his love Desdemona and is proud of his achievements and his lineage.