Act 1

Act 1: Scene 1

The play begins in the streets of Venice, with Roderigo, a weak and effeminate suitor of Desdemona, whining that Iago has had news of Desdemona’s marriage to Othello before he has. Roderigo believes Iago to have been using him for his money and to have known about Desdemona’s attachment to the Moor all along. His grievance is felt all the more because he has opened his “purse” (bank account) to Iago in hopes that the latter would help him in his suit. Iago replies with a curse, “’Sblood,” short for “God’s blood,” and a lie: He maintains his innocence, acquitting himself of any knowledge of the lovers’ attachment.

If the audience is unacquainted with the play, these particulars will not be plain to it. Othello is referenced only by the third person pronominal (he, him), as in “Thou toldst me thou didst hold him in thy hate” (1.1.7). Iago confesses that he does indeed “hold him” in his hate, and offers a reason why: He (Othello) has ignored the appeals of “three great ones of the city,” who have interceded on Iago’s behalf in a suit to have Iago named as Othello’s second-in-command. Instead, Othello has named Michael Cassio as his lieutenant, a Florentine who, according to Iago, has only proven his ability in rhetoric, not in battle (as Iago himself professes to have done). Not only does Iago feel passed over, but he is insulted at having been given the post of “ancient,” i.e., ensign or stand-bearer (the lowest rank of a commissioned officer in the infantry).

Iago’s complaint seems fair enough, though it hardly justifies the course of revenge upon which he settles. He shows a logical sense of resignation and worldly wisdom when he states, “’Tis the curse of service./Preferment goes by letter and affection,/And not by old gradation, where each second/Stood heir to th’ first” (1.1.37-40). With this line, Iago senses how easily the...

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Essays About Othello