Conflict, Hatred, Darkness and Manipulation in an Extract from the First Scene of Othello by William Shakespeare

This extract from William Shakespeare‘s play ‘Othello‘ is derived from the preliminary scene of the play, in which the reader is introduced to Iago, who has convinced Roderigo to follow his plan of waking up Brabantio and delivering the news of his daughter‘s discreet marriage to Othello, From the extract provided, one can see that Iago’s plan has succeeded and that his knowledge of the characters has led him to properly predict how they will react. Such proximity to the other characters, as well as his ability to manipulate language and persuade others, allow Iago to become an extremely powerful and controlling character in this play, whilst deceivingly appearing to be a helpful and loyal subject to Othello.

The play ‘Othello’ starts with action straight away, therefore capturing the audience’s attention and setting a mood of conflict and intrigue for the duration of the play In fact, conflict is a major theme in the play: a detail Iago thrives on, especially when faced with chaos in Cyprus.

One can see how lago’s hatred towards Othello and Cassio finds its root from the jealousy of not receiving the promotion he believes he deserves, and Cassio receiving it instead. Iago’s language mirrors this strong resentment towards them by using words such as ‘hate’, ‘abhor me‘ in his everyday life. However, his motives for such strong hatred are unclear even to Iago himself, as in a soliloquy he claims sexual jealousy to be the reason for his hatred, saying that he believes that Cassio has committed adultery with his wife, Emilia.

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However, one must question whether this could be true, as Cassio is said to be a trustworthy gentleman whom is trusted by Othello. In fact, Samuel Taylor Coleridge claims that this is “The motive»hunting of motiveless Malignity”, as Iago is merely searching for an excuse for his hatred towards Cassio. Another conflict found in the play is between Brabantio and his daughter Desdemona, as he has a distorted image of her.

He believes that she is a “maiden never bold; Of spirit so still and quiet”, which contrasts to the respectfully outspoken Desdemona that Othello, and the audience see. Desdemona states that due to her marriage to Othello, her loyalty was now to him, rather to Brabantio: “And so much duty as my mother show’d To you, preferring you before her father”, thus creating more conflict between the two. Moreover, above all themes derived from the emotional and relationship aspects of the play, one must remember that the play centres on war, and that is a major theme as well, as most characters are soldiers. Thus, in itself, war is a result of conflict, and thus, so is the play In the language used by Iago in this extract, there are many references to the ‘blackness’ of Othello, which thus results in his otherness and lack of belonging. However, similar references are found in several scenes throughout the play. In fact, the preliminary scene is set in the middle of the night, thus possibly considered as the first reference to the theme of darkness in the play.

Due to his dark skin, Othello‘s darkness is apparent and therefore easily noticeable Othello’s otherness and foreignness are often mentioned in the play, The racial reference is so common that even Desdemona, his wife, refers to Othello as ‘the Moor‘. Moreover, the discrimination against Othello based on racial differences is felt by Brabantio’s reaction to his and Desdemona‘s marriage, as he accepts Othello as a friend, but not a son. Even from its title: ‘The Tragedy of the Moor of Venice‘, one can see that there is a contrast between the Moor and Venice, as a Moor can never fully ‘be of’ Venice, therefore emphasising Othello’s otherness. Iago often comments on this aspect in Othello’s persona, and amongst other racial slurs in the play, refers to him as ‘thick lips’. Throughout the first scene, Iago never speaks of Othello‘s name, but rather calls him ‘the Moor‘ to emphasise his ethnic difference. On the other hand, the malcontent Iago is arguably closer to darkness, as his is as a result of his dark nature.

Thus, a conflict between appearance and reality is created Moreover, Iago makes no effort to hide who is and his feelings toward Othello in the beginning of the play, stating himself that ‘I am not what I am‘: an allusion from Exodus. In this confession, Iago reveals that he is the reversal of God, as he takes pleasure in others‘ pain and misery, which are demonic characteristics: ‘Poison his delight’ and ‘plague him’.

However, due to his pretence, using with words such as ‘forms’, ‘visages’, ‘shows’, ‘seeming’, those around [ago are blind to this element of his character, In a twist of dramatic irony, Brabantio calls Iago a ‘profane wretch‘ and ‘a villain’ Lhus only seeing the reality, when he is physically unable to see him. Indeed, Iago is a Machiavellian character, which means that he would do anything to succeed. In the passage provided, one can see that the language used by Iago is extremely powerful, and that it leaves an effect on the mood of the scene. His ability to manipulate language is one of Iago’s strongest tools, and is what allows him to take control of others’ actions. In order to convince other characters, such as Roderigo, that he is truly trying to help them, Iago often speaks in long, smooth and emotive speeches, forufying his arguments with philosophical reasoning.

Contrastingly, however, Iago also often uses blasphemous, uncivilised language when speaking freely and not putting on an appearance. In fact, in the passage provided he refers to Christ’s wounds as ‘Zounds’ and his first spoken words in the play, which are important as they give a first impression, are in relation to Christ’s wounds: ’Sblood’. Iago uses crude and vulgar language to create the image of animal copulation in reference to Othello and Desdemona. He uses the language of sheep-farmers to imply that ‘an old black ram’, meaning Othello, ‘ls [upping your white ewe.’ Moreover, one can see that Iago meticulously adds effective details, such as saying ‘your’ in reference to Desdemona, to remind characters of details that will strike a nerve.

With the word ‘your’, Brabantio is reminded that a close possession of his has been stolen, as women are merely viewed as such: ‘Look to your house, your daughter, your bags’, Similarly, in this extract, Iago never refers to Othello by his name, but with implicative words, such as ‘the devil’, which evoke negative feelings from Brabantio towards Othello, due to its connotations. A similar technique is used with the word ‘Robb’d”, which implies that Othello is a thief, therefore furthering the image created. All in all, this extract allows main themes of the play, such as the theme of conflict and hatred, the imagery of blackness, along with the idea of otherness related to Othello, as well as lago’s ability to convince others to follow his plans, with his manipulation of language Such elements make this extract powerful, whilst showing lago’s understanding and control of the situation, which, in my opinion, makes the scene so significant.

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Conflict, Hatred, Darkness and Manipulation in an Extract from the First Scene of Othello by William Shakespeare. (2022, Nov 11). Retrieved from

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