Act III is a highly significant scene among all of those in the play of Othello. Act III moves the play along and heightens the intensity, drama and tension between the characters. The plot of the play pans out as the act provides the audience with a skeleton of the time frame in the play; and hence a great sense of urgency. In my own opinion, I feel that the later two scenes (scene three and four) are the most capable of tracking the audience’s feelings about Othello.
Scene three is one of the longest scenes, consisting of 480 lines and entrances and exits.
Shakespeare has to keep up the relentless pace to remove opportunity for questions to creep into Othello’s mind. Othello can be seen as a victim of Iago in this scene, and evidently it is widely referred to as the ‘temptation’ scene. The scenes previous to this are almost engulfed with conversation in which Iago manipulates Othello and aggravates him by speaking of something which only Iago knows.
Othello’s short fuse almost reaches it’s end in scene three as he is driven to madness with curiosity; he exclaims “I pr’ythee, speak to me as to thy thinkings”.
Critics have commented on the similarities between this scene and the biblical scene with Eve’s original sin in the Garden of Eden. Eve is driven by curiosity and temptation, leading her into eating the sinful apple. Likewise Othello cannot bear to “know’t a little”. Iago is able to manipulate many characters so skilfully that they seem to be acting simultaneously of their own freewill.
For example, it only takes the slightest prompting on Iago’s part to put Othello into the proper frame of mind to be consumed by jealously.
This theme immerses most of the play; consequently resulting in its tragic nature. Iago is the antagonist and he relishes in the pain he causes. In Act three, scene three he quotes: ” Dangerous conceits are in their natures poisions Which at the first are scarce found to distaste But with a little act upon the blood Burn like the mines of sulphur. “Furthermore, much of the action in act three works coincidently in Iago’s favour and contributing to Othello’s anger. A very good example of this is, in scene three Othello says: ” I swear tis better to be much abus’d than but to know’t a little”.
And Iago is fortunate to find himself alone with Othello at this key moment; which may be attributed to Desdemona having gone too far in her insistent demands on Cassio’s behalf. She is of course, unaware of the impression that this is further imprinting on Othello’s mind, due to the seed planted by Iago (of Desdemona and Cassio’s connection). Anyhow, Desdemona aids Iago’s case by being excessive and therefore arousing suspicion. In addition, Iago is canny and does not poison Othello’s mind with utter lies but he simply twists reality and the harmless actions of the other characters; in order to anger Othello.
Othello becomes Iago’s sufferer as Iago exploits Cassio’s discomfort upon seeing Othello by interpreting it as a sign of guilt. Following this Iago quotes “I lay with Cassio lately… I heard him say, ‘Sweet Desdemona, let us be wary, let us hide our loves’… ” Consequently here he is able to weaken links between Othello and loyal Cassio. Othello can very much, become moulded into the victim of Iago as his strong and sovereign nature is destroyed. This affects the audience very much so as it is a given that we would feel compassion for the tragic hero, Othello.
Act III allows the audience to see the harsh affects that Iago has had on Othello’s previously amiable personality. There is great irony in that it is Othello, himself, who paves the way for assault from Iago as he explains that without Desdemona’s love “Chaos is come again”. This is the first time Othello has admitted to a vulnerability or dependency, and this rising fear allows Iago to prey upon his dread of loss that which has previously given his life light and direction.
This suspicion is taken a great step further when Iago reveals his handkerchief ploy: “such a handkerchief I am sure it was your wife’s- did I today see Cassio wipe his beard with”. Thus, Iago victimises Othello, by wearing down his self-sufficiency and using Desdemona’s kind nature and regard for others (Cassio) to work against her; and thus lead Othello further into doubt. I feel that Othello is a direct product of Iago’s scheming in Act three, causing the audience to feel sympathetic in one way, towards Othello, and also frustrated and exasperated at how he is so easily mislead.
In my opinion, it cannot be denied that Othello is a victim of Iago as Othello himself even touches on this idea. The audience understand how Othello is tortured by jealousy as he uses images that recall Iago’s words: ” If there not be cords or knives, Poison or fire, or suffocating streams, I’ll not endure it. Would I were satisfied. ” Iago acts as the malcontent in the play and so inflicting torture and suffering on the other characters, in particular our protagonist. Following on from Iago’s mistreatment of Othello and almost definitely as a consequence of it; Othello’s love turns to loathing.
It is an interesting, complex and catastrophic turn of events as Othello’s love and consideration for his wife turns into distasteful hatred. It is not completely unexpected as Othello shows worrying signs of overwhelming love for Desdemona. For example, long before Act three Othello appears to be fixated on his wife, when he first greets her in Cyprus he declares that he is almost too happy: “If it were now to die, Twere now to be most happy; for, I fear, My soul hath her content so absolute That not another comfort like this Succeeds in unknown fate”.
Therefore it is evident that even without Iago’s infliction, Othello is so dangerously in love with Desdemona; he cannot control his powerful and romantic feelings. As a soldier one of the attributes that Othello prides himself on, decisiveness, fails him as a husband as he longs to seek “ocular proof” of Desdemona’s unfaithfulness; and when presented with this by Iago his latest opinion of her is unyielding. It is difficult to determine how an audience’s feelings towards Othello might change due to his display of loathing towards his loving wife. As their feelings will differ depending on who they feel is to blame for this.
Many believe that Iago is entirely to blame for such a quick and decided shift in Othello’s emotions, and some believe that Iago plays but a small role. In 1904 a critic known as A. C. Bradley quoted “His (Iago’s) thwarted sense of superiority wants satisfaction and He is the spirit of denial of all romantic values”. Thus contributing to the belief that Iago’s manipulation and twisted influence deeply warps our tragic hero’s romantic thoughts and feelings. Iago holds such an undeniably strong presence in Othello’s life. He is the antagonist and leaves Othello confused and with no reason not to believe him.
There is a great deal of evidence in the play to suggest that the noble protagonist is pushed towards emotional turmoil and contorted thoughts by ruthless Iago. Iago quotes “that cuckold lives in bliss” and “if it be hers (the handkerchief that he claims that Cassio had) or any that was hers; It speaks against her with the other proofs. ” However it is plausible that an audience might be reduced to disliking Othello due to his change from love to loathing. It is possible that Othello is entirely to blame for his deteriorating state of mind and his new-found inclination for hatred.
In 1930, G. Wilson Knight supported this opinion, by quoting “Othello is infatuated by emotion, for its own sake, he luxuriates in it” . Throughout the play Othello forecasts his success in love on his success as a soldier, wooing Desdemona with tales of his military travels and battles. Once the Turks are drowned he is left with nothing to do. No longer having a means of proving his manhood or honour in a public setting such as the court or the battlefield; Othello desperately clings to the security of his former identity as a soldier while his current identity as a lover crumbles.
Othello begins to confuse the one with the other. His expression of his jealousy quickly deteriorates from “Farewell the tranquil mind” to “Farewell the plum’d troops and the big wars… Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war! “. Anyhow it is definitely very probable that the audience’s compassion and hopes for Othello as the tragic hero begin to fade as his nature turns from amiable to hateful. Regarding the mixed and broken language used by Othello in this Act, an audience could immediately comment on his poor state of mind.
A confident, noble man at the beginning of the play, Othello changes from Act three onwards; as he is manipulated by Iago into believing Desdemona’s infidelity. This transforms Othello’s nature and language into barbaric and somewhat hell-like . Upon reflection of the beginning half of the play, Othello’s language presents a very different man. Let us remember the beginning of the play, where Othello portrays himself as a virtuous man possessing a composed nature. This is evident through his speech in Act I Scene III to the Duke of Venice regarding Brabantio’s accusations of witchcraft toward him.
Othello uses poetic and wise language which connotes his rational manner. Although stating ‘Rude am I in my speech… ‘ Othello presents his humble nature when compared to Brabantio. Othello offers judicious and romanticised language during his speech, describing his how he came to marry Desdemona as a “unvarnished tale deliver of my whole course of love”. This is a direct contrast to the Othello we are met with in Act three. In Act III, the transformation of Othello’s personality and also his language is obvious. Othello is no longer confident with his marriage as his language changes from heavenly imagery to hawking imagery. Othello now speaks of his wife as a “haggard” the image of an ignorant hawk to signify his suspicions of her infidelity. It is evident that he now does not think highly and vows to “whistle her off” if she does happen to stray away from him. It is evident that Othello becomes insecure within himself and unstable in his marriage, and his language reflects this. He comments on her “hot and moist” hand; a belief at the time, was that this inferred a lustful nature.
He also says she is of a “liberal heart” indicating her immorality. He betrays every trust in her as he speaks of her in crude and ill language. “Here’s a young and sweating devil here, who constantly rebels” says he. And also, it is evident that he has no more respect for his wife as he brands her a “whore” and cries “Death and damnation! ” as Iago suggests Desdemona and Cassio sleeping together. Finally, as Othello becomes more confident of his wife’s unfaithfulness, his language reflects his fury toward her as he vows revenge on her.
In using ‘hell’ imagery he compares his recent hatred for Desdemona with the venom of “aspics’ tongues” which show his negativity toward her and also through his desire to “tear her all to pieces! ” His language mirrors how disturbed he is, turning the audience against him, as he is unmovable in his opinion of Desdemona and he vows revenge against her. It is most significant that his language begins to reflect that of Iago as he no longer speaks poeticallty, of his love and of his glorious career as a soldier in the same vein.
Instead he seems to have picked up on Iago’s harsh and crude language. Othello soon refers to his wife as “whore” and then “lewd minx” in Act III scene three. He speaks graphically and sexually, which is often associated with Iago’s linguistic; Othello asks “Were they as prime as goats and hot as monkeys.. ” He again talks speaks crudely of Desdemona as he quotes “I had been happy if the general camp, Pioneers and all, had tasted her sweet body.. ” As an audience we do not expect to witness such derogatory and filthy language from Othello, our tragic hero.
It is also important to remember that an Elizabethean audience would have been disgusted and would have linked this change in Othello as him shedding his true colours as a black person. Lastly, Othello’s plans for Desdemona and Cassio leave the audience feeling disappointed and aghast at the sinister capability of the supposed “hero” in the play. Up until this point in the play, Othello’s character and make-up had shown classic signs of the misunderstood, isolated character whom everyone had initially interpreted wrongly.
As an audience we are disappointed to witness Othello speaking so maliciously about the woman he previously proclaimed to have loved. Othello now cannot be forgiven or excused as simply being a product of Iago’s plans; as he makes his own devious and calamitous plans. He calculates like a real assassin, “Within these three days let me hear thee say That Cassio’d not alive” and he decidedly quotes “I will withdraw to furnish me with some swift means of death for the fair devil”. This is a turning point for the audience’s every respect and high esteem of Othello.
In conclusion, I feel that Act III would have left the audience with a new depiction of Othello. Throughout this Act Othello is no longer the noble, courageous and decent man that we know him as. He presents a more cowardly man, who is easily manipulated by Iago and is easily reduced to very low levels. Othello is definitely less likeable following Act III as he becomes accustomed to derogatory language, he is consumed by jealousy and revenge; and thus he is transformed from a benign and compassionate soldier and husband to a rancorous, erratic assassin.
Consequently by the end of Act III, Othello would have conformed to the stereo-type Moor of the time; proving the Elizabethan audience correct in their probable initial impressions of the black soldier. Nonetheless, there is however the possibility that Act three would have left Shakespeare’s audience feeling ever so slightly sympathetic towards the protagonist. Since, an Elizabethan audience would have understood the weight Othello attaches to his reputation, pride and therefore anger at Desdemona. In Shakespeare’s day a man’s honour was extremely important and his wife’s chastity was an integral part of it.