Act 3, scene 3 in the Shakespearean tragedy Othello: The Moor of Venice is the pivotal scene; Iago poisons Othello’s mind as the Moor finally surrenders to Iago’s false allegations of the lustful Desdemona and cassio having an affair, which leads to his ultimate downfall. In this scene love becomes hate and honour turns to betrayal. Othello is consumed by hate and suspicion, his love for Desdemona decays throughout the scene due to Iago’s treacherous lies.
Later on in this scene Othello is portrayed as a heinous villain due to his irrational and merciless opinion of Desdemona.Elizabethan attitudes are seen throughout the play, and it is a major theme. Basic Western iconography states that white signifies purity and black signifies evil. But this concept is repeatedly challenged throughout the tragedy.
For example the name Bianca (Cassio’s black mistress) means ‘white’ in Italian, meaning Bianca is pure though Iago states that she is but a mere ” housewife, that by selling her desires buys herself bread and clothes”, Bianca and Desdemona both deny that they are ‘strumpets’ and the audience realize that the only evidence for them being whores of course, comes from the mouth of Iago.Othello is the general of the Venetian armies who are at war with the Turks and has just eloped with the fair and beautiful Desdemona. Iago, Othello’s seemingly trustworthy companion, is in fact plotting Othello’s downfall because Cassio was given the position of lieutenant not him. It is in this scene that Iago plants the seed of doubt in Othello’s mind about Desdemona’s faithfulness and her close relationship with the Florentine, Cassio.
Shakespeare brings to us a cynicism that we should always look to people’s motives before trusting what they say. Othello trusts Iago but Iago has other intentions. He wants the position of lieutenant and drags into his plot anyone he can. He blemishes Desdemona’s character and uses his deviousness to find evidence against her and Cassio in order to succeed in his malicious plan.
Iago is a terrible, despicable person who is yet trusted by Othello.A.C Bradley described the arch Shakespearean villain’s plans and personality as “Evil has nowhere else been portrayed with such mastery,”Iago puts his plan straight into action at the very start of the scene:”Ha! I like not that” and”I cannot think he would sneak away so guilty-like”This is said to Othello as they enter the room to see Desdemona and Cassio together in innocent conversation but Iago puts a suspicious twist to their meeting. Immediately he is planting a seed of doubt in Othello’s head that something strange is going on.
Many techniques are drawn from Iago’s abhorrent mind to lure Othello into his cunning plan. Iago uses emotional blackmail, not to cause guilt, but instead to ensnare Othello and make him believe Iago is a true friend as he has pointed out the ‘false romance’ between his wife and Cassio.”My lord you know I love you.” says Iago to Othello.
As his friend Iago pretends not to want to tell Othello about the apparent affair between Desdemona and Cassio. He also uses delaying tactics as one of his techniques in order to drive Othello to the edge of insanity as he is not telling him his veiled thoughts about the secret affair.He also uses repetition of words which adds to his delaying tactics.”Is he not honest?””Honest, my lord?”This again makes it seem Iago is reluctant to break the news to Othello and only as a true friend will he do so.
“Observe her well with Cassio. Wear your eye thus not jealous nor secure.”Iago wants to act as a true friend by taking him into his confidence and wanting Othello to see the evidence for himself but once he has sewed the seed of doubt in Othello’s head, he is almost certain Othello is convinced.Iago is very sly, when making Othello conjure up more hate for Cassio and Desdemona.
We can see this as Othello believes Iago and not his own wife! This is most likely due to the role women had in Elizabethan society (they were seen as lower class than men). Iago mentions this occasionally”Our country of disposition” meaning women should behave appropriately and not commit adultery. The audience then (Elizabethans) would find it perfectly acceptable if a man did this. This is mentioned by Emilia in Act 4, scene 3.
“What is it they do,When they change us for others? Is it for sport?I think it is”.This is very humorous as her husband is deploying deceitful acts. This may mean Shakespeare had a more sympathetic side towards women (feminist) as he shows their thoughts and feelings as well as men.”And have we not affections,Desires for sport, and frailty, as men have?”Shakespeare’s manipulation of language is very clever.
Iago uses metaphors in order to compare his thoughts and feelings with bad connotations”It is the green-eyed monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on”Here Iago is describing the emotion of jealousy. The monster relates to Othello and he implies that he is a beast and the meat relates to the past stories of Othello and cannibalism (this also adds to him being compared with a monster). The word ‘mock’ means to annoy, but here it means torture. This relates to how Iago is torturing Othello mentally by making false accusations about his fair wife and Cassio.
The image created by Iago’s words is very powerful and the audience can immediately identify with this.As Othello becomes more wound up in Iago’s ‘Net of lies’, he also uses metaphors which create dark images and connotations.”Diana’s visage is now begrimed and black”Diana was a goddess and she is compared with Desdemona this obviously means she is as divine as a goddess, but Othello then uses an oxymoron saying her face now “begrimed and black”, implying that she is evil and unfaithful due to her actions with Cassio, that the angel has become the devil.To finally secure Othello into his cunning and deceitful plan he uses evidence which makes Othello trust him.
“In sleep I heard him say ‘sweet Desdemona, let us be wary, let us hide our loves’;”This is one piece of evidence used to convince Othello Desdemona is being unfaithful. Another vital piece of evidence was that of the handkerchief dropped by Desdemona and picked up by Emilia who passed it on to Iago. Iago then convinces Othello that he has seen Cassio with the handkerchief.”Why then ’tis hers, my lord,”Also Iago is often referred to as “honest Iago,” displaying his skill at deceiving other characters so that not only do they not suspect him, but they believe and count on him as the person most likely to be truthful.
Iago is a central part of the play, he “fuels the tension of the play, and his main tool is not a weapon as such, nor a powerful position, but rather his command over language, as he hints, whispers and slanders.” (Shakespeare, Aphra Behn and the Canon – Owens and Goodman).An Elizabethan audience must have been aware of certain racism, for example Iago’s description of Othello as “thick-lips” (act 1, scene 1). But Othello as a Moor, which is strictly a North African but may be used by Shakespeare to mean a black person, was a leader of an army and this idea to a person living 100 to 200 years later to imagine a black person other than as a servant/slave or wild primitive would be difficult.
As Samuel Taylor Coleridge said 100 years later, “It would be something monstrous to conceive this beautiful Venetian girl falling in love with a veritable negro” (in Othello, Cambridge School Shakespeare).Othello’s characteristics are good and just and yet easily led and misled by the cunning Venetian, Iago. It may be that despite his leadership qualities he still looks up to the upper class Venetian, or does Shakespeare give him the naï¿½ve qualities that seem to characterise the women. Emilia who unquestionably gives her husband the handkerchief and Desdemona who innocently sees Cassio in private not realising the implications it may have on her husband.
How else can we understand the way in which Othello is taken in either due to the pureness of his thoughts or the naivety of a black person?Perhaps there are parallels to Elizabethan society in which many of the men in the highest positions were all scheming to gain influence with and perhaps over the queen. Another source of conflict in Elizabethan society was that of catholic versus protestant which ultimately led to the downfall of Charles I. Did Shakespeare envisage this possibility in Othello, in the way that the leader is given bad and malicious advice by juniors which will ultimately lead to the downfall of the leader?Women are given a subordinate role in Othello whilst strong characters, they are used in development of the relationship of Iago and Othello. This was the case in Elizabethan society, even all the parts in the play would be played by men and boys not women, and yet Shakespeare questions their subordination.
As we have seen in the words of Emilia in Act 4, Scene 3 she asks; if it is considered alright for men to have lovers is it not the right of women to do have them also. Having had a queen leading the nation so recently were values being questioned and perhaps women knew their value whatever the mainstream ideas may have been. Given that Shakespeare’s audience was entirely white and in a male dominated society we can see a slightly subversive message to the play. Othello is the tragic hero a good person deceived by the callous aristocratic white Venetian.
Whilst the women who are good and virtuous are cruelly let down by their husbands, leading Emilia to question the dominant role of the alpha male.