Othello – Consider the significance of Act 3 Scene 3 to the play as a whole

What impressions does this episode make on the audience and by what means? How does Shakespeare prepare the audience to find this episode believable? Othello was written by Shakespeare around 1602 and was set 35 years previously to that time (around 1571) during the Elizabethan era. Shakespeare got the idea for the play from the Italian Novella ‘Gli Hecatommithi’ and only changed minor details slightly. He kept the same plot but some of the characters and themes in the play were very different. The play itself is a tragedy and includes the things that Aristotle defined as what a tragedy should include.

Firstly, a protagonist, this is Othello. He is the protagonist as the play shows the story of his fall from a place of eminence as is required in all tragedies according to Aristotle. in that he portrays a man with much greatness. Othello also has many weaknesses. In order to really understand the character of Othello, we have to understand him as a tragic hero with greatness and weakness. At the beginning of the play his life is in order, as he was married to the beautiful Desdemona, the younger daughter of a well-respected Senator, Brabantio.

However, Othello is a Moor, and their marriage was frowned upon. In the play Othello is seen as a ‘moor’ therefore an outsider, he has to try to come to terms with Venetian rules. His fatal flaw is his jealousy, which is set off by Iago, the villain of the play. This noble man meets with tragedy by falling to Iago’s temptations and believing that his wife is unfaithful to him. This is because Iago is the antagonist in the story, also a vital part to a tragedy. He plays on Othello’s weakness, bringing out his fatal flaw of jealousy and making him believe that Desdemona and Cassio are having an affair.

During the course of the play, Iago kills Roderigo and Emilia, his wife; and he stabs Cassio, wounding his leg. His manipulation leads to the deaths of Desdemona and Othello. In the play there is physical movement of the characters from Venice to Cyprus, which helps towards the insecurities of Othello developing further. Venice was where the love between Desdemona and Othello developed and therefore gives the relationship a sense of security. In Venice any problems there is order and control and any problems are dealt with swiftly and even though Othello is still an outsider he is valuable to them.

However, the move to Cyprus makes Othello vulnerable in that he is no longer valued and is being moved away from what he knows – into the unknown, which makes it easier for Iago to play on Othello’s insecurities as they are more susceptible to attack. Before they move there is a storm, which relates to the turbulence to Othello’s life that will be brought with the move. The scene I am focusing on is Act 3 Scene 3; this is the longest and most dramatic scene in the play.

It is the climatic turning point of the play and is significant in that it is the first time Iago really begins to take hold of Othello, to manipulate him and make him lose his trust in Cassio and Desdemona. A key event in this scene is when Iago says “Ha! I like not that” As this is the beginning of Iago’s manipulation over Othello making Othello curious as to what Iago means and therefore making sure Iago has Othello’s attention. Iago plays on Othello’s insecurities here and makes Cassio’s exit seem guilty. In this scene one of the most noticeable changes is that of Othello’s language.

Prior to this scene Othello’s language is gracious and noble, though he claims it is not we can see clearly that it is, for example when he says he does not just lust after Desdemona “To please the palate of my appetite, nor to comply with heat the young affects In my distinct and proper satisfaction, But to be free and bounteous to her mind” At the beginning of the scene his language is still gracious and he is still free of Iago. He says “sweet Desdemon” which is the last time he shows his affection to her as Iago gets his hold over him soon after this.

However, during Act 3 Scene 3 his language begins to change, it becomes more suspicious and begins to resemble Iago’s language as he begins to use imagery. He also begins to curse as Iago has done previously, Othello damns Desdemona to hell, all this shows the hold Iago has over Othello and how he has already been able to influence him. He is doing this by using Othello’s insecurities to get to him, as he is a ‘moor’ (is black) he has already felt like an outsider and this also allows Iago to be able to get to him.

Othello says, “Thou echoest me, as if there was some monster in thy thought too hideous to be shown” this simile shows that Iago’s insinuations are beginning to affect Othello. This is an example of Othello’s dramatic language and the use of different literary devices. However previously in the play he claims to lack gracious speech “Rude am I in my speech” but proves himself to have the most exquisite and gracious use of language of all the characters, but this is all before Act 3 Scene 3.

During and after this scene, his previously emotive and strong language becomes more fragmented as he becomes more consumed with his jealousy and has aggressive outbursts such as “Damn her, Lewd minx! ” which completely contrasts with the language he would have used before this scene and shows how he has changed and the beginning of his downfall. He becomes very nearly unable to make full sentences “Noses, ears, lips. Is’t possible? Confess! Handkerchief! O devil! ” showing his upset and extreme anger.

Othello himself hates chaos and disorder but in this scene we begin to see language becoming much more chaotic and losing its order. This shows the previous scene to be ironic as it shows Othello checking the battlements, which is his public life, though it is his private life that is actually in danger. Also in Act 3 Scene 2 it shows Iago helping to check the battlements, which again is ironic as Iago is the one trying to break down his defences in his private life.

His language continues in this chaotic and fragmented structure until he kills Desdemona and realises his error. After this, both his character and his language are restored to their former selves. Iago also uses interesting language in the play, however throughout his language is of a manipulative manner and does not change much throughout the play, one of his main types of manipulative language is imagery, for example “it is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on”.

The green eyed monster symbolising jealousy and helping to implant ideas in Othello’s mind about Desdemona having an affair, it is also ironic in that Iago is inferring that Othello is being deceived by Desdemona when it is actually Iago that is deceiving him. In his deception of Othello, Iago also influences his language and Othello begins to use imagery too, this shows the effect of Iago is actually having on Othello and how successful he is. Iago manages to successfully manipulate Othello and gets a persuasive effect by manufacturing expressions.

Iago manages to stay in control of his language throughout the play and uses anti-heroic language, which is the complete opposite of Othello. Iago speaks plainly and directly, always being very self-assured. Iago’s manipulation must have been done for a reason and there are many possible interpretations of Iago’s motivation. One of these interpretations is that Iago is gay. This would explain why he wanted to trick Othello, if he was attracted to him. This may mean that Iago wanted Desdemona out of the way because he was jealous.

However another reason may be that he is attracted to Desdemona. This would explain when Iago says “My friend is dead; ‘Tis done at your request. But let her live” This is either Iago actually attempting to stop Othello from killing Desdemona, however he could also have said this to plant the idea of killing her in his head. Iago also says “Now, I do love her too” in Act 2 Scene 1 which shows that it is possible that he has fallen in love with Desdemona, though he could be saying this because she is aiding him with Othello’s demise.

If Iago did feel strongly about her, again his jealousy could take over and cause him to manipulate Othello. His jealousy of them and their relationship is likely to have played a big part in his motivation, whatever it may be. Even though these are all possible motivations, Iago uses the excuse that it is because Othello gave a better job to Cassio and he wants revenge. A reason that I consider more likely is that Iago is racist and, like Othello, doesn’t like to see people who he believes are inferior to him tainting his superiority.

So therefore it angers him to see Othello, a moor, an outsider and inferior to him, having an important job and having a beautiful white wife and thus has a higher social standing than him. Basically, this interpretation boils down to Iago’s pride getting the better of him and him being able to manipulate the other characters makes him feel superior. In the play Shakespeare uses many dramatic devices in order to forward the story of the play. Women in the play have been used, such as Bianca, both to help Iago in his manipulation and move the play forwards.

Bianca is used purely as a dramatic device, being used in Iago’s manipulation and being used by Cassio too. Emilia is also used as a dramatic device in that she has split loyalty and allows herself to be controlled by Iago to get love from him and unknowingly helps Iago and betrays Desdemona. Desdemona however is much less impressionable; she is more strong willed and emotional. Her loyalties are not split, as she is loyal to Othello but is unknowingly used to further Iago’s plot for revenge. The handkerchief is a very significant dramatic device as it is used to further Iago’s plot and finally sending Othello over the edge.

This handkerchief links all the women together and is a very meaningful symbol. The colour of the handkerchief is important. The white of the handkerchief could symbolise innocence and purity with the red of the handkerchief symbolising blood. This could also be blood on the wedding night, which shows the strong bond that they have, but when the handkerchief is lost then the bond between the two of them is also broken allowing Iago’s plan to end successfully. However the red on the handkerchief that may symbolise blood, could also be carried on to symbolise death, which is foreshadowing the end of the play.

We can believe that Act 3 Scene 3 could have actually taken place for many reasons. Firstly we must consider ‘honest’ Iago’s status. Iago has been put in a job in which he has to be near Othello and is considered a friend by him. Iago is very trusted by all the characters that he is able to use in his plot, therefore making it much easier for himself, often being referred to as ‘honest Iago’. Iago also has very strong persuasive techniques and is very skilled with them, allowing him to use skills language such as imagery to his advantage.

Along with this, in true tragedy style, Othello has flaws, as does any protagonist in a tragedy. He is flawed in that he takes people at face value and is extremely trusting. This flaw allows Iago to manipulate and persuade him round to whatever Iago wants him to think. In this scene it is easy to see that Iago has a huge hold over Othello already. This is because Othello takes Iago at face value and believes him to be an honest man, also because the problems Iago is inferring are all part of his insecurities.

He was already insecure as he was an outsider as a moor but in Venice he was needed so had some security as this was also where his and Desdemona’s love developed. This meant he had a sense of security in both his public and private life. However the move to Cyprus and into the unknown made him even less secure making him believe anything without asking about it and even the slightest evidence seems like solid proof to him. This is believable because the language change has showed us that he is insecure. This brings the play to a tragic close filled with death and realisation and shows the scene to be believable.

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