Theo Georgiades

Dramatic irony is a feature of many plays. It occurs when the development of the plot allows the audience to have more insight about what is happening than some of the characters themselves. Iago is the source of much of the dramatic irony in Othello, informing the audience of his intentions. Characters may also speak in a dramatically ironic way, saying something that points to events to come without understanding the significance of their words.

The opening scene is laced with dramatic irony, all of which centres on Iago. Roderigo fails to see that a man who admits he is a self-serving conman – “I am not what I am” – might also be fooling him, and Brabantio is unaware of the aptness of his line “Thou art a villain”. Iago has exposed himself very early and we watch fascinated as he manipulates others.

In Act I, Scene III, we almost admire Othello’s “free and open nature”, as Shakespeare states, but we are worried that Othello is gullible enough to be taken for a ride. His choice to place his wife in Iago’s care is frightening, although it shows his high opinions of him. We are given two menacing hints about the future progress of Othello’s marriage when the senators leave; Brabantio warns Othello against trusting Desdemona, while the first senator tells Othello to “use Desdemona well”. These lines are examples of dramatic irony; hints to the audience about the way the plot will develop.

In Act III, Scene III, Othello is under pressure from the moment he enters. He is able to order his wife, although he seems nervous throughout his dialogue with her at the start of the scene. There is acknowledgment in his line “I will deny thee nothing”, as we are very well aware that this line is very true. We might feel that Othello is already on the threshold of disaster, even before Iago’s words get to him properly. As Desdemona leaves Othello says “Excellent wretch […] come again” (see lines III.3.90-2). These lines suggest that Othello will be completely lost if his love is shattered. Note the two words in these lines that hint at the trouble to come: “perdition” and “chaos”. The audience will be aware of the dramatic irony of these lines.

Also found in Act III; Scene IV is packed with dramatic irony. This sad scene focuses on Desdemona. Emilia’s purpose in this scene is to remark on what she sees and hears. She introduces the subject of Othello’s jealousy, enabling us to value just how much naive confidence Desdemona has in her husband. We quickly learn that we can rely on her judgement; Emilia accurately guesses that it is jealous thoughts which trouble Othello. Emilia is also intelligent in her description of jealousy; “It is a monster/Begot upon itself, born on itself”.

Later on in the play we will see the excellence of these words. Shakespeare fills this scene with examples of alarming dramatic irony, for example Desdemona’s words at lines 25-9 and 30-1. In spite of the fact that she lies to her husband about the loss of the handkerchief, we are likely to feel much sympathy for Desdemona. She does not appreciate the danger she is in, signified by her words at line 30 and is alarmed by her husband’s description of the handkerchief and his repeated requests to see it.

Shakespeare’s play Othello is a play where dramatic irony prevails practically everywhere. The audience is not just an observer, but a kind of judge one might say, having enough information to evaluate the significance of certain words stated by characters that are none the wiser; and can therefore sit back and enjoy the art in the villain’s skills aswell the excellence of Shakespeare at play.

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