Act I

It is night. "Tush" and ""Sblood" open the play. Though both Roderigo and Iago display a vulgarity of language, Roderigo makes his mark as a gentleman against the coarse soldier speech of Iago. Whilst one of the "curled darlings of the nation", he is certainly not darling to Brabantio nor to Desdemona whom he seeks.

Iago reveals such a hatred of Othello shared not even by Brabantio. Roderigo may doubt it but it is one of the truest emotions Iago expresses in the play. In his first speech, one motive for his hatred may be found. Othello has chosen Michael Cassio to be his lieutenant instead of Iago and Iago has nothing but scorn for them both: Othello he describes as "loving his own pride and purposes" and "horribly stuffed with epithets of war" (1.1.11-13). As we will learn, there is some truth in these judgements. Iago thinks himself more suitable for the post than Cassio who he derides as "a great arithmetician...that never set a squadron in the field / nor the division of battle know / more than a spinster..." (1.1.18-23). He is not "bookish" like Cassio. He has practical experience of soldiering. Of him, Othello’s "eyes had seen proof" - the same ocular proof that he demands from Iago of Desdemona’s infidelity - "at Rhodes, at Cyprus and on other grounds, Christian and heathen" (1.1.27-29).

Iago is referred to often throughout the play as "my Ancient". The contrast has bitterness in it whenever he replies to Othello as "my Lord" or Cassio as "Lieutenant". In Iago’s speech on masters and servants (I.1.40ff), his true concept of his position is revealed and with it the philosophy underlying his malice if such a thing exists: "I follow him to serve my turn upon him. / We cannot all be masters, nor all masters can be truly followed...In following him, I follow but myself" (1.1.41-43, 57). He derides those who "doting on his own obsequious bondage / wears out his time much like his master’s ass" (1.1.45-46) and praises those who "keep yet their hearts attending on themselves / and, throwing but shows of service on their themselves homage" (1.1.50-53). "These men have some soul," he professes. His creed worships but himself, and his words suggest contempt for the souls who hold honesty and honour dear. "I am not what I am", he concludes, yet Roderigo still trusts him, as do Cassio, Desdemona and Othello. That is Iago, "honest Iago", "ancient" to them all but master at the same time.

The first task Iago sets is to wake Brabantio and inform him that his daughter has eloped with Othello. This custom (called charivari) was not uncommon in a situation where one party disapproved of a match. Iago incites Roderigo to yell "as when by night and negligence the fire / is spied in populous cities". This practical image serves well the simple mind of Roderigo and such imagery is employed to similar effect to incite Brabantio: "Even now, very now, now, an old black ram / is tupping your white ewe" (1.1.87- 88). If anything is to "Arise, arise / the snorting citizens", it is language such as this. Brabantio’s first impression of this as "malicious start my quiet" is all too accurate. Iago declares that "you have lost half your soul...your daughter covered by a Barbary making the beast with two backs". Iago, as throughout the play is creating an image – a very obscene image – to provoke Brabantio. He succeeds: Brabantio arises, stunned by the darkness around him and calls for "Light! I say, light!" [1.1.75- 142]

Iago makes his exit so as to be seen doing Othello "shows of service" when Roderigo arrives in the company of Brabantio and his followers. It is important that, up to this point, the audience has only the vivid image of Othello as the savage "tupper" that Iago has painted. Othello’s first words "Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them" are noble and authoritative, the same voice which spoke of "... the battle, sieges, fortunes / that I have passed...of moving accidents by flood and field / Of hair- breadth scapes i’th’imminent deadly breach", the voice of a man that fetched his "life and being from men of royal siege". It was this voice and no "spells and medicines bought of mountebanks" to which Desdemona had "seriously inclined" and come again with a "greedy ear". The picture that Othello paints of himself is a powerful antidote to that which Iago paints in the first scene, and yet there is unquestionably

  By PanEris using Melati.

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