Lecture 3 Othello the Moor of Venice
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Lecture 3 Othello the Moor of Venice
Critical Focus on Scenes 2 & 3 of Act 1
Exploration / Inquiry: Othello
Does Shakespeare present Iago more as a villain or victim in the opening of the play? Discuss with close reference and direct quotation. Remember to present a persuasive argument.
Concerns / Issues; Sources of conflict? Individual and Society
Gender; a woman of great beauty Money matters; issues re material wealth; The presence of an outsider; ethnically and culturally different; We cannot all be masters
Sources of conflict (cont) Individual and Society Mixed marriage, and Miscegenation; Mother nature’s disproportionate distribution of Intelligence and Stupidity; of Superior and Inferior intellect; of the Strong and the Weak Grudges and Grievances Judgments and Decisions Temptations
Desdemona’s declaration of faithful love for the Moor in Act 4, Scene 2 I know not how I lost him. Here I kneel: If e’er my will did trespass ’gainst his love, Either in discourse of thought or actual deed; Or that mine eyes, mine ears, or any sense Delighted them in any form; Or that I do not yet, and ever did, And ever will—though he do shake me off To beggarly divorcement—love him dearly,
Comfort forswear me! Unkindness may do much, And his unkindness may defeat my life, But never taint my love. I cannot say ‘whore’; It does abhor me now I speak the word; To do the act that might the addition earn Not the world’s mass of vanity could make me.
Dramatic purposes of Act 1 Scene 2
To introduce and present the audience with a closeup picture of the Moor, Othello To establish Othello’s position as a military leader To shed more light on the character of Iago To advance the movement of the play To arouse excitement of a possible arrest (suspense) To continue the theme of Magic—the Black Arts, as an Otherworldly contrast to Venetian Civilization To link up with Scene 1
Close-up picture of Othello; link to Individual and Society?
Othello, a romantic figure & of royal lineage Exceptionally conscious of his worth Trusts in friendship; not given to suspicion Has respect for age: ‘command with years’ No weakling; no wimp Fearless: “Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them” 1.2.58
Othello as a military leader in this scene
Presented / portrayed to be an alert, poised leader Proud but not vainglorious Convinced of his own integrity And trusting the integrity of others Single-minded and dedicated to duty
Note the Moor much different than Iago’s representation of him in Scene 1
His first long speech stresses that difference ‘Most potent, grave, and reverend signors’ His dignity, pride, self-confidence are shown However we also learn that the Moor became a husband with some regret Only the strength of Desdemona’s love— strong enough to make him want to give up his bachelor freedom for marriage Is this a subtle hint and foreshadowing of future marital conflict?
Critical questions to ask oneself re- Othello (as a Tragic Hero)
What is your opinion of Othello at this point in the play? What may have brought about his ultimate downfall? Is he simply a victim of the villainous schemes of Iago? Or is there apparent some serious defect of character that made his downfall possible? Such as being, too credulous? Should he have been more cautious, more alert?
More light on IAGO a Supersubtle Venetian
Note Iago’s pretended restraint in his diction;
Cleverly insists on the enormity of Roderigo’s provocation: “prated, And Spoke such scurvy and provoking terms Against your honour” Tries then another way to get Othello angry: “He [Brabantio] will divorce you, Or put upon you what restraint, and grievance The Law, with all his might to enforce it on”
Critical questions to ask re- Iago
Is his sense of unrewarded merit an important key to his attitude and action? Is he a relatively decent man plunging for the first time into wickedness? Or do we already see evidence of a ‘sick’, disturbed, neurotic man; a psychopath? Sees people merely as objects to exploit? Is he Satanic-like figure seeking absolute mastery?
Contrasts in Act 1
In scene 1, Iago seemed to be interested only in his own material gain
By Scene 3, Iago seems to be fixated on one idea: to avenge himself on the Moor.
Advancing the movement of the play In Scene 1 What dominated the dramatic action? Brabantio’s grief at the loss of his daughter In Scene 2? Introduced is national strife and the invasion of the Venetian colony of Cyprus; So the tempo of the scene at once increases in speed.
Increase in tempo evident in; Othello’s importance emphasized Enter Cassio and Officers with torches; The Duke of Venice requires the appearance of Othello “haste post haste” “even on the instant” News from Cyprus “is a business of some heat” “the galleys // Have sent a dozen sequent messengers // This very night, at one another’s heels.”
Othello’s Public Image The government has been called to the Council Chamber: Cassio to Othello: “many of the consuls, rais’d and met, Are at the duke’s already” The request for Othello is emphasized again: “you have been hotly call’d for” “The senate sent about three several quests To search you hot.”
Approach of mob violence; Concerns; Individual & Society? ‘Here comes another troop to seek for you.’ More lights in the distance A torchlight procession in noisy hot pursuit Led by Brabantio and Roderigo And note Iago again is on the alert; warning Othello: “general be advis’d // He comes to bad intent”
Action Swords are drawn And the followers on both sides prepare to fight Brabantio calls to his men to tackle the Moor “Down with him, thief” Clash of swords can be seen and heard Note Iago’s involvement in the struggle;
Othello’s reaction Othello manages to remain calm and controlled; Stays in command of the situation With an air of authority he orders both parties to: “keep up your bright swords” So the conflict has been averted But the excitement of it gives thrilling dramatic value to this scene.
Theme of Magic; of Occult powers; of Witchcraft; the Black Arts
Shakespeare’s tragedies deal with things greater than man With otherworldly powers; with the dark abysses of suffering First and foremost Shakespeare is a poet A gift for the imagination In his true poetic imagination—he knows how slender a hold man has on this life
And how changeable are his quiet orderly habits and his prosaic speech At any moment by the operation of chance or of fate The quiet of our everyday normal lives may be disturbed And the world is given over once more to forces beyond our control
Throughout Scenes 1 & 2 of Act 1 We get the feeling that fate, chance, charms and witchcraft are at work Sc 1 Brabantio hears that Desdemona has eloped. His first thought—how she got out? A horrible thought strikes him—charms, witchcraft, are at work in his own home “is there not charms” abusing “the property of youth and maidhood”
Theme of Charms / chains of magic developed in Scene 2
Brabantio accuses Othello of being “an abuser of the world, a practiser // Of arts inhibited, and out of warrant” He cannot accept the possibility that she left home of her own free will And because of her love for Othello This theme is weaved into the texture of the drama almost unobtrusively
“hast practis’d on her with foul charms, Abus’d her delicate youth, with drugs or minerals, That weakens motion.”
Othello Lecture Dramatic purposes of Scene 3
To create an atmosphere of war Make more clear the stature of Othello Introduce the character of Desdemona and explain the nature of her relationship with Othello; Give us further glances at the characters of Roderigo and Brabantio To shed more light on Iago’s character through the birth of his monstrous plan
Scene 3 of Act 1 - a key scene
Venice, a bastion of European civilization Threatened by a Turkish assault on her outpost, Cyprus; Brabantio, a very senior statesman, assumes Othello must have used witchcraft to put an evil spell on his daughter to win her love; Othello on trial; defends his conduct before a Senate inquiry committee;
Stature of Othello in Venice? On stage movement; and Stage Directions As Othello makes his entrance in the company of Brabantio, Cassio, Iago, Roderigo, and Officers [p25] ‘Valiant Othello, we must straight away employ you / Against the enemy Ottoman’ We note the Duke makes it a point to greet Othello before welcoming Brabantio; Dramatic effect?
Reflects the uncertainty and disordered atmosphere of the situation and even of the council chamber itself
It also subtly foreshadows the Duke’s judgment in favour of Othello when Brabantio accuses him of witchcraft
Scene 3 stresses Othello’s greatness as a public figure [dramatic effects?]
His adventurous background – has stirred the whole Venetian state to admire him But his public image of discipline and self-control – makes the most appeal (So far in the play), shows himself as cool-headed and calmly decisive; Note—calmly allows Brabantio to state his case without interruption; listens as Brabantio accuses him publicly of abusing, corrupting Desdemona “by spells and medicines”
In reply, Othello shows great diplomacy Knows that to contradict Brabantio openly would only arouse hostility and so he offers to subtly explain the nature of this magic:
“she lov’d me for the dangers I had passed And I loved her that she did pity them This only is the witchcraft I have used”
Effects of Othello’s Diplomatic Speech [Internal effects] Such diplomacy wins the sympathy of the Duke and his senators Note: Does not degrade (Senator) Brabantio for his accusations;
Shows he recognizes the legitimate right Brabantio has as father of Desdemona Wisely then states his own case clearly and directly
Some key points highlighted in Othello’s defense speech
Frequent and respected guest in Brabantio’s household ‘Her father loved me, oft invited me / Still questioned me the story of my life’ Describes openly and truthfully (?) the events prior to his marriage Narrated past life and adventures; Claims only this romantic type background won (charmed) Desdemona’s pity and love; not any form of charms / or witchcraft
Othello’s Background; A very different World 1.3.137-146 Of being taken by the insolent foe, And sold to slavery, of my redemption thence, And portance in my travels’ history; Wherein of antres vast and deserts idle, Rough quarries, rocks, and hills whose heads touch heaven, It was my hint to speak – such was the process; And of the Cannibals that each other eat, The Anthropophagi, and men whose heads Do grow beneath their shoulders.
Magical Charms / Witchcraft Othello in Act 3 Scene 4 p149 That handkerchief Did an Egyptian to my mother give, She was a charmer, and could almost read The thoughts of people. She told her, while she kept it, ’Twould make her amiable, and subdue my father Entirely to her love; but if she lost it Or made a gift of it, my father’s eye Should hold her loathed, and his spirits should hunt After new fancies. She, dying gave it to me, And bid me, when my fate would have me wive…
Language of Othello in this Scene Language is in keeping with a man of stature It is exceptionally eloquent, though he says he is rude of speech “Most potent, grave, and reverend signiors, My very noble and approved good masters” the language of respect; elevated; poetic And in return wins respect for his point of view [Internal Dramatic Effects] External dramatic effects?
Syntactic Rhythms of Othello’s speech at this stage of the play
Othello speaks in continuous, articulate and reasoned structures Very measured, steady, and controlled
As opposed to
Fragmented, loose, emotional structures
Verdict of the Duke ‘I think this tale would win my daughter too. Good Brabantio, Take up this mangled matter at the best.’ (Make the best of this confused affair) And later in the scene, Duke to Brabantio ‘And noble signor, If virtue no delighted beauty lack, Your son-in-law is far more fair than black.’
Digression; Othello in Act 4 Scene 1 p169 Note change in rhythmic movement of his speech:
‘Lie with her? Lie on her? We say lie on her when they belie her. Lie with her – Zounds, that’s fulsome. Handkerchief – confessions – handkerchief! To confess and be hanged for his labour – first to be hanged, and then to confess, I tremble at it.’
Dramatic Technique the Soliloquy [Keep in mind] All speeches reveal states of mind; Lengthy speech by a character alone on stage, addressed directly to the audience; Involves a character talking to the audience Whereby character confesses / voices own inner thoughts; (Effect?) Some sort of special relationship is thus established between character and audience
Next- Iago’s evil plot is born; More thorough revenge plan 45/47 I hate the Moor: And it is thought abroad that ’twixt my sheets He’s done my office. He holds me well; The better shall my purpose work on him. Cassio is a proper man; let me see now; To get his place, and to plume my will In double knavery – How? How? Let’s see – After some time, to abuse Othello’s ear That he is too familiar with his wife.
Iago continues “The Moor a free and open nature too, That thinks men honest that seem to be so: And will as tenderly be led by the nose… As asses are.”
Iago convinced of his insightful and superior understanding of human nature;
Scene ending with Iago Note use of powerful and arresting imagery: “Hell and night Must bring this monstrous birth to the world’s light” Ends with a forecast of doom to the idealistic lovers And the destruction of an unsuspecting couple Dramatic effects?
Do you find Iago puzzling? Does Iago come across as an ordinary villain? Does he delight in evil because it is evil? Charles Lamb in his Elia Essays says he is “a consummate villain entrapping a noble nature into toils.”
And William Hazlitt says there is a lack of motive behind his dastardly behaviour.
Themes in Scenes, notably Scene 3 of Act 1? How does language and imagery present and develop these themes throughout the play? Civilization and Barbarism Christianity and Heathenism Heaven and Hell Order and Chaos Magic; Witchcraft Love and Lust; Love and Hate Good versus Evil Appearance and Reality