Othello and Iago: a comparison of speech in 1.3

A very old post which I have found on an old hardrive. I hope it is useful.

Comparison of Othello and Iago Language in Act 1.3.

            In Othello, both Othello and Iago use different ways of talking, shown through the language and meaning of their soliloquies. This is really shown through two speeches made early in the course of the play in Act 1, scene 3 (lines 129-170 for Othello and lines 381-403 for Iago.). In Act 1 scene 3 we see Desdemona’s father complaining that Othello had tricked her into marrying her, and then in Othello’s speech he justifies how he wooed her. Desdemona is reunited with Othello and the newlyweds are then told that Othello must go to Cyprus to defend the country from the impending Turks, and he decides to take Desdemona, with her consent, with him. Othello then tells Iago to sort the plans, then leaves and a chat between Roderigo and Iago takes place, where Iago begins to scheme. When Iago is left alone, we come to his soliloquy in which he tells us of his scheming plan to get rid of Cassio and Othello in one step, which ends the scene and the act.

            Lines 129 – 170 cover Othello’s speech, and in it we can call on many differences between his style of speech and Iago’s. For example, the opening line of Othello’s speech begins with, “Her father loved me, oft invited me, still questioned me”. This line demonstrates his ability to speak, and also to address publicly yet still to a specific person, which he does several times, for example starting on line 261 later in this scene. The verbs that Shakespeare uses not only gives the audience an insight into the relationship between Othello and Brabantio, but also shows them that for a black man Othello is well educated and very different to the common perception of that was held of black people at the time. In Othello’s speech there are literary devices that are used to enhance the power of his speech, such as groups of threes in descriptions, hyperbolise to create tension and punctuation for effect. The first group of three comes at the beginning on line 131 where Othello describes some of the events in his life as, “the battles, sieges, fortunes”. The group of three here works effectively as it gives the audience an idea of what will be coming next within this speech, but also draws the reader in as “battles” are seen to be dangerous, heroic and an act of bravery. A similar example of this can be found on line 135, where Othello describes in more detail some of the battles he has fought using another group of three, out of which, “Of hair-breadth scapes I’th imminent deadly / breach,” is the most interesting. The image of their escape being a hair’s breadth away from death is striking, and by the fact “breach,” is on the next line, with a comma following, would give the actor time to pause and create a dramatic emphasis around this word.

            Othello shows his skill, again, to attract his audience through the use of many a hyperbole. “hair-breadth scapes” is not meant to be taken literally, but is used to effect and draws the reader in to believing Othello is a great and heroic man. Another example of the hyperbolise used to this effect is, “rocks and hills whose heads touch heaven”. The images created by this, of rocks touching heaven, gives the impression to the audience, and the other characters on stage, that Othello has seen greatness by climbing these hills. Shakespeare skilfully uses these hyperbolise to create an image of Othello and his past to the audience. Othello does not seem arrogant by adding these few details, which gives a good indication to the in-depth character of him. They simply create an atmosphere of sincerity and simplicity by Othello, and also a pitying wonder from the other onstage characters. After the speech, even the revered Duke comments that “this tale would win my daughter too”.

            The way that Shakespeare has created this atmosphere of pity from the other characters in regards to Othello is through some of the punctuation. A good example of this is “– such was my process –” which through the dashes creates an effect of Othello having a break of his story to tell him fellow characters onstage the true nature of his journey there. Through this he brings himself back to their level and also gives them a bite of true insight into himself. These things draw in the audience and the characters onstage, which is what creates this effect.

            Iago’s speech begins on line 381 and ends on line 404, which is the end of this scene. Unlike Othello’s speech which is full of hyperbolise and dramatic effects to persuade his audience, Iago’s soliloquy is full of purpose and intent, and uses rhetorical questions and a dramatic pause on a half line as his only aids for giving his powerful speech. In his second line we get a new truth from Iago, where he admits to making a “fool” out of Roderigo for money – “Thus do I ever make my fool my purse”. He continues with this harsh tone when he refers to Roderigo again not by his name but by, “snipe”, which means a dumb fool. Iago says in no uncertain terms of Othello. He professes, “I hate the Moor”, which shows his harsh tone as hate is a strong word full of emotion, and also he does not refer to Othello by his name. Also, another way he shows his dislike for Othello is by agreeing to rumours without having proof – Iago says: “I know not if’t be true, but I for mere suspicion in that kind / will do as if for surety” which demonstrates his will for something to condemn Othello with.

            The first example of Iago’s few uses of literary devices is when Iago asks himself how to trick two people at once, and he says: “How? How? Let’s see:”. These questions give time for the audience to ponder what he could possibly do to complete this mission, and also it gives the audience the impression of hearing the “true” Iago, as if it is us who are privy to his inner private thoughts. Another example of these devices being used is when Iago is talking of how easily led Othello can be, and Shakespeare uses a half line to exaggerate this point. Iago says, “Tenderly be led by th’ nose / As asses are.”.  By using both a half line to create emphasis that in Iago’s eyes Othello is an ass, and the full stop after the sentence, emphasis is built on this point. The actor reading the line can use this pause to create the effect of Iago’s hate for Othello, which gives the speech its central tension as so far it has all been building up to his line.

            Overall the main differences between Othello’s speech and Iago’s are the style of speaking used. Othello’s speech is full of literary devices that draw the audience and the other onstage characters into what he is saying. Iago, however, has no need to be so persuasive and as his speech is to himself and the audience, he can allow himself to be much more direct and abrupt, even though it can be seen earlier in this scene that this is his usual way of speaking. This scene is fairly vital to the plot because Iago revels his plans to commit the two downfalls, and also because we begin to have a more comprehensive understanding of the relationships between the different characters.