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Published: 22-10-2019

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Importance of the Act 5, Scene 1: Close Reading

The first scene of Othello’s fifth act, unlike those prior to it, is dominated by physical violence, with Iago at the centre playing the “puppet master”. This scene reminds the audience of the capabilities Iago possesses in controlling the a lot more malleable characters, namely Roderigo. Shakespeare also builds on the theme of proof with regard to his protagonist, who, happy with his “ocular proof”, is confronted now with aural proof – Cassio’s screams, which ‘allow’ him to attempt to end Desdemona’s life. It is extensively perceived that the starting of this act shows Shakespeare departing from the intellectual schemes and methods typical to pre-Renaissance theatre he turns right here toward far more medieval ‘action-scenes,’ intentional regression that draws the audience progressively toward the climax. This scene is one particular of rapid transition: no longer are Iago’s words just empty threats, they are now coming swiftly to fruition.

In the initial dialogue among Iago and Roderigo, the audience sees a return to the early, maybe a lot more ‘innocent’, stages of the play. There, we now realize Shakespeare’s ‘villain’ planted the seeds for this moment in Roderigo’s “love-stricken” thoughts. The conversation now has a far more sinister connotation take, for example, these dramatic words: “And but he hath offered me satisfying factors:/’Tis but a man gone. Forth, my sword: he dies.” This assertion, with its child-like resonance, shows Shakespeare suggesting the correct extent of both Roderigo’s metaphorical blindness and Iago’s keen eye for manipulation. The former is an archetypal, Falstaff-esque, ‘honourable fool’, but, unlike Falstaff, also a vessel of emotion and, ultimately, an intentionally 1-dimensional character, utilised to fulfill only one particular purpose – the murder of Cassio. Nevertheless, alternatively of leaving the above technique to exist only in the perception of the audience, Shakespeare has Iago bluntly announce it all through his ‘mini-soliloquy’: “I have rubbed this young quat practically to the sense/And he grows angry. Now, regardless of whether he kill Cassio/Or Cassio him, or every single do kill every other,/Every single way makes my achieve.” A profound clarity of emotion now dominates Iago’s speech: gone are the accoutrements of erudition, a simplistic vocabulary, and an according train of believed, now comes to the fore.

The audience is not surprised by Iago’s distain for human life right here, only by the newfound expression of his jealousy, even his self-contempt: “If Cassio do stay/ He hath a everyday beauty in his life/That makes me ugly.” This might be a reference to Cassio’s comparatively polite manner, or indeed a sign of Iago’s jealousy concerning Bianca, but Shakespeare leaves this in doubt. What it does symbolise, however, is Iago’s rapid ‘humanisation’, a approach, despite the fact that prevalent in previous sections, which is barely noticeable till this point: an Iago very dissimilar to the original of Giovanni Battista Giraldi Cinthio’s ‘Un Capitano Moro’, who remains sub-human all through.



Following Othello’s assumption that the murder of Cassio has been carried out successfully, Shakespeare presents the audience with a sign that Iago’s plans are getting the desired effect through a tiny, but very reverent, outburst from his protagonist: “’Tis he. O brave Iago, honest and just,/That hast such noble sense of thy friend’s wrong!/Thou teachest me.” The irony of this statement, particularly the final line, is not lost upon the audience. A total reversal of position has taken place: Iago is now viewed as being the “sword of objective moral judgment” by a character that was as soon as viewed as getting the exact same. This is further supported by a single of the motifs of ‘Othello’ – the description of Iago as “honest”, an opinion which he often voiced, forced upon the audience. General, we see that Othello has degenerated to such an extent that he can never ever return to his earlier eminence, has also turn into a Falstaff-esque fool, but alternatively of eloquent wordplay of the aforementioned, Othello spouts macabre, almost sadistic, phrases: “Strumpet, I come./Forth of my heart these charms, thine eyes, are/blotted,/Thy bed, lust-stained, shall with lust’s blood be/spotted.” Such imagery has unpleasant connotations of physical and metaphysical corruption, the former getting shown by Othello’s oblique reference to the medieval custom of ‘sheet-hanging’ following consummation. Also, be it by way of indecision on the portion of Shakespeare himself or his protagonist, there are numerous contradictions in the way in which Othello will murder Desdemona – stabbing, poison and strangulation respectively – maybe a sign that the eponymous hero is able to feel about ending Desdemona’s life, but unable to actually carry out the deed in a way in which will satisfy his vengeance. This technique is noticeable in other plays of Shakespeare, most noticeably ‘Macbeth’.



Right after Iago’s murder of Roderigo and his subsequent aiding of the injured Cassio, his anger is, strangely, directed toward Bianca. Probably Shakespeare, once again alluding to his feelings toward her or, alternatively, wants to involve her in the abortive try to end Cassio’s life: “Gentlemen all, I do suspect this trash/ To be celebration in this injury.” This is misogyny and harsh language common of Iago’s character, but could also be the playwright injecting a sense of insecurity inside the villain, that he have to involve everybody in his schemes to stay away from getting discovered as the author of them. This insecurity exists all through the remainder of the scene but comes to a climax in its final two lines: “This is the evening/That either makes me or fordoes me really.” Certainly, this rhyming couplet proves to be the most critical sign that Iago, and we as a consequence, considers himself as fallible. He is no longer the invincible, truthful, Iago he, like Macbeth, has ‘blood on his hands’ – undeniable proof that he has murdered and plotted against his master. Is this Shakespeare presenting what was known as, by a single Elizabethan commentator, “the fatal flaw of villainy”? Surely, after this point, there is no doubt in the audience’s thoughts that Iago will fall.



In conclusion, this scene, though short in length, is an critical turning point not just for Iago, but also for Othello: it signals the gradual descent of the two major characters into quasi-insanity and the complete government of their feelings over themselves. Also, much more obviously, it portrays the initial death of the play, that of Roderigo – this shows that Iago is no longer willing to use only his “forked tongue” but also will also violence. Ultimately Roderigo’s death is an apt metaphor for the loss of adore and its consequence replacement by hatred: two antithetical emotions which Shakespeare toys with in all of his major functions.
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