Othello’s opening scene is an effective introduction to Othello, Desdemona, Iago and the themes of Othello. The audience are given a sense of Othello’s great military record and his position in society while understanding that he does not necessarily completely embody this image. He is also presented as being very straightforward in his dealings with other characters, even in this first scene. Othello’s background is also important given that Othello’s position in society is very much based on the fact that he is a Moorish general in Venice. Othello fits into his role easily despite being of an alien culture to the Venetians.
He seems eloquent and wise, two traits which are important for Othello as they represent his mental capacity to lead an army successfully. Othello’s marriage to Desdemona demonstrates Othello’s ability to integrate himself socially, forming relationships with people from outside of his own culture – it could be said that Othello does not separate himself from what would have been considered at the time, lower-class people. Othello also manages to prove his worth in the eyes of Venice by showing his bravery and cunning, defeating the Turks in battle.
Othello’s sense of superiority is evident upon arrival when he talks about how Othello cannot wait to demonstrate his capacity as a leader to the Venetian senate, who are currently deliberating their course of action against Othello’s ‘enemy’ – this is something that Othello claims would not happen were they in Othello’s own country (1). Othello believes himself superior due to having more experience than any other man alive, even though there are some people present at the court debate who might have had similar or even more experience than Othello.
This shows that Othello is a man of over-confidence and pride, a character flaw that Othello clearly displays throughout Othello. Othello’s sense of superiority also reflects Othello’s racial stereotyping due to his being a Moorish General in Venice – Othello believes himself superior to other people simply because he comes from a different country. Othello is unable to fully accept the fact that many people in Venice are against him when Othella’s ‘enemy’ turns out not to be the Turks (2).
Othello also appears as if he were an alien or isolated figure in this opening scene; although well respected in his community he still holds values that separate him from others. He does not seem like someone who would fit in socially with the other characters because Othello feels like an outsider to Othello. Othello acts as if he is reluctant to attempt to make friends with people at this stage, for example, Othello doesn’t even acknowledge or talk directly to Iago at this point, instead, Othello talks about him in the third person.
He finds it difficult to engage with others on a social level due Iago’s reluctance to take part in the conversation and his lack of respect for Othello’s position as a leader – Othello ignores Iago throughout this scene, dismissing him as ‘ancient’ (1). The first scene provides valuable insight into Otehlelo’s character by showing how he interacts with others, Othello’s values, and Othello’s feelings of superiority.
Othello is shown throughout Othello to be a very complicated, emotional man who has some major flaws in his personality – this scene helps us understand Otehlelo by allowing the audience to see how Otehlelo acts when he first arrives at Cyprus. Othello’s opening lines set an exciting tone for the play. They are striking, filled with imagery that draws the reader into Othello’s world immediately. Much of this language is specific to Othello’s background as a Moorish general in Venice, which may confuse readers not familiar with Othello’s background; however, it still remains effective.
Othello’s opening lines are vivid, conjuring up images of Othello’s arrival to Venice, Othello’s home city. Othello makes the point of comparing the way he has come to harbor in Cyprus with the way he came to Venice by drawing a comparison between two very different places – Venice and Cyprus. Othello creates an image of himself arriving at Cyprus on a ship; however, unlike when Otehlelo arrived in Venice where Otehlelo was received with respect, Otehlelo is greeted by Iago (a man that Otehlelo does not know) who is ‘ferrying souls into hell’ (1).
Othello enters with Iago, his lieutenant. Othello is the general of the Venetian army and Othello has just returned from battle in which he has defeated the Turkish army. Othello instructs Iago to kill Othello’s generals, who Othello suspects of treachery. When Othello arrives back in Venice with Cassio, Cassio becomes Othello’s lieutenant instead of Iago. This proves that Othella cannot be trusted as he replaces his most loyal man with someone whom he believes to be disloyal without any reasoning or evidence.
Othello trusts Iago over everyone else in this scene because he shows loyalty when Othella needs it most; ‘I look to his wits; if Othello scans me not to his satisfaction, never trust me more’. Othello speaks very highly of Iago and trusts him completely after having only just met him and without any evidence that he is trustworthy. Othello’s misplaced trust in Iago contributes to Othello’s downfall as it means Othella doesn’t suspect Iago at all, even when something happens which should make Othello suspicious of him.
This dramatic irony creates tension because the audience knows what Othella does not: that Iago is plotting against Othello’s life due to Othello’s position of power over Iago in the army. The first scene also introduces characters who are significant to the play: Othello and Iago. Othello is a black man who has married Desdemona who is a white woman; this creates tension because Othello’s race means that he does not fit in with Venetian society and Othello himself says ‘I am one, sir, that comes to tell you your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs.
Othello’s marriage to Desdemona also makes Othella an outsider as she belongs to another culture and therefore Othella cannot fully trust her or know her true feelings. This lack of trust contributes to Othello’s downfall as it sees him believe Iago’s lies about Desdemona which ultimately leads to Othello’s demise as Othella kills Desdemona believing she is unfaithful to him.
Othello, Othello’s trust in Iago and Othellas marriage all contribute to Othello’s downfall as he does not have the support of a community that will accept him for who he is and see his side of things. Furthermore, Othello’s fate is also sealed by the Venetian court because they accept that Othello can rule them even though they know Othella does not belong with them socially due to his skin color.