Othello First Act

How does Act 1, Scene 1 prepare an audience for what is to follow?

Similar to many other Shakespearean tragedies, ‘Othello’ depicts the downfall of a righteous and noble figure. Within the first scene of the play we are introduced to three characters who are, some unwittingly, playing a crucial part in Othello’s undoing. Throughout this scene the audience is introduced to developing themes and characters on and off stage, given clues about the dynamic of various relationships and is informed of the time and setting, which adds a sinister atmosphere. Shakespeare uses a range of language techniques such as imagery, irony and play on words to put the play in a social context thus exposing the audience to the true villainy, which lies in the evil, Iago.

Without context this play has little to support its malicious villain, Iago, and therefore has no traction for building a believable storyline of evil towards a black man. However, knowing and understanding that this play was written in Venice during the Elizabethan era, which was then the land of law and civilisation and moreover known for its lack of racial diversity, leaves the audience to interpret ulterior motives for hatred expressed mainly by Iago. Shakespeare establishes the setting when Roderigo and Iago disrupt Brabantio with exclamations of “thieves, thieves” to get his attention. He proclaims, “…robbing? This is Venice”, which indicates his sense of security and obstinacy that there would be any type of crime in his home city. Conversely, Venice during this time was known to be a commonplace for many ‘courtesans’ or prostitutes. This is a notable point as the play soon revolves around Othello’s questioning of his wife’s fidelity. Discovering the setting of this scene in the play serves as a prelude to the events that are to follow.

Furthermore, the time of this scene also fulfils a key purpose of creating a contextual knowledge before the play can unfold. In the final moments of this scene when,...