Othello I.I Passage

RODERIGO: By heaven, I rather would have been his hangman.

IAGO: Why, there’s no remedy; ’tis the curse of service,

Preferment goes by letter and affection,

And not by old gradation, where each second

Stood heir to the first. Now, sir, be judge yourself,

Whether I in any just term am affined

To love the Moor.

RODERIGO: I would not follow him then.

IAGO. O, sir, content you;

I follow him to serve my turn upon him:

We cannot all be masters, nor all masters

Cannot be truly follow’d. You shall mark

Many a duteous and knee-crooking knave,

That, doting on his own obsequious bondage,

Wears out his time, much like his master’s ass,

For nought but provender, and when he’s old, cashier’d:

Whip me such honest knaves. Others there are

Who, trimm’d in forms and visages of duty,

Keep yet their hearts attending on themselves,

And, throwing but shows of service on their lords,

Do well thrive by them and when they have lined their coats

Do themselves homage: these fellows have some soul;

And such a one do I profess myself. For, sir,

It is as sure as you are Roderigo,

Were I the Moor, I would not be Iago:

In following him, I follow but myself;

Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty,

But seeming so, for my peculiar end:

For when my outward action doth demonstrate

The native act and figure of my heart

In compliment extern, ’tis not long after

But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve

For daws to peck at: I am not what I am.

RODERIGO. What a full fortune does the thick lips owe

If he can carry’t thus!

IAGO. Call up her father,

Rouse him: make after him, poison his delight,

Proclaim him in the streets; incense her kinsmen,

And, though he in a fertile climate dwell,

Plague him with flies: though that his joy be joy,

Yet throw such changes of vexation on’t,

As it may lose some color

As Othello was written by Shakespeare, one might expect to find difficult language within the play. Some words within this passage that I previously did not know include hangman, gradation, knave, obsequious, visages, and incense. Below is a list of the words defined:

-Hangman: an executioner of criminals

-Gradation: an advancement or gradual change

-Knave: a male servant

-Obsequious: extremely eager to please

-Visages: appearance or face

-Incense: to rile up


Once I’d grasped the definition of these words and read the section a few times, understanding the gist of this passage became much easier. This passage occurs toward the beginning of Act I during Iago’s and Roderigo’s secret meeting late at night on a Venetian street. Here, Iago explains his true intentions while serving under Othello. He condescends the incredibly loyal servant who has only his master’s best interests at heart, saying that they are no better than animals who simply work as told for feed. On the other hand, he praises the servant that benefits himself under his master’s rule and takes opportunity to line his own pockets whenever possible. Iago plainly states his intentions to pretend to follow the Moor yet play the role of a liar

While this passage is full of literary devices, perhaps the most notable one is the contrasting diction with its power to establish and drive the mood. The beginning of Iago’s monologue is filled with words of servitude such as “follow,” “doting,” and “master”; however, these words are coupled with demeaning words such as “ass,” knee-crooking,” and “obsequious” which create a condescending tone. The pairing of these two categories of words presents a dutiful servant in a negative light. As the monologue continues, Iago continues speaking of servants who obey their masters but serve their own interests before their masters. He describes actions of these servants with words or phrases such as “trimm’d,” “visages,” “thrive,” and “lined their coats.” These words and phrases sound more noble and create a more positive attitude towards a self-serving attitude. The diction portraying Iago’s scorn toward a loyal servant and his praise for a dishonest one reveal the completely twisted mindset of this evil character.

However, the contrasting diction isn’t the only aspect revealing Iago’s messed up mind; the evil character next schemes his first revenge plan against Othello when he orders Roderigo “call up [Desdemona’s] father/ Rouse him; make after him, poison his delight/ Proclaim him in the streets, incense her kinsmen/ And though he in a fertile climate dwell/ Plague him with flies: though that his joy be joy/ Yet throw such changes of vexation on’t/ As it may lose some color.” The repetition of command words “call,” “rouse,” “make,” “proclaim,”  and “plague” betrays an excitement and purpose in Iago’s voice–an excitement and purpose for malevolent intentions to cause a ruckus. Since this passage occurs at the very beginning of the play, the reader can only predict that many more evil actions will arise. Not only do these command verbs portray Iago as an evil person, but they also depict him as a hypocritical being. Even though he does not want to be ordered around as a servant, he still assumes the position of ordering Roderigo around like he’s a servant.

Shakespeare further demonstrates Iago as an evil person through the metaphor “And, though he in a fertile climate dwell,/ Plague him with flies.” Here the “fertile climate” refers to Brabantio’s state of ignorance that his daughter has eloped with Othello, and the “flies” refer to the elopement news that Iago and Roderigo are about to deliver. Iago’s cruelness is of an extreme level because he would rather give someone something that looks good and then make it absolutely horrible. This attitude is already reflected in his actions toward Othello in that he appears to be a dutifully servant but really be deceitful and self-serving. Though a little confusing upon first read, this passage from Act I, Scene I of Shakespeare’s Othello is full of literary devices and malicious intent.



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