First Impressions of Characters
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What are the audience’s first impressions of Iago, Cassio, Brabantio and Othello and why? When the audience of a play is introduced to a new character, their first impressions are essential to how the character will be viewed and judged by the audience for the duration. A playwright has the power to turn people against a character, or to influence them to sympathise with him or her. This is often instrumental in changing the audience’s perspective of the whole plot. The character of Iago is portrayed as the villain of the play; he is devious, intelligent and jealous. He has been cheated out of the high position of Othello’s lieutenant, a job that has instead gone to Cassio. This gives him a sharp hatred of the protagonist, leading him to plot against him. Iago is also very manipulative, he has a power over weak minded people, and an example of this is his taking advantage of Roderigo’s weakness for Desdemona and conning himout of money. Roderigo recognises this at the very beginning of the play, perhaps giving the audience the impression the Iago is, above all, a thief, “...thou, Iago who hast had my purse As if the strings were thine...” Iago can also be very charming if he wishes, a number of people, including Othello and Cassio believe him to be an honourable man. He is even referred to as “honest Iago”, showing his great prowess as an actor and his ability to deceive people. However, at his heart he is a cunning backstabber, who has no qualms of stooping to slander people behind their own backs. “Even now, now, very now, an old black ram Is tupping your white ewe!” This line from Iago is not only an insulting reference to Othello’s colour, but also it likens him to an animal. The audience gets a full showing of Iago’s lack of integrity here as he displays prejudice, even though the target of his contempt is not only a well-respected and superior officer, but also he is not present to defend himself. The first impression of Cassio is somewhat diluted as it is initially given by the jealous Iago, who paints him as little more than a mathematician, lacking military experience “That never set a squadron in the field Nor the division of a battle knows”, who has been promoted beyond his position. However, when we actually meet Cassio in the first act, he comes across as innocent, a contrast to Iago’s image of him as a confident lady-killer who is “handsome, young and hath all those requisites in him that folly and green minds look after”, he is also apparently quite loyal to Othello. He also seems to have somewhat of a kinship with Othello as he is also an outsider, born in Florence. Cassio’s own lines in the first act reveal little of his personality, other than that he seems to be a competent tactician and devoted to his duties as a soldier. An impression of Brabantio, the father of Desdemona, does very much depend on the audience that views him. An Elizabethan/Jacobean audience might have viewed him as a victim, simply a father who as had his daughter taken from him and his patriarchal rights abused. However, a more modern audience might see him as a harsh tyrant to Desdemona, who wishes to control her life and loves. At first, Brabantio seems to passionately overreact on hearing that Othello and Desdemona have gotten married, “I may command at most: get weapons, ho! And raise some special officers of the night.” It seems that at one time, Brabantio received Othello amiably into his home, “Her father loved me, oft invited me...” but he seems to have little trouble aggressively accusing Othello of witchcraft in the senate scene. He gives a disturbing image of his fatherhood, “For your sake, jewel, I am glad I have no other child, For
thy escape would teach me tyranny To hang clogs on them.” This worrying statement undoubtedly prejudices an audience against Brabantio, if just for the though of imprisoning a child so. He effectively gives up his responsibility to Desdemona and displays his mistrust of her to Othello, “Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see: She has deceived her father, and may thee.” Aswell as that of Cassio, Othello’s first impression is also a hostile rant, courtesy of Iago, displaying the protagonist as bombastic and lascivious. However, when we meet Othello, he seems to show remarkable humility, “And little of this world can I speak More than pertains to feats of broil and battle.” One could surmise that he is possessed of a low self esteem and does not believe himself to be softly spoken, capable only of violence and soldiering. He also recognises his superiors politely, “Most potent, grave, and reverend signiors...” He apparently has had a difficult past and this may cause the audience to sympathise with him, “Being taken by the insolent foe and sold to slavery...” Othello is a very well-respected general, in spite of his background and colour, and as a result it would be difficult for most audiences not to be endeared to his cause. Unlike many of the characters, he has a very balanced temperament and does not fly to passionate fury, instead analysing a situation and trying to calm the tempers of others, “Hold your hands, Both you of my inclining and the rest: Were it my cue to fight, I would have known it Without a prompter.” However, he also shows charisma, particularly in the case of Desdemona, “She gave for my pains a world of sighs...” Othello woos her when he regales her with tales of his adventures, showing that people tend to hang on his words. This can easily translate to the audience, giving him a sense of presence with them and an immediate first impression of respect. Overall, Shakespeare effectively manipulates the audience into feeling all manner of emotions for the characters in Othello from the very beginning of the play by carefully implementing the way they come across at first, prejudicing the audience for or against them. Words: 1,006 Bibliography The Arden Shakespeare, Othello by William Shakespeare...Edited by E. A. J. Honigmann, Published by Methuen Drama York Notes Advanced, Othello...Published by York Press and Pearson Education Ltd. Text And Performance, Othello by Martin L. Wine...Published by Macmillan Publishers Ltd. Shakespeare: Othello by Juliet McLauchlan...Published by Edward Arnold Publishers Ltd.