Textual analysis

An example from Act 5 Scene 1 

Study the scene from Roderigo’s words, ‘I know his gait, ‘tis he.’ (Attacking Cassio) to ‘I’ll bind it with my shirt.’ (Enter Bianca)

‘Discuss the means used to make this passage dramatically effective.’ 

Roderigo speaks his first words in a conspiratorial hush as he is waiting secretly. But immediately in the same line, he shouts out as he denounces Cassio; ‘Villain thou diest.’
Cassio responds, showing us that he is fighting back and ends by stabbing Roderigo in return. Thus the drama is intensified by both the change in volume and the sudden action of the fight. There is lots of movement now as first Cassio stabs Roderigo and Iago wounds Cassio, all accompanied by loud monosyllabic shouts. The drama intensifies further when Shakespeare has Othello enter the scene ‘from above,’ using the balcony device popular in the Elizabethan theatre and which had already been used in Act 2 Scene 1. This gives a further dimension to the scene, with another voice coming from a higher location on the stage. The drama is more frightening as it is in darkness, shown by the call for ‘light’ by Cassio.
Othello’s words here heighten the dramatic irony as he muses on the justice of Cassio’s death brought on by the ‘honest’ Iago, and anticipates the murder of Desdemona with a sneering glee, safe in the knowledge that she is a ‘strumpet.’ He is obsessed by the thought of Desdemona’s sexual sins, and gloats in sadistic, bestial imagery at the prospect of her lying dead in her bed, ‘lust-stained, shall with lust’s blood be spotted.’ Every detail he utters is the opposite of the truth, which only compounds the injustice of the attack on Cassio.
When Lodovico and Gratiano enter, there is more shouting and confusion, shown by the single words and exclamation marks. Lodovico thinks there are ‘two or three’ victims, which leaves the audience also wondering how many have been attacked and what is going on. The entry of Iago with a light reinforces the fact that the stage has all been in darkness until this point. The confusion continues for another eleven lines, the text punctuated by question marks which reinforce the confusion and uncertainty.
Cassio now identifies Roderigo as one of his attackers, at which point Iago seizes his opportunity to dispense with Roderigo. The cold-blooded, treacherous murder of his accomplice is made more horrific by the fact that the audience can now see the act by the light of the torch and be horrified by Iago’s callous actions.
In an almost comical touch here, Iago cries out, ‘Kill men i’ th’ dark? Where be these bloody thieves?’ as if he is the rescuer and good citizen arriving to rescue the victims and chase off the attackers. He even pretends to suspect Lodovico and Gratiano of being part of the gang of murderers. When they protest, he finally recognises them, thus cementing his role as rescuer and volunteer policeman. He then takes on the role of nurse and friend to Cassio, pretending to be shocked by the injury to Cassio which he himself inflicted: ‘Marry, heaven forbid!’ He even sacrificially offers to bind up Cassio’s wounds with his own shirt, a supreme example of his hypocrisy and villainy. From first to last, Iago has been in control of events, stabbing Cassio when Roderigo fails to do the job, and murdering Roderigo when Cassio has identified him as one of the murderers. Othello’s appearance on the balcony symbolically shows him to be not the man in charge of events, as he believes himself to be, but a mere bystander and Iago’s fool. The fast movement, shouting, darkness and confusion all combine to heighten the excitement and entertainment of the scene. In a grotesque parody of the tragedy being unfolded, Shakespeare allows the audience to gasp and wonder, before realising the evil treachery being played out before them.
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