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What impression of love is given in Act
1 of Othello?
Throughout Act 1 of Othello, Shakespeare presents love as being a resilient emotion whereby the
use of language and structure emphasises the uninterrupted power of love. In just the first act alone
we are introduced to platonic, unrequited and mutual love, which, although contrasting, are
portrayed with the same fervidness.
The first display of love comes from Scene 1, in which Iago and Roderigo are seen to alert Brabantio
of his daughter's misdemeanour. "Your heart is burst", a metaphor, used by Iago during the relaying
of the story of Desdemona's and Othello's marriage, is hyperbolic. Shakespeare's choice of lexis
here is instrumental in the presentation of love as being an overbearing emotion. Although the
platonic relationship between father and daughter is explored with considerable emotion in mind,
some may argue that Brabantio's love lies more heavily with his status. Casellas in 1992 said
"Brabantio is unable to overcome his grief for his lost honour" which effectively underlines the
importance of Brabantio's reputation to him. With this in mind, it could be argued that though the
strength of love is most certainly presented, the importance of one's status (especially that of a
Senator) often came before personal sentiment in this time period.
Unrequited love is evident whereby Roderigo is seen to speak extremely fondly of Desdemona. He
informs Brabantio that Desdemona has deceived him by "Tying her duty, beauty, wits and fortune"
with the "lascivious Moor". The contrast of language contained within the same dialogue is vital in
contrasting love and hate. Through Roderigo's listing affectionate of adjectives to describe
Desdemona, depicting her as faultless and impeccable, and subsequent reference to Othello
maliciously as "lust-filled", Shakespeare has created a binary opposite that consequently pushes love
to the forefront. This in turn, emphasises once more, the potent presence of love. Further to this, the
use of assonance where Roderigo states "duty, beauty" gives this particular mention of Desdemona
a poetic quality. It then becomes clear that Roderigo is experiencing the pains of unrequited love and
is expressing this through obvious desperation.
The true essence of reciprocated love is expressed through Othello's dialogue. As with the majority
of Shakespeare's work, it is written in iambic pentameter, resulting in a visually rigid structure. Upon
declaring his legitimate love for Desdemona, the structure of his speech means the stress of the
meter is placed on particular words which are also left standing alone. The words "strange" and "me"
are glimpsed immediately which could suggest particular significance. Perhaps the use of the word
"strange" is ambiguous whereby Othello could be sympathising with his audience's confusion
regarding the relationship as he may find it to be "strange" himself, or perhaps it is an indication of
the newness of love to him. Alternatively his describing of Desdemona's feelings for him as "strange"
could suggest that he does not understand why she loves him. The reception of the text on stage at
the time of its publication made clear that interracial love was not accepted, in that, actors were to
blacken their faces as opposed to having actual black actors. Perhaps the perception of these kind of
relationships plays on Othello's mind and he refers to his relationship as "strange" because he does
not see himself worthy, following the racism he has previously encountered. Also, the word "me"
having a line of its own could foreshadow the events in the rest of the play which could be perceived
to portray Othello as being incredibly selfish.
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The use of religious terminology could be said to present love as being on par with religion, or of a
divine quality. Desdemona explains, in an address juxtaposing the expectations of any young woman
at the time, that the "rites" for which she loves him "are bereft" her. She also states that "Did I my
soul and fortunes consecrate" suggesting that she has made her soul and fortunes sacred for the
sake of Othello.…read more