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Act 4, Scene 1 once again sees Iago driving Othello into a fury through mere insinuation, so much so in fact that he falls into a trance of rage. Seizing his opportunity, Iago calls in Cassio and, after he has regained his senses, Othello hides and watches them converse, duped into believing that Cassio is talking about Desdemona when he in fact is talking about his relationship with Bianca. Incensed by this, Othello is once again driven to a murderous rage and swears to kill his wife.
However, it is the imagery in this scene that helps to illustrate the way in which Iago now has control over Othello. In Line 49, Othello is in a trance as Cassio and Iago rush to tend him. The “trance” is highly symbolic as it represents the state he has been led into by Iago – senseless and benumbed to the world around him and blinded by fury. He has been listening to Iago and taking what he says without question – whereas earlier he might challenge Iago or defend his wife, he no longer puts up a fight.
The trance marks his final descent into “savage madness” (4. 1. 55) as Iago puts it – ironically, he becomes the barbarous Moor which most of the other characters in the play unfairly accused him of being in the earlier parts of the play. He is ashamed of this descent – calling himself a “horned man” and alluding to himself as a “monster and a beast” (4. 1. 62) – but fully aware of the fact that it has come down upon him.
Iago goes on, diverting his attention from self-pity and focusing his rage back onto Cassio.
Amazingly, even at this point, Iago is still not referring to Cassio directly in his accusations, here alluding to him as a “civil monster” (4. 1. 63). It is immediately obvious to Othello though who he is talking about, as Iago uses the image of a courteous, city dwelling man, rather an oxymoron when used with “monster” but still implying Cassio who has by now symbolically become Othello’s demon. Iago continues to subtly allude to Cassio while advising him, talking of “bearded fellows” which again signifies Cassio who we know has a beard (3. . 442).
He is constantly returning to him as the cause of Othello’s troubles which is in itself an irony as now Cassio has become the same figure of hatred to Othello as he is to Iago. Yet, perhaps a greater irony is Iago’s referral to “the arch-fiend’s mock” (4. 1. 70) when he himself is the “arch-fiend” which he portrays, yet all the while he is drawing Othello closer into his grasp – this being affirmed when he says “O, thou art wise, ’tis certain. ” (4. 1. 74).
Iago continues his dominance of Othello’s perception by telling him to observe Cassio carefully and “mark the fleers, the gibes and notable scorns that dwell in every region of his face” (4. 1. 83). With this image of Cassio mocking him in his mind, Othello takes everything that he says to be an insult to himself and Desdemona, even though Cassio’s tone is not mocking and he is talking about Bianca – again symbolic of how Othello’s judgement has become so clouded by Iago’s insinuations that he cannot discern between reality and what he thinks Cassio is saying.
His imagination has been turned against him – now instead of vivid language and colorful stories he conjures up images of Desdemona’s infidelity and Cassio’s disloyalty. Iago positively encourages this, driving the knife in deeper, telling Othello “For I will make him tell the tale anew, where, how, how oft, how long ago, and when he hath and is again to cope your wife” (4. 1. 85). Othello’s rage has reached a peak at this point and it spills over as he suggests to Iago that his revenge will “be bloody” for the first time.
However this statement is ambiguous in what it implies – it is not clear at this point who will be killed yet, with hindsight it is conceivable to assume that it is deliberately alluding to Othello’s own death at the end of the play, continuing the image as the tragic hero of the play. The imagery which both characters use in this segment of the play signifies the point in which their relationship changes – Iago is now totally in control of Othello and, rather paradoxically, in Othello’s eyes, this conversation draws them together as he still sees Iago as his closest and truest friend.
The “meaning” between has changed to the point where both have what they want at this time – Iago has Othello by the hand and Othello is assured that he has a true companion in his nightmarish situation. From this point onwards it is how these two characters play off each other which will decide the outcome of the play itself – nobody is now in a position to influence either from his course.
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