The first act of Shakespeare's Othello presents the audience with characters who are primarily concerned with their own well-being, reputations and advancements. Iago particularly stands out as untrue. He slanders Othello, and reveals plans to pain others. Desdemona rebels against her father when she elopes with Othello, displaying a nature of disrespect. Through these actions it is determined that Shakespeare's Othello Act I places little emphasis on loyalty. Iago speaks illy of Othello.
Immediately after the play begins, Roderigo says to Iago, "Thou told st me thou didst hold him [Othello] in thy hate" (I. I. 7). He holds the position of standard-bearer, yet speaks of his general in a malicious manner to others. Iago casually refers to Othello as .".. an old black ram" (I.
I. 97), .".. a Barbary horse" (I. I.
125), and .".. a lascivious Moor" (I. I. 141).
These hate-filled comments show Iago has no esteem for him, and disgraces the Venetian army by this lack of respect for Othello. Desdemona betrays her father, Brabantio, by marrying Othello. This marriage of a white Lady, daughter of a senator, to a black man, tarnishes the family reputation. "O treason of the blood!" (I. I.
191). Shakespeare gives Brabantio's cry two meanings: first, the betrayal to him; second, the "rebellion of the passions" (sidebar, p. 18). He is clearly upset, but Desdemona reacts calmly to her father's outrage; She is not apologetic nor offers comfort to her hurting father. Desdemona simply says, "And so much duty as my mother showed / To you, preferring you before her father, / So much I challenge that I may profess / Due to the Moor my lord" (I. III.
215-218). She is quite nonchalant about the situation, confirming her poor behaviour as a daughter. As well as his nasty remarks, Iago also does whatever it takes to get what he wants. It is of no matter who ma get hurt: "I follow him to serve my turn upon him" (I. I. 45).
Iago tells Roderigo that "In following him [Othello], I follow but myself" (I. I. 64). He is only out for personal gain. Iago's jealousy leads him to plot to steal Cassio's position as lieutenant by suggesting that Cassio is having an affair with Desdemona: "To get his [Cassio] place and to plume up my will /... to abuse Othello's ear / That he [Cassio] is too familiar with his wife" (I.
III. 436-439). Iago is loyal to none, ruthlessly pitting people against one another. He is falsely kind and protective toward Othello. He tells Othello that after hearing Brabantio speak "such scurvy and provoking terms / against your Honour" (I.
II. 9-10), he found it difficult to keep from assaulting Brabantio. Later Iago will bluntly state: "I hate the Moor" (I. III. 429).
His character is deceitful and two-faced. Fittingly, he swears "By Janus" (I. II. 38), the Roman god with two-faces.
The actions of these characters provide a first act of treason and deception. Shakespeare quickly shows the audience a glimpse of human behaviour at its lowest. He wastes no time developing the continual theme of disloyalty. Desdemona rebels against her father. Iago does not have a good word for anyone. He plots schemes devised to hurt others and benefit himself.
Shakespeare noticeably produces a first act with few displays of loyalty.