Do most of the important scenes in Othello occur at night or in the daytime? What is the effect on the atmosphere of the play?
Quite a lot of the play takes place at night. The play begins at night, with Iago and Roderigo (Act 1, Scene 1) waking up Brabantio to tell him that his daughter has escaped with Othello - and, of course Othello and Desdemona's wedding has already taken place in the middle of the night.
The meeting with the Duke of Venice, Brabantio and Othello (and everyone else) at night, where it is agreed that everyone will go to Cyprus takes place later that same night.
This night-time setting also adds to the feel of Venice as somewhere claustrophobic, uncomfortable, and really quite unpleasant. And that darkness is carried across into Cyprus, in attitude if not in setting. Several of the Cyprus scenes do seem to take place during the day, particularly the persuasion of Othello by Iago: adding, I think, to the casualness of things. It's so off-hand, just another day, and just another comment: 'Look to your wife'. And look at what happens.
Three key scenes do happen at night though. Firstly, the "drinking scene", with the drinking songs and the intoxication and eventual dismissal of Cassio. This interrupts Othello and Desdemona's wedding night - and Othello has to take Montano to dress his wound. Secondly, the scene in which Roderigo is killed by Iago in the dark, and Cassio is wounded. What both of these scenes have in common is Iago, as the puppet-master, running around in the dark, armed, and orchestrating the violence. It's a persuasive image of Iago.
The final scene - of course - which happens at night is the last one, and that dreadful build up to it, as Desdemona sings her "willow" song, and the wind blows outside. It's dark when Desdemona is strangled - she's killed at night. The darkness of Iago (who, of course, is *white* and not *black*: Shakespeare ironising the Venetian's racism) - spreads.
Hope it helps!
It is entirely appropriate that most of the important scenes in Othello take place at night. Darkness and light are in constant tension, battling hard for the audience's attention. Yet for most of the time darkness prevails. Even those rare moments of light and purity take place against a backdrop of overhanging gloom. Light represents innocence, and there's precious little of that in the play. What little there is comes from Desdemona, whose own light is brutally extinguished by Othello:
Yet she must die, else she’ll betray more men. / Put out the light, and then put out the light: / If I quench thee, thou flaming minister, / I can again thy former light restore / Should I repent me. But once put out thy light, / Thou cunning’st pattern of excelling nature, / I know not where is that Promethean heat / That can thy light relume (Act V Scene II).
Appropriately enough, this scene is also set at night. Othello comes into Desdemona's bedroom, his way lit by a candle. The candlelight is flickering and will soon go out. Yet, as Othello acknowledges, it can always be relit. But Desdemona's light, her purity, cannot be; once destroyed, the innocence she represents will be gone forever. The dark, demonic forces of Othello's jealousy and Iago's wicked deceit have combined to bring about unspeakable tragedy.
Yes, many of the important scenes in Othello do take place at night, beginning with the opening scene, in which Iago and his dupe Rodrigo deliberately rouse up Desdemona's father in order to inflame him with the news that his daughter has eloped and married Othello. They do so in incendiary racist terms. This helps to set the tone for tragedy.
The killings in the play also take place by night, including the play's most famous scene, the murder of Desdemona by Othello in their own bed.
By using the confusing, dream-like atmosphere of night, Shakespeare amplifies the fog of confusion, suspicion, and deception created by Iago in order to stoke Othello's jealousy, which leads him to kill the innocent Desdemona. "For each man kills the thing he loves," wrote Oscar Wilde, and this is certainly true in this play.