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The Imagery of Othello

The Imagery of Othello Talks

In the tragedy Othello the Bard of Avon uses imagery to talk between the lines, to set moods, to create a more dramatic impact on the mind of the audience, and for other reasons. Let’s consider imagery in this essay.

A surprising, zoo-like variety of animal injury occur throughout the play. Kenneth Muir, in the Introduction to William Shakespeare: Othello, explains the conversion of Othello through his increased use of animal imagery:

Those who have written on the imagery of the play have shown how the hold Iago has over Othello is illustrated by the language Shakespeare puts into their mouths. Both characters use a great deal of animal imagery, and it is interesting to note its distribution. Iago’s occurs mostly in the first three Acts of the play: he mentions, for example, ass, daws, flies, ram, jennet, guinea-hen, baboon, wild-cat, snipe, goats, monkeys, monster and wolves. Othello, on the other hand, who makes no use of animal imagery in the first two Acts of the play, catches the trick from Iago in Acts III and IV. The fondness of both characters for mentioning repulsive animals and insects is one way by which Shakespeare shows the corruption of the Moor’s mind by his subordinate. (21-22)

Just how strong a force is the imagery in this drama? Is it more powerful than the chorus in ancient Greek tragedy? H. S. Wilson in his book of literary criticism, On the Design of Shakespearean Tragedy, discusses the influence of the imagery of the play:

It has indeed been suggested that the logic of events in the play and of Othello’s relation to them implies Othello’s damnation, and that the implication is pressed home with particular power in the imagery….

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…enhaven Press, 1996. Reprint from Shakespeare: The Pattern in His Carpet. N.p.: n.p., 1970.

Heilman, Robert B. “Wit and Witchcraft: an Approach to Othello.” Shakespeare: Modern Essays in Criticism. Ed. Leonard F. Dean. Rev. Ed. Rpt. from The Sewanee Review, LXIV, 1 (Winter 1956), 1-4, 8-10; and Arizona Quarterly (Spring 1956), pp.5-16.

Mack, Maynard. Everybody’s Shakespeare: Reflections Chiefly on the Tragedies. Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press, 1993.

Muir, Kenneth. Introduction. William Shakespeare: Othello. New York: Penguin Books, 1968.

Shakespeare, William. Othello. In The Electric Shakespeare. Princeton University. 1996. No line nos.

Wilson, H. S. On the Design of Shakespearean Tragedy. Canada: University of Toronto Press, 1957.

Feminine Perspective within Othello

Feminine Perspective within Othello

In William Shakespeare’s tragic drama Othello, the male characters far outnumber the female ones. This may tend to cause the feminine viewpoint to be shortchanged. Let’s not let that happen – by consideration of same in this essay.

In the essay “Wit and Witchcraft: an Approach to Othello” Robert B. Heilman discusses

involvement in the play by Emilia, the wife of Iago:

Emilia’s picking up the handkerchief helps advance the action by contributing to Iago’s deception of Othello, but it is also relevant to her character and to Shakespeare’s conception of the modes of wifely devotion and marital relationship (not to mention its relations by contrast with actions of Desdemona and Bianca and of Emilia herself later). (330)

It was Emilia’s gift of the decorated kerchief to her husband that set up Desdemona for murder. Helen Gardner in “Othello: A Tragedy of Beauty and Fortune” talks of Emilia’s outlook on things:

Emilia’s silence while her mistress lived is fully explicable in terms of her character. She shares with her husband the generalizing trick and is well used to domestic scenes. The jealous, she knows,

are not ever jealous for the cause

But jealous for they are jealous.

If it was not the handkerchief it would be something else. Why disobey her husband and risk his fury? It would not do any good. This is what men are like. But Desdemona dead sweeps away all such generalities and all caution. At this sight, Emilia though ‘the world is a huge thing’ finds that there is a thing she will not do for it. By her heroic disregard for death she gives the only ‘proof’ there can be of Desdemona’s innocence: the testimony of faith. For falseness can be proved, innocence can only be believed. Faith, not evidence, begets faith. (145)

At the outset of the play only the male perspective is given: Iago persuades the rejected suitor of Desdemona, Roderigo, to accompany him to the home of Brabantio, Desdemona’s father, in the middle of the night. Once there the two awaken the senator with loud shouts about his daughter’s elopement with Othello. In response to the noise and Iago’s vulgar descriptions of Desdemona’s involvement with the general, Brabantio arises from bed. With Roderigo’s help, he gathers a search party to go and find Desdemona and bring her home.

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