The Imagery of Othello Talks
In the tragedy Othello Shakespeare 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 the types and impact of imagery.
A surprising, zoo-like variety of animal imagery occurs throughout the play. Kenneth Muir, in the Introduction to William Shakespeare: Othello, explains the conversion of Othello’s diction:
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 ...view middle of the document...
” Francis Ferguson in “Two Worldviews Echo Each Other” describes the types of imagery used by the antagonist when he “slips his mask aside” while awakening Brabantio:
Iago is letting loose the wicked passion inside him, as he does from time to time throughout the play, when he slips his mask aside. At such moments he always resorts to this imagery of money-bags, treachery, and animal lust and violence. So he expresses his own faithless, envious spirit, and, by the same token, his vision of the populous city of Venice – Iago’s “world,” as it has been called. . . .(132)
After Brabantio and his search party have reached the Moor, he quiets their passions with imagery from nature: “Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them.” The senator, thinking that his daughter has been “enchanted” by the Moor, employs related imagery in his confrontation with the general: “If she in chains of magic were not bound,” “foul charms,” “drugs or minerals / That weaken motion,” “practiser of arts inhibited,” “prison,” “bond-slaves and pagans.” In the essay “Wit and Witchcraft: an Approach to Othello” Robert B. Heilman comments that “the pervasiveness of images of injury, pain, and torture in Othello has a very strong impact,” regardless of who is using them (333).
With the matter of Brabantio’s accusations settled, Othello discusses the Ottoman advance upon Cyprus with hard, unfeeling images: “the flinty and steel couch of war,” “hardness,” “wars.” This contrasts sharply with the soft, love-centered imagery of Desdemona, who attests that “to his honour and his valiant parts / Did I my soul and fortunes consecrate,” and who refers to herself as a “moth of peace.” She seems to draw the general into her soft ways, as he responds that “when light-wing'd toys / Of feather'd Cupid seal with wanton dullness [. . .] Let housewives make a skillet of my helm” – mythological and domestic imagery.
On the occasion when Iago talks Roderigo out of committing suicide over the loss of Desdemona, he uncharacteristically employs decent, wholesome imagery:
Our bodies are our gardens, to the which our wills are gardeners: so that if we will plant nettles, or sow lettuce, set hyssop and weed up thyme, supply it with one gender of herbs, or distract it with many, either to have it sterile with idleness, or manured with industry, why, the power and corrigible authority of this lies in our
With the action now relocated to the island of Cyprus, it is Michael Cassio who, in answering Montano regarding the Moor’s marital status, says that Othello’s wife “excels the quirks of blazoning pens,” “our great captain's captain,” “Give renew'd fire to our extincted spirits,” “The riches of the ship,” and other highly flattering imagery. Waiting at the harbor in Cyprus, Iago employs imagery critical of his Emilia: “Sir, would she give you so much of her lips / As of her tongue she oft bestows on me,” to the extent...