Imagery in Othello

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The function of imagery in the mid-sixteenth century play Othello by William Shakespeare is to aid characterisation and define meaning in the play. The antagonist Iago is defined through many different images, Some being the use of poison and soporifics, sleeping agents, to show his true evil and sadistic nature. Othello's character is also shaped by much imagery such as the animalistic, black and white, and horse images which indicates his lustful, sexual nature. Characterisation of women is heavily dictated by imagery used to show the patriarchal gender system of the time. Some of this imagery is that of hobbyhorses and the like showing that they, Desdemona and Emelia, were nothing better than common whores. Othello's view at the start of the play is contradicting of these patriarchal views with Desdemona and Othellos' true love overcoming these stereotypes and we are told this through imagery of fair warriors and the like. The power of deceit is shown also through imagery of spiders and webs, uniforms and other such images. Also the power of jealousy is well defined by imagery. The handkerchief, green-eyed monster and cuckolding imagery are prominent in defining this theme.

The satanic character of Iago is depicted well though different types or imagery. His sadist intend is depicted through suffocating imagery "I'll pour pestilence into his(Othello's) ear" (II iii 356) says Iago in a soliloquy in as he is outlining his malicious intent and nature. This continues throughout the play with lines such as "The Moor already changes with my poison" (III iii 322) and "Not poppy nor mandragora, | Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world shall medicine thee to that sweet sleep | Which thou did owdest yesterday" (III iii 327-30). His malicious character is likened to a snake through this imagery of poisons like a snake has and then Lodovico calls him a "Viper" (V ii 281) which indicates how Iago's character is that of a snake, and in those times a snake was considered a creature of pure evil. The Machiavellian persona of Iago can also be seen through his use of reputation imagery to Cassio and Othello. To Cassio he says "Reputation is an idle and most false imposition" (II iii 267-8) and as a paradox, to Othello, he says reputation is everything to a man and he is nothing with out it. Iago is also likened very much, though imagery, to the Devil. "I look down towards his feet-but that's a fable. | If thou be'st a devil, I cannot kill thee." (V ii 282-3) and he also is called a ‘demi-devil' and other terms.

Othello is also strongly characterised by imagery too. Imagery depicts to us his animalistic nature that his cultural background suggests to the audience he has. "You'll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse, you'll have your nephews neigh to you, you'll have coursers for cousins and gennets for germans." (I i 8-12) This is suggesting that Othello is a an animal, namely a horse, which depersonalises him to the level of more an animal than a man. Another quote suggesting this is when Iago says "An old black ram | Is tupping your(Brabantio's) white ewe." This also is lowering Othello to the level of an animal. Othello's black skin too is defined by imagery like that of the quote above and others such as "Run ... to the sooty bosom | of such a thing as thou" (I iii 69-70). Othello's black skin is reinforced so much that it becomes in integral part of his character it cannot be ignored at any stage of the play. Othello is also depicted as being evil and violent and a devil , because of his cultural background. "You ... blacker devil" (V ii 130) is a line which reflects how his skin colour and supposed evilness go hand in hand.

Irony plays a major part in the meaning of deception in Othello. Throughout the play Othello is constantly referred to as a devil; "Thou art a devil" (V ii 132) says Emelia of Othello. This is based around his black skin and being of non-Venetian descent which makes him an alien to his...
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