Othello's Loss for Words
Othello's character throughout the play demonstrates a skill and confidence in the art of language. From the beginning we see long, eloquent speeches that dazzle his audience eloquently mixing complex words that help portray him as not only a strong warrior but also a fighter with a sound mind. However when Iago pressures him about the possible relationship between his wife Desdemona and Cassio, Othello's passion for his beloved wife breaks down his self-control. In the next few pages I will demonstrate how Othello's speech during the beginning of the play helps to strengthen his character, and by his death, he's but a stuttering empty shell of a man. In addition, we'll compare the language of the moor with that of Iago and see how anti-heroic words shape the way we see this self-interested character.
During the third scene of the first act, Othello speaks eloquently about how he's won and married Desdemona. This is a beautiful forty-line speech that really shows his capacity to articulate and communicate effectively before the higher court. The language that he uses helps us see Othello as a true, confident leader. Shakespeare writes:
Hath this extent, no more, Rude am I in my speech,
And little blessed with the soft phrase of peace,
For since these arms of mine had seven years pith
Till now some nine moons wasted, they have used
Their dearest action in the tented field
And little of this great world can I speak
More than pertains to feats of broils and battle. (I.iii.81-87)
Here Othello uses irony to subtly demonstrate his grasp of the English language. His claim that he is "rude" in speech is particularly revealing because he knows all too well that no one in that room would believe that he has rudimentary abilities. Similarly, the remaining line of this example shows us his poise with regard to physical strength and the leading of armies. Ultimately, use of this kind of language reflects Othello's lofty ideals. From the onset, we are given words that mirror powerful, dramatic images that know no bounds and with that, we see his strength and passion for being both an idealized military general and a devoted, loving husband.
In contrast, if we look at the language of Iago we see long soliloquies throughout the play, yet the words that he chooses reflects the depravity of his mind. Iago chooses manipulative words, words that depict bestial images and words of base physical functions. Iago is as much a wordsmith as Othello in this regard. When we compare this character to that of Othello, the two are, however, radically different. In act one Shakespeare writes:
Your heart is burst, you have lost half your soul.
Even now, now, very now, an old black ram
Is tupping your white ewe. Arise, arise!
Awake the snorting citizens with the bell
Or else the devil will make a grandsire of you. (I.i.86-91)
From the very beginning we see Iago's hatred toward Othello in these descriptive words. This animalistic imagery initially establishes the dramatic tension in the play, but it also helps satisfy our suspicion of Iago's cruel motives toward Othello. Iago skillfully uses insinuations, indirect accusations and subtle hints to get his own point across. For example, Shakespeare writes:
Swounds, sir, you are one of those that will
not serve God if the devil bid you. Because we come to do you
service and you think we are ruffians, you'll have your daughter
covered with a Barbary horse, you'll have your nephews neigh
to you, you'll have your coursers for cousins and jennets for
Here, the exchange with Brabanzio is a direct one, but we can see Iago's malicious, crude descriptions of Othello which, again, suggests his own loathing for the man and his attempt to get others to side with him. He implies Othello is a "Barbary horse" and his daughter is committing a mortal sin by being with him. In the end, it...
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