Othello: Religious Motifs

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Relationships in which people allow themselves to be manipulated through their weaknesses are truly flawed and have a great potential for failure. These relationships can become tainted by jealousy and rumours nurtured by deceitful individuals. Such is the situation in Shakespeare’s Othello, which depicts the tragic downfall of an apparently perfect relationship. Shakespeare uses images of heaven in the beginning of the play to emphasize the seemingly flawless love between Othello and Desdemona. Furthermore, as the play progresses, the juxtaposition between heaven and hell is used to represent the manipulative powers of Iago over Othello revealing the weaknesses of Desdemona and Othello’s relationship. As a result, the twisted heaven and hell imagery used near the end of Othello reflects the eventual break down of Othello and Desdemona’s marriage. Thus, in Shakespeare’s Othello, the connotation of the religious motifs throughout are used to develop the idea that even the most loving couples have their flaws leaving them vulnerable to the destructive powers of jealousy brought on by the manipulative influences of others, resulting in suspicion and ultimately betrayal. The seemingly perfect love between Othello and Desdemona is initially emphasized by Shakespeare’s use of heavenly images. Through images of heaven, Othello’s passionate love for Desdemona is revealed. After being accused by Brabantio of using enchantments to win over his daughter’s love, Othello swears against it assuring their love is true: And till she come, as truly as to heaven

I do confess the vices of my blood,
So justly to your grave ears I’ll present
How did I thrive in this fair lady’s love,
And she in mine (1.3.122-126).
Othello swears on heaven that his love for Desdemona and her love for him is not a result of witchcraft, but the result of an honest love for one another. The image of heaven is used to emphasize that Othello believes that the love between him and Desdemona is as pure as heaven itself. To call their love heavenly shows an exaggerated passion between the two further emphasizing the appearance of their perfect union. Similarly, Desdemona feels that the love between her and Othello is destined to be, and through Shakespeare’s use of divine imagery this point is emphasized. Upon arriving in Cyprus, Desdemona and Othello are reunited for the first time since their journey: “The heavens forbid/ But that our loves and comforts should increase/ Even as our days do grow”(2.1.190-192). For Desdemona to pray that nothing come between them and their eternal happiness shows a great deal of passion. Furthermore, to believe that their love will only die if they die highlights the certainty in which Desdemona feels that their love is more than just a coincidence, but rather fate itself. The intensity of Desdemona’s feelings for Othello adds to the idea that their marriage is ideal. Moreover, images of the soul illustrate Desdemona’s love and her willingness to risk her entire being to be with Othello. When confronted about her love for Othello, Desdemona reveals that [her] heart’s subdued/ Even to the very quality of [her] lord. [She] saw Othello’s visage in his mind,

And to his honours and valiant parts
Did [she her] soul and fortunes consecrate (1.3.250-254). “From the beginning, Desdemona has viewed love as a risk and challenge. She has violently uprooted herself from her father’s protection and the conventional expectations of Venetian society…”(Thomas Neely 96). Desdemona believes that a life full of risks and unknown dangers is worth living if she is by Othello’s side. This complete devotion of body and soul reveals Desdemona’s feelings of loyalty towards Othello. The rendering of her soul; her whole entire being, wholly to Othello emphasizes the impeccable love between the two of them. Thus, through heavenly images the apparently perfect union between Desdemona and Othello is portrayed throughout the first scenes of the...
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