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Othello Literary Analysis

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Topics: Othello, Iago
William Shakespeare’s Othello is a tragedy in which Othello is Moorish general serving in the city of Venice. Iago is Othello’s friend, but turns on him because Othello promoted Michael Cassio to lieutenant. Iago then begins his evil and malicious deeds against Othello. This leads Othello to turn jealous and kill his wife, Desdemona. Othello then commits suicide. By using imagery, irony, and symbolism, Shakespeare displays the theme of the power that jealousy has to destroy. Shakespeare uses imagery to describe the theme by showing the audience a story that is plentiful in figures of speech. Although the characters speak in prose and verse, imagery is very abundant throughout the play. For example, when Iago says, “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; it is the green-ey’d monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on *(3. 3. 191-193),” Iago is warning Othello that jealousy is monstrous, as he describes the monster as “green-ey’d.” This quote from Iago is only feeding Othello more jealousy which will lead the latter to become a monster. Imagery is used by Shakespeare to portray the power of jealousy. Another equally important element Shakespeare uses is irony. Othello is a victim of prejudice. Ironically, Othello is the one who commits the most execrable deed of prejudice in the play, presuming his innocent wife, Desdemona, is a “harlot (4. 2. 105)” who he must kill. His obstinate refusal to give evidence of the killing of Desdemona shows that prejudice is an equal-opportunity situation. Another ironic characteristic in the play is how Othello, a good man, commits a heinous crime. Iago, an evil man, disguises himself as a noble, good man. In a passage from the play, Iago expresses false honor, saying, “But he that filches from me my good name, robs me of that which not enriches him, and makes me poor indeed. (3. 3. 180-185)” Irony plays an important role in the story and theme of Othello. Yet another element Shakespeare uses to project the theme is symbolism. There are few items of symbolic meaning in the play, but these few have large meaning. The symbol of most importance is Desdemona’s handkerchief. The handkerchief was given to Desdemona by Othello as her first gift. It acts as a symbol of their love, which is why Iago tells his wife to take it – the handkerchief has a lot of value and Othello will be angry when it comes to him that his wife no longer has the handkerchief. The handkerchief also symbolizes Othello’s vague past and his charm. Othello tells Desdemona that an Egyptian “charmer” gave it to his mother and that it would keep his father faithful and under his mother’s spell (3.4. 9). How such a small item could have so much clout in the play supports how a small event can make a mountain out of a molehill. Another important symbol is the candle that Othello blows out just before he is about to kill Desdemona. This symbolizes Desdemona’s delicate life. As Othello stands over Desdemona with the candle in his hand, he says he will “Put out the light, and then put out the light.” Shakespeare uses symbolism to portray the theme, even if there are few items of symbolic importance. William Shakespeare’s play, Othello, uses the theme of jealousy’s power to destroy. This theme is brought to the audience using detailed literary devices. Jealousy is something that is very difficult to control in this play. It festers and grows stronger until everything is crushed in the end. Shakespeare’s tragedy portrays the theme using imagery, irony, and symbolism.

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