“Imagery” on OthelloIn William Shakespeare’s Othello, the use of imagery and
metaphors is significant in conveying meaning as it helps to establish the
dramatic atmosphere of the play and reinforce the main themes. Through
this, the audience is able to grasp a better understanding of the play.
Throughout Othello, images relating to poison frequently
occur. These references are predominantly made by Iago. This seems
appropriate for Iago who exhibits the characteristics of poison; they being
fatal and deadly. There are several possible explanations to what motivates
Iago: being overlooked for being the lieutenant, the belief that Othello
and Cassio had committed adultery with his wife, though this is never
really proved; class differences present in the society that made him feel
inferior and racial differences. This desire for revenge is so great it
“doth, like a poisonous mineral, gnaw his inwards.” Iago’s use of
language is a primary weapon in manipulating Othello. By “pouring this
pestilence into his ear”, Iago contaminates his thoughts. Once Othello
starts to doubt Desdemona’s fidelity, he is so incredibly driven by
jealousy that it leads him to murder her, ironically with poison.
Many references are made to animals in the play. Iago uses
beast imagery to express his contempt and to downgrade those he despises.
Early in Act 1, he stirs Brabantio’s anger by using crude images of animals
fornicating to inform him that his “daughter and the Moor are now making
the beast with two backs.” Such a metaphor is designed to evoke a strong
emotional response. In a soliloquy at the conclusion of Act One, Iago says
“It is engendered. Hell and night / Must bring this monstrous birth to the
world’s light.” Shakespeare uses the image of a monster being born as a
metaphor for the start of Iago’s evil scheming. It also becomes evident
that Othello’s mind has been corrupted by Iago’s evil handiwork when he too
starts to use the same sort of animal imagery in his speech. In one scene,
convinced of his wife’s infidelity, Othello loses all self-control crying
out “goats and monkeys,” animals traditionally considered lascivious.
There is also a wealth of heaven and hell imagery in Othello. Iago, who is
Machiavellian in nature and revels in tormenting others, can be perceived
as the devil personified. Even he himself acknowledges this when he says
“devils will the blackest sins put on…suggest at first with heavenly
shows / As I do now.” Iago’s manipulation of Othello causes him to see
Desdemona as ‘devilish’; therefore she must be brought to ‘justice’.
Desdemona, though, is associated with images of light,
heaven and purity, thus suggesting her innocence. Even in the last scene as
Othello prepares to kill her, he uses a rose as a metaphor for Desdemona.
This indicates that her beauty still has an influence over him as well as
his ever present feelings of affection for her. When at last Iago is
exposed as the true villain and just before committing suicide, Othello,
using another metaphor, compares Desdemona to a pearl that he has thrown
away. This is one of many times where she is referred to as a priceless
Throughout the play, the contrast between black and white is
also used as a metaphor for the difference between Othello and the Venetian
society. Several references to Othello as “an old black ram” and “far more
fair than black” indicate that even though he holds the distinguished
position of a general, the fact that he is black still makes him the
Through the use of imagery and metaphors, Shakespeare is able
to generate a considerable impact on the audience positioning them to
recognize the full extent of the tragic outcome as a result of Iago’s
treachery. The use of these images and comparisons effectively defines the
nature of each character and explores central themes such as deception,
race and jealousy.