The Disintegration of Othello
Shakespeare's Othello is a play with unique characters. One such character is the one for which Shakespeare names his play. In the play, Othello disintegrates from a confident leader to a homicidal murderer. Linguistic changes throughout the play attest to this theory.
In the opening scenes, Shakespeare portrays Othello
as a noble character. When Brabantio seeks vengeance (for "stealing" his daughter) on Othello, Othello expresses his actions will "tongue out his [Brabantio's] complaints" (1.2.21). Thus he shows his calmness against the verbal slander of Brabantio. Throughout this scene, Othello remains calm and confident. Moreover, he humbly tells the story of his relationship with Desdemona. He does not flaunt the situation over Brabantio but speaks modestly.
In the next act, Othello maintains his calm demeanor. He speaks poetically of seeing his "fair warrior" Desdemona (2.1.210). Later in the scene, Cassio fails at his military duties. Even though this deeply hurts Othello, he keeps his calm. He lovingly dismisses Cassio from service saying, " Cassio, I love thee
;/But never more be officer of mine" (2.3.254). Othello continues in this matter until the Temptation scene in 3.3.
He begins this scene in the same manner but Iago's words transform him into a monster. At first, he simply doubts his wife's fidelity. He asks Iago to observe Desdemona's actions (3.3.274). Then Othello goes to his wife. Although he seems ill, his speech does not express his change. But the next time Othello meets Iago, Othello has a different character. He begins using the animal imagery Iago used throughout the play (3.3.407). In addition, he calls her a "lewd minx" (3.3.533). As the play progresses, he begins using this animal imagery more often.
In addition, Shakespeare adds exclamation marks after many of Othello's words. Before this point, few exclamation marks marked the text. Thus the reader might assume the excitement in Othello's voice. An actor would surely make note of these exclamation marks. The calm Othello has begun his descent into a raging Othello.
Furthermore, he calls on "black vengeance, from the hollow hell" (3.3.500)! He continues exclaiming, "O, blood, blood, blood" (3.3.505)! Othello is in a fury. Also, he begins using imagery of the devil in places such as 3.3.536 and 3.4.45.
In 3.4 he begins talking in riddles. He accuses Desdemona of having a "liberal hand" (3.4.50). Here he is suggesting she gives her hand away too liberally. Later in this scene, he lies to her, making a fantastical story about the origins of the handkerchief (3.463-76).
In 4.1, Othello uses much violent exclamations. Othello says of Cassio, "I would have him nine years a-killing (4.1.193). Of his wife, he says, "let her rot, and perish, and be damned to-/night, for she shall not live" (4.1.196-197). He continues, "I will chop her into messes" (4.1.215)! This is surely a homicidal maniac. The only thing left is the actual murder that he completes in the last act.
In conclusion, linguistic changes throughout Othello show the disintegration
of Othello from a confident leader to a homicidal murderer. First, Othello starts as a calm confident leader. But then Iago's words disintegrate him. He begins to speak using the animal imagery Iago uses throughout the play. In addition, he speaks excitedly. Exclamation marks express this excitement. Moreover, he calls upon hell and the devil. Later, his speech becomes flooded with images of death. Finally, he acts upon his words.
Shakespeare, William. Othello. In The Electric Shakespeare. Princeton University. 1996. http://www.eiu.edu/~multilit/studyabroad/othello/othello_all.html No line nos.