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Animality and Darkness in Othello

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Animality and Darkness in Othello

An initial reading of Othello would suggest that animality and darkness are indeed in opposition to beauty and light. This view is affirmed by looking at the language and actions of Iago, 'Though I do hate him as I do hell-pains' in contrast to Desdemona, (or even the early Othello),'Not to pick bad from bad, but by bad mend.'

Animality and darkness can be clearly seen in the character and more specifically the language of Iago. From the very opening of the play, curses and language which intone hate fall easily from his lips. His enigmatic declaration that 'I am not what I am' is preceded by the disturbing image that when he is sincere 'I will wear my heart upon my sleeve/For daws to peck at.' His descriptions of Othello and Desdemona's relationship are also animalistic, 'Your daughter and the Moor are making the beast with two backs'. The linguistic identity which Shakespeare gives to this character is later adopted by Othello; in essence it can be seen to permeate the play with a certain baseness which is placed in opposition to the character of Desdemona, not only in her language and actions but in the way she is constructed by others.

One very clear example of this can be found within Act V Scene ii and the imagery which is used to describe Desdemona, 'that whiter skin of hers than snow/ and smooth as monumental alabaster', and in the recurrent references to light, 'thou flaming minister', 'thy former light'. Further, if one views beauty and light in this context as heavenly then the animality and darkness can be seen to correspond to that which is secular, a notion which Othello communicates in the opening speech of the final scene, placing earthly notions of justice against...

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...scene and the misogynistic views of such as Iago, 'How if she be black and witty'' with the later scene of Act IV Scne iii and Desdemona's refusal to say the word 'whore', 'I cannot say whore/It does abhor me', then the dark baseness of the male world is seen in opposition and dark contrast to the innocence and naivety of Desdemona.

Thus through such passages in Othello it is possible to see that 'animality and darkness are in opposition to beauty and light', in many different ways, dramatic, linguistic, thematic and conceptual and it is a conflict which it can be claimed is never resolved. Othello's suicide ends the personal conflict but the decision for the audience lies in their response to what is dark or beautiful. It is possible to see the 'tragic loading of the bed', either as the triumph of animality or the return of Venice as the good and the light.
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