The grand variety of imagery in William Shakespeare’s tragic drama Othello serves many purposes. Let us in this paper consider the types and purposes of the imagery.
In her book, Everybody’s Shakespeare: Reflections Chiefly on the Tragedies, Maynard Mack comments on the imagery of darkness and how it supports the evil schemes of the ancient:
Just now, however, as we listen to his plans evolve, the darkness seems chiefly to be Iago’s element. In the darkness of this Venetian street, he moves to disrupt Othello’s marriage if he can. Later, in the darkness of a street in Cyprus, he will close his trap on Cassio, involving him in a scuffle that will cost him his lieutenancy. Still later, in the dark island outpost, he will set Roderigo to ambush Cassio, and so (he hopes) be rid of both. Simultaneously, in a darkness that he has insinuated into Othello’s mind, Desdemona will be strangled. (134)
The vulgar imagery of the ancient dominate the opening of the play. Francis Ferguson in “Two Worldviews Echo Each Other” describes the types of imagery used by the antagonist when he “slips his mask aside” while awakening Brabantio:
Iago is letting loose the wicked passion inside him, as he does from time to time throughout the play, when he slips his mask aside. At such moments he always resorts to this imagery of money-bags, treachery, and animal lust and violence. So he expresses his own faithless, envious spirit, and, by the same token, his vision of the populous city of Venice – Iago’s “world,” as it has been called. . . .(132)
Standing outside the senator’s home late at night, Iago uses imagery within a lie to arouse the occupant: “ Awake! w...
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...s, copulating horses and sheep, serpents, and toads; other images, more wide-ranging in scope, include green-eyed monsters, devils, blackness, poisons, money purses, tarnished jewels, music untuned, and light extinguished. (217)
Bevington, David, ed. William Shakespeare: Four Tragedies. New York: Bantam Books, 1980.
Ferguson, Francis. “Two Worldviews Echo Each Other.” Readings on The Tragedies. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996. Reprint from Shakespeare: The Pattern in His Carpet. N.p.: n.p., 1970.
Mack, Maynard. Everybody’s Shakespeare: Reflections Chiefly on the Tragedies. Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press, 1993.
Shakespeare, William. Othello. In The Electric Shakespeare. Princeton University. 1996. http://www.eiu.edu/~multilit/studyabroad/othello/othello_all.html No line nos.
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