Copious Imagery within the Tragedy Othello

Copious Imagery within the Tragedy Othello

Length: 2096 words (6 double-spaced pages)

Rating: Excellent

Open Document

Essay Preview

More ↓
Copious Imagery within the Tragedy Othello  

   In the Bard of Avon’s tragic drama Othello there resides imagery of all types, sizes and shapes. Let us look at the playwright’s offering in this area.


In the essay “Wit and Witchcraft: an Approach to Othello” Robert B. Heilman discusses the significance of imagery within this play:


Reiterative language is particularly prone to acquire a continuity of its own and to become “an independent part of the plot” whose effect we can attempt to gauge. It may create “mood” or “atmosphere”: the pervasiveness of images of injury, pain, and torture in Othello has a very strong impact that is not wholly determined by who uses the images. But most of all the “system of imagery” introduces thoughts, ideas, themes – elements of the meaning that is the author’s final organization of all his materials. (333)


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! what, ho, Brabantio! thieves! thieves! thieves! / Look to your house, your daughter and your bags!” When the senator appears at the window, the ancient continues with coarse imagery of animal lust: “Even now, now, very now, an old black ram / Is topping your white ewe,” and “you'll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse; you'll have your nephews neigh to you; you'll have coursers for cousins and gennets for germans.” Brabantio, judging from Iago’s language, rightfully concludes that the latter is a “profane wretch” and a “villain.”


When Iago returns to the Moor, he resorts to violence in his description of the senator, saying that “nine or ten times / I had thought to have yerk'd him here under the ribs.

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"Copious Imagery within the Tragedy Othello." 22 Jan 2020

Need Writing Help?

Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.

Check your paper »

Copious Imagery within the Tragedy Othello Essay

- Copious Imagery within the Tragedy Othello        In the Bard of Avon’s tragic drama Othello there resides imagery of all types, sizes and shapes. Let us look at the playwright’s offering in this area.   In the essay “Wit and Witchcraft: an Approach to Othello” Robert B. Heilman discusses the significance of imagery within this play:   Reiterative language is particularly prone to acquire a continuity of its own and to become “an independent part of the plot” whose effect we can attempt to gauge....   [tags: Othello essays]

Free Essays
2096 words (6 pages)

Othello’s Copious Imagery Essay

- Othello’s Copious Imagery        Let’s look into Shakespeare’s drama Othello and admire the proliferation of imagery with which the playwright has decorated the play.   In the Introduction to Shakespeare’s Othello: The Harbrace Theatre Edition, John Russell Brown describes some “splendid images” in the play:   The elaborate soliloquy spoken by Othello as he approaches his sleeping wife (V.ii.1-22) contains some splendid images, such as “chaste stars,” “monumental alabaster,” “flaming minister,” and “Promethean heat,” but its key words are simple and used repeatedly: cause, soul, blood, die, light, love, and weep....   [tags: Othello essays]

Research Papers
1923 words (5.5 pages)

Imagery within the Tragedy Othello Essay

- Imagery within the Tragedy Othello         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....   [tags: Othello essays]

Research Papers
1949 words (5.6 pages)

The Tragedy Of Romeo And Juliet, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, And Othello Essay

- Causes of Tragedy in Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, and Othello A tragedy, as outlined in Aristotle’s Poetics, is a result of a chain of cause and effect that leads to the fall of a tragic hero from happiness and can be found in Shakespeare’s tragedies. This essay will focus on causes found in four of those tragedies: Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, and Othello, each of which includes the fall of aristocratic or royal heroes through external forces such as familial interference, friends, acquaintances, and supernatural interference from ghosts....   [tags: Tragedy, Othello, William Shakespeare]

Research Papers
1062 words (3 pages)

The Tragedy Of Othello By William Shakespeare Essay

- In the play “The Tragedy of Othello” by Willian Shakespeare, Othello Changes from an intelligent and confident person to a senseless and insecure person. This change in his personality occurs mainly because: Iago plans to ruin his relationship with Desdemona, he was an Outsider, he had bad judgement when it came to trusting people and failed to see reality, his negative thinking about himself and his relationship with Desdemona. Iago is a very strategic and clever person, and he despises Othello because Othello appointed Cassio as a lieutenant over Iago....   [tags: Othello, Iago, Brabantio, Desdemona]

Research Papers
2005 words (5.7 pages)

The Tragedy of Othello Essay

- William Shakespeare masterfully crafted Othello, the Moor of Venice as an Aristotelian tragedy play. The main protagonist of the play, Othello, is the perfect example of a tragic hero. Shakespeare was influenced by Aristotle’s concept of a tragic hero and used Aristotle’s principles to create Othello. William Shakespeare attempted to create an Aristotelian tragedy play with a tragic hero and succeeded in Othello, the Moor of Venice by weaving in pity and fear into each line and action. The power of pity and fear creates the upmost tragic situation and follows in accordance of Aristotle’s definition of tragedy....   [tags: Othello Essays]

Research Papers
1286 words (3.7 pages)

The Tragedy Of Othello By William Shakespeare Essay

- The Tragedy of Othello, written by William Shakespeare, is a play about a Moor of Venice and his downfall by deception and love. The themes of two-facedness, narcissism, and honor are all prominent in this play; the theme overarching these, however, is loyalty. Similar to a satirist, Shakespeare shows that the true nature of a person’s loyalty is not always as it appears. Othello’s loyalty to his own honor exposes his false loyalty to his wife. Iago, the antagonist, is deceptive in portraying himself as honest and committed to those he supposedly loves, but at the same time he plans their downfall....   [tags: Othello, Iago, William Shakespeare, Narcissism]

Research Papers
877 words (2.5 pages)

The Tragedy Of Othello By William Shakespeare Essay

- The Tragedy of Othello “Racism springs from the lie that certain human beings are less than fully human. It 's a self-centered falsehood that corrupts our minds into believing we are right to treat others as we would not want to be treated.”- Alveda King Although most people will tell themselves that race is not an issue, the truth always is staring them straight in the eye. The fundamental crime is a flawed belief that some people are above others and deserve to look down on those different. In the play The Tragedy of Othello, William Shakespeare uses symbolism, imagery, and characters to illustrate the prejudice and racism which surrounds different ethnicities and its effects on society....   [tags: Othello, Iago, William Shakespeare, Roderigo]

Research Papers
1530 words (4.4 pages)

Othello's Flaw in Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Othello Essays

- Othello's Flaw in Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Othello In Shakespeare?s play Othello, Othello himself is the tragic hero. He is an individual of high stature who is destroyed by his surroundings, his own actions, and his fate. His destruction is essentially precipitated by his own actions, as well as by the actions of the characters surrounding him. The tragedy of Othello is not a fault of a single person, but is rather the consequence of a wide range of feelings, judgments, misjudgments, and attempts for personal justification revealed by the characters....   [tags: Papers Shakespeare Othello]

Research Papers
809 words (2.3 pages)

Feminine Perspective within Othello Essay

- Feminine Perspective within Othello         In William Shakespeare’s tragic drama Othello, the male characters far outnumber the female ones. This may tend to cause the feminine viewpoint to be shortchanged. Let’s not let that happen – by consideration of same in this essay.   In the essay “Wit and Witchcraft: an Approach to Othello” Robert B. Heilman discusses involvement in the play by Emilia, the wife of Iago:   Emilia’s picking up the handkerchief helps advance the action by contributing to Iago’s deception of Othello, but it is also relevant to her character and to Shakespeare’s conception of the modes of wifely devotion and marital relationship (not to mention its relation...   [tags: Othello essays]

Free Essays
2444 words (7 pages)

Related Searches

” Othello responds to the antagonist with a whole new set of imagery which is respectable, non-violent, and worthy of imitation; he speaks of his family lineage and the open sea:


   I fetch my life and being

     From men of royal siege, and my demerits

     May speak unbonneted to as proud a fortune

     As this that I have reach'd: for know, Iago,

     But that I love the gentle Desdemona,

     I would not my unhoused free condition

     Put into circumscription and confine

     For the sea's worth. (1.2)


Meanwhile, Iago, in his answer to Cassio’s question about the general, refers again to money as the motivating force in Othello’s marriage to Desdemona: “Faith, he to-night hath boarded a land carack: / If it prove lawful prize, he's made for ever.” After Brabantio and his search party have reached the Moor, he quiets their passions with imagery from nature: “Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them.” The senator, thinking that his daughter has been “enchanted” by the Moor, employs related imagery in his confrontation with the general: “If she in chains of magic were not bound,” “foul charms,” “drugs or minerals / That weaken motion,” “practiser of arts inhibited,” “prison,” “bond-slaves and pagans.” Standing before the Duke of Venice and the City Council, Othello defends his marriage against the vehement accusations of the senator with

reference to his narration in the senator’s home of “the battles, sieges, fortunes” which he had experienced. Christian imagery is seen in his mention of Desdemona, who “wish'd / That heaven had made her such a man,” and his wife immediately supports his statement with her own testimony.


With the matter of Brabantio’s accusations settled, the council and the general turn to the Ottoman advance upon Cyprus. As Othello begins discussion of this matter, his imagery becomes hard and unfeeling with expressions such as “the flinty and steel couch of war,”

“hardness,” “wars.” Contrasting with this imagery is the soft, love-centered imagery of Desdemona, who attests that “to his honour and his valiant parts / Did I my soul and fortunes consecrate,” and who refers to herself as a “moth of peace.” She seems to draw the general into her soft ways, as he responds that “when light-wing'd toys / Of feather'd Cupid seal with wanton dullness [. . .] Let housewives make a skillet of my helm” – mythological and domestic imagery. For a military leader to be peppering his language with allusions to Cupid and to housewives is a rarity indeed!


Another rarity of the play is the audience’s seeing Iago acting toward good and not toward evil. In the instance when he talks Roderigo out of committing suicide over the loss of Desdemona, the ancient employs decent, wholesome imagery:


Our bodies are our gardens, to the which

     our wills are gardeners: so that if we will plant

     nettles, or sow lettuce, set hyssop and weed up

     thyme, supply it with one gender of herbs, or

     distract it with many, either to have it sterile

     with idleness, or manured with industry, why, the

     power and corrigible authority of this lies in our

     wills. (1.3)


The ancient’s motive in this seemingly generous gesture is found in his words shortly thereafter: “Put money in thy purse; follow thou the wars; defeat thy favour with an usurped beard; I say, put money in thy purse.” He cannot bear the thought of terminating the stipend from his wealthy friend.


With the action now relocated to the island of Cyprus, it is Michael Cassio who, in answering Montano regarding the Moor’s marital status, says that Othello’s wife “excels the quirks of blazoning pens,” “our great captain's captain,” “Give renew'd fire to our extincted spirits,” “The riches of the ship,” and other highly flattering imagery for her. Waiting at the harbor in Cyprus, Iago employs imagery critical of his Emilia: “Sir, would she give you so much of her lips / As of her tongue she oft bestows on me,” to the extent that Desdemona labels him a “slanderer.” The cunning ancient beguiles the unsuspecting Cassio into a drunken state, thus costing him his lieutenancy. Generous-hearted Desdemona agrees to intercede with the general. Shallow Emilia turns over the decorated handkerchief to Iago out of selfishness, asking what he will give her in return. Iago’s sinister machinations enmesh Cassio and Desdemona in a web of adultery that exists only in the mind of the ancient and his victim, the Moor, whom he ensnares in Act 3. The general is naïve and gullible to the suggestions of “honest Iago,” for to Othello the world is “empty of human life as we know it, but filled with the sense of far-off, heroic adventure.” His love for Desdemona is “utterly defenseless in a world that contains Iago. . . .” (Ferguson 132-33). 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)


After Othello interrogates Emilia as to his wife’s closeness to Cassio, he talks with Desdemona. The conversation between these two is replete with spiritual imagery: “heaven” (repeatedly), “devils,” “honest,” “hell,” “soul,” “cherubim,” “fountain from which my current runs,” and “Christian.” The senses of touch and smell are appealed to with the Moor’s words here:


O, ay; as summer flies are in the shambles,

     That quicken even with blowing. O thou weed,

     Who art so lovely fair and smell'st so sweet

     That the sense aches at thee, would thou hadst

     ne'er been born! (4.3)


Desdemona, in her final verbal exchange with her maid Emilia, shares a presentiment with bedroom imagery: “If I do die before thee prithee, shroud me / In one of those same sheets.” In Act 5, when the general hears Cassio’s cries during and after Roderigo’s ambush, the Moor hastens to his bedroom where Desdemona is asleep. His deliberation on the mode of death for her – suffocation – involves considerable imagery: “Yet I'll not shed her blood; / Nor scar that whiter skin of hers than snow, / And smooth as monumental alabaster.” He reflects, with both mythical and nature imagery, that when he


once put out thy light,

     Thou cunning'st pattern of excelling nature,

     I know not where is that Promethean heat

     That can thy light relume. When I have pluck'd the rose,

     I cannot give it vital growth again.

     It must needs wither: I'll smell it on the tree. (5.2)


His words to the waking wife contain spiritual imagery: “Have you pray'd to-night, Desdemona?” and “If you bethink yourself of any crime / Unreconciled as yet to heaven and grace, / Solicit for it straight,” and “I would not kill thy unprepared spirit; / No; heaven forfend! I would not kill thy soul.” Then Desdemona’s replies gravitate toward the spiritual: “Then heaven / Have mercy on me!” and “Then Lord have mercy on me!” and “never loved Cassio / But with such general warranty of heaven,” and “But while I say one prayer!” Othello is deaf to her pleas, and he suffocates her.


Shortly thereafter Emilia appears and informs the protagonist that Cassio is alive; this news prompts the use of some musical imagery by the Moor: “Not Cassio kill'd! then murder's out of tune, / And sweet revenge grows harsh.” Othello confesses his guilt for Desdemona’s murder, which occasions a brief imagery-laden exchange between himself and Emilia:


EMILIA: O, the more angel she,

     And you the blacker devil!


OTHELLO: She turn'd to folly, and she was a whore.


EMILIA: Thou dost belie her, and thou art a devil.


OTHELLO: She was false as water.


EMILIA: Thou art rash as fire, to say

     That she was false: O, she was heavenly true! ((5.2)


When Othello confesses that he acted because Desdemona gave Cassio the kerchief-gift from the general, Emilia blurts out her protest through imagery:


     'Twill out, 'twill out: I peace!

     No, I will speak as liberal as the north:

     Let heaven and men and devils, let them all,

     All, all, cry shame against me, yet I'll speak. (5.2)


Emilia pays for her honesty with her life; and Othello makes an imagery-laden farewell to his Desdemona before stabbing himself to death:


Cold, cold, my girl!

     Even like thy chastity. O cursed slave!

     Whip me, ye devils,

     From the possession of this heavenly sight!

     Blow me about in winds! roast me in sulphur!

     Wash me in steep-down gulfs of liquid fire!

     O Desdemona! Desdemona! dead! (5.2)


David Bevington in William Shakespeare: Four Tragedies comments that the imagery in the play is quite mundane, and he tells why:


The battle of good and evil is of course cosmic, but in Othello that battle is realized through a taut narrative of jealousy and murder. Its poetic images are accordingly focused to a large extent on the natural world. One cluster of images is domestic and animal, having to do with goats, monkeys, wolves, baboons, guinea hens, wildcats, spiders, flies, asses, dogs, 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.


Heilman, Robert B. “Wit and Witchcraft: an Approach to Othello.” Shakespeare: Modern Essays in Criticism. Ed. Leonard F. Dean. Rev. Ed. Rpt. from The Sewanee Review, LXIV, 1 (Winter 1956), 1-4, 8-10; and Arizona Quarterly (Spring 1956), pp.5-16.


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. No line nos.
Return to