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Animality And Darkness In Othello Essay

1048 words - 4 pages

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 such as the 'heavenly' sorrow and even later heavenly justice itself.

Yet rather than simply seeing beauty and darkness in opposition in the characters of Desdemona and Iago, the notions of good and evil are in opposition in the one character of Othello.

By 1604, the first performance of 'Othello', racism and racial prejudice were firmly ingrained in the English psyche. It is possible to claim that the play is both racist in its approach to the character of Othello and in its generalised negative view of all that is not Christian or civilised. If one perceives that the play presents Othello's race and skin colour as something animalistic, uncivilised and as having an inherent darkness, as many characters and even Othello himself do, the notions of a 'civilised' moor can be seen to be an oxymoron in the ideology of the play. This can be clearly seen in the claims of Brabantio 'thou foul thief.../Damned as thou art, thou hast enchanted her.' This contradiction in Othello, or dichotomy, is clearly revealed in Act 1 scene 2 . In attempting to explain himself Othello is clearly presented as a skilled orator, intelligent and self-controlled, 'Most potent, grave and reverent signiors', not the passionate, rude an...

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