Effective Use of Rhetoric in Othello
Shakespeare’s use of rhetoric by his characters is clearly used effectively in Othello through Iago’s and Roderigo’s conversation with Barbantio. The two make use of double meanings, animal imagery, Devil and God comparisons, the use of sexual references, and descriptive insults to confuse Barbantio and make him angry towards Othello. Through Iago’s initial torment, continued by Roderigo, they are able to force Barbantio to do exactly as they wish.
Iago primarily makes use of the double meaning of the word thieves to get Barbantio out of bed and force him to be confused with the situation. Iago and Roderigo call out “thieves, thieves” to the sleeping Barbantio, who wakes up believing that there are thieves in his house. However, Iago quickly switches the meaning of the word away from common house thieves to mean that Desdemona is gone from the house, “stolen” by Othello. This double word play confuses Barbantio and Iago manipulates him to direct his anger away from Iago and Roderigo and towards Othello.
Iago and Roderigo next make use of sexual, racial, bestial images to paint the picture in Barbantio’s mind of Desdemona and Othello. He describes their actions as “an old black ram is tupping your white ewe.” Comparing Othello to a black ram and Desdemona to a white ewe allows Iago to paint the picture of animals in a barn to Barbantio, angering him. Iago continues along this path, further tormenting Barbantio. “You’ll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse.” Iago plays up on the fact that Othello is black and describes crude images of Desdemona.
Roderigo continues along this line of torment, using racial descriptions of Othello to make Barbantio feel his daughter is with a common man who does not deserve her. “ . . . Your fair daughter . . . with a knave of common hire, a gondolier.” He describes Desdemona within the “gross...