Imagery in Othello
The vast array of natural imagery in Shakespeare’s tragic drama Othello dazzles the audience’s minds. Let us survey in this essay the varieties of imagery referred to by the playwright.
The vulgar imagery of Othello’s ancient dominates 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.” 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)
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 colorful images: “the battles, sieges, fortunes.”
With the matter of Brabantio’s accusations settled, Othello discusses the Ottoman advance...