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. 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! 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.” 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...