The Power of Language in Othello
In Othello, Shakespeare explores the relationship between words and events. Spoken thought, in the play, has all the power of action; speaking about an event will make that event become reality for those who hear - it will affect reality as if that event had taken place. Shakespeare demonstrates the power of words poignantly through Othello's monologues. Othello struggles with the reality that Iago creates for him. When Othello speaks, he reveals that he is unable to stop himself from carrying out acts that Iago's and his own words have prophesied and initiated. Othello's monologues further demonstrate that even the knowledge of the power of words cannot protect the characters from the consequences which the words demand. Speaking about an event is prophecy in Othello, but it is more than just an objective foretelling of the future. Words become the all powerful initiators of action, once spoken they cannot be counter-acted , they alone determine the course of the future.
Othello's monologue before he murders Desdemona is an excellent passage to study Shakespeare's thesis of how words relate to action.
7 Put out the light, and then put out the light!
8 If I quench thee, thou flaming minister,
9 I can again thy former light restore
10 Should I repent me. But once put out thy light,
11 Thou cunning'st pattern of excelling nature,
12 I know not where is that Promethean heat
13 That can thy former light relume: when I have plucked the
15 I cannot give it vital growth again,
16 It needs must wither. Ö
(Othello, 5.2.7-16, p. 306)
Shakespeare sets the tone of the passage with one simple introductory line, "Put out the light, and then put out the light!" The line begins: "Put out the light," perhaps it is an imperative, perhaps it is a simple declaratory remark. Whatever the case, it was spoken, and the second part of the line "and then put out the light!" turns the simple statement into a chronological phenomenon with a specific message about thought and action. First an event is described and then it becomes reality by action. The brevity of the line emphasizes the straightforward and unbreakable relationship of words and action.
Throughout the play there are numerous examples of words which become self-fulfilling prophecies for those who hear them. Barbantio's words in the first Act, "Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see: / She has deceived her father, and may thee." (Othello, 1.3.293-294, p.154) become essential reality for Othello. The prophesy of the old Egyptian woman to Othello's mother in regards to the handkerchief Othello gave to Desdemona also becomes Othello's reality, even though Desdemona did not actually give it away. (Othello, 3.4.56-65, p.244) Finally Iago fulfills the prophecy of his own words, "I...