In William Shakespeare’s Othello, the use of imagery and metaphors is significant in conveying meaning as it helps to establish the dramatic atmosphere of the play and reinforce the main themes. Through this, the audience is able to grasp a better understanding of the play. Throughout Othello, images relating to poison frequently occur. These references are predominantly made by Iago. This seems appropriate for Iago who exhibits the characteristics of poison; they being fatal and deadly.
There are several possible explanations to what motivates Iago: being overlooked for being the lieutenant, the belief that Othello and Cassio had committed adultery with his wife, though this is never really proved; class differences present in the society that made him feel inferior and racial differences. This desire for revenge is so great it “doth, like a poisonous mineral, gnaw [his] inwards. ” Iago’s use of language is a primary weapon in manipulating Othello. By “pour[ing] this pestilence into his ear”, Iago contaminates his thoughts.
Once Othello starts to doubt Desdemona’s fidelity, he is so incredibly driven by jealousy that it leads him to murder her, ironically with poison. Many references are made to animals in the play. Iago uses beast imagery to express his contempt and to downgrade those he despises. Early in Act 1, he stirs Brabantio’s anger by using crude images of animals fornicating to inform him that his “daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs. ” Such a metaphor is designed to evoke a strong emotional response. In a soliloquy at the conclusion of Act One, Iago says “It is engendered.
Hell and night / Must bring this monstrous birth to the world’s light. ” Shakespeare uses the image of a monster being born as a metaphor for the start of Iago’s evil scheming. It also becomes evident that Othello’s mind has been corrupted by Iago’s evil handiwork when he too starts to use the same sort of animal imagery in his speech. In one scene, convinced of his wife’s infidelity, Othello loses all self-control crying out “goats and monkeys,” animals traditionally considered lascivious. There is also a wealth of heaven and hell imagery in Othello.
Iago, who is Machiavellian in nature and revels in tormenting others, can be perceived as the devil personified. Even he himself acknowledges this when he says “devils will the blackest sins put on… suggest at first with heavenly shows / As I do now. ” Iago’s manipulation of Othello causes him to see Desdemona as devilish; therefore she must be brought to ‘justice’. Desdemona, though, is associated with images of light, heaven and purity, thus suggesting her innocence. Even in the last scene as Othello prepares to kill her, he uses a rose as a metaphor for Desdemona.
This indicates that her beauty still has an influence over him as well as his ever present feelings of affection for her. When at last Iago is exposed as the true villain and just before committing suicide, Othello, using another metaphor, compares Desdemona to a pearl that he has thrown away. This is one of many times where she is referred to as a priceless jewel. Throughout the play, the contrast between black and white is also used as a metaphor for the difference between Othello and the Venetian society.
Several references to Othello as “an old black ram” and “far more fair than black” indicate that even though he holds the distinguished position of a general, the fact that he is black still makes him the ‘outsider’. Through the use of imagery and metaphors, Shakespeare is able to generate a considerable impact on the audience positioning them to recognize the full extent of the tragic outcome as a result of Iago’s treachery. The use of these images and comparisons effectively defines the nature of each character and explores central themes such as deception, race and jealousy.