Othello’s Loss for WordsOthello’s character throughout the play demonstrates a skill and confidence in the art of language. From the beginning we see long, eloquent speeches that dazzle his audience – eloquently mixing complex words that help portray him as not only a strong warrior but also a fighter with a sound mind. However when Iago pressures him about the possible relationship between his wife Desdemona and Cassio, Othello’s passion for his beloved wife breaks down his self-control. In the next few pages I will demonstrate how Othello’s speech during the beginning of the play helps to strengthen his character, and by his death, he’s but a stuttering empty shell of a man.
In addition, we’ll compare the language of the moor with that of Iago and see how anti-heroic words shape the way we see this self-interested character.During the third scene of the first act, Othello speaks eloquently about how he’s won and married Desdemona. This is a beautiful forty-line speech that really shows his capacity to articulate and communicate effectively before the higher court. The language that he uses helps us see Othello as a true, confident leader. Shakespeare writes:Hath this extent, no more, Rude am I in my speech,And little blessed with the soft phrase of peace,For since these arms of mine had seven years pithTill now some nine moons wasted, they have usedTheir dearest action in the tented fieldAnd little of this great world can I speakMore than pertains to feats of broils and battle. (I.iii.
81-87)Here Othello uses irony to subtly demonstrate his grasp of the English language. His claim that he is “rude” in speech is particularly revealing because he knows all too well that no one in that room would believe that he has rudimentary abilities. Similarly, the remaining line of this example shows us his poise with regard to physical strength and the leading of armies. Ultimately, use of this kind of language reflects Othello’s lofty ideals. From the onset, we are given words that mirror powerful, dramatic images that know no bounds – and with that, we see his strength and passion for being both an idealized military general and a devoted, loving husband. In contrast, if we look at the language of Iago we see long soliloquies throughout the play, yet the words that he chooses reflects the depravity of his mind. Iago chooses manipulative words, words that depict bestial images and words of base physical functions.
Iago is as much a wordsmith as Othello in this regard. When we compare this character to that of Othello, the two are, however, radically different. In act one Shakespeare writes:Your heart is burst, you have lost half your soul.Even now, now, very now, an old black ramIs tupping your white ewe. Arise, arise!Awake the snorting citizens with the bellOr else the devil will make a grandsire of you. (I.i.
86-91)From the very beginning we see Iago’s hatred toward Othello in these descriptive words. This animalistic imagery initially establishes the dramatic tension in the play, but it also helps satisfy our suspicion of Iago’s cruel motives toward Othello. Iago skillfully uses insinuations, indirect accusations and subtle hints to get his own point across. For example, Shakespeare writes:Swounds, sir, you are one of those that willnot serve God if the devil bid you. Because we come to do youservice and you think we are ruffians, you’ll have your daughtercovered with a Barbary horse, you’ll have your nephews neighto you, you’ll have your coursers for cousins and jennets forgermans. (I.i.
110-115)Here, the exchange with Brabanzio is a direct one, but we can see Iago’s malicious, crude descriptions of Othello – which, again, suggests his own loathing for the man and his attempt to get others to side with him. He implies Othello is a “Barbary horse” and his daughter is committing a mortal sin by being with him. In the end, it is merely words, whether spoken or written, that adds that dramatic effect needed to portray each character.
In the case of Othello, it is easy to view his wordplay as emotive and dignified – with his use of irony and strong, positive imagery. For Iago, his crude, yet deceitful use of words makes us immediately see his abhorrence toward Othello.Interestingly, as the play progresses Iago’s character remains vigilant and determined to cast doubt into the mind of Othello – ultimately planting the seed of jealousy to Othello against his wife. Iaog’s motive pays off and we are soon led to the psychological break down of our beloved Othello. If we look closely at what words are being exchanged between both Othello and Iago, we can see how the mere spark of doubt in Othello’s mind changes the flow of his beautiful, trance-like speech. Shakespeare writes:IAGOShe did deceive her father, marrying you,And when she seemed to shake and fear your looksShe loved them most.OTHELLOAnd so she did. (III.
iii.210-213)Here Iago plants the germ. The idea of Othello’s wife being deceptive had never entered Othello’s mind before – yet Iago’s choice of words makes Othello undoubtedly agree with him. Having already suggested he should watch the relationship with Desdemona and Cassio closely, he chooses to remind Othello that they did marry without her father’s permission – or without him knowing. It is at this point in the play that we see a major change in Othello. What was once the fearless bastion of warfare and unconditional love, has now been fed – albeit maliciously – the fixings that makes humans crazy jealousy. From this point forward, we see even a bigger change in Othello – particularly in his speech.
As the infection of jealousy begins to take hold of his mind, the beautiful, carefully chosen words that were once charismatic tomes of thought and strength are now mere guttural eruptions of Othello’s mouth. Iago, on the other hand, continues to shape his language in the very same way as from the start of the play – in essence, there is no change in his words. He simply continues to supply us with visceral imagery only to drive Othello crazy with self-doubt. Shakespeare writes:OTHELLOHath he said anything?IAGOHe hath, my lord. But, be you well assured,No more than he’ll unswear.OTHELLOWhat hath he said?IAGOFaith, that he did – I know not what he did.OTHELLOWhat, what?IAGOLie – OTHELLOWith her?IAGOWith her, on her, what you will. (IV.
i.29-37)The contrast between the characters Othello and Iago begins to blend at this point in the play. The cunning, deceptive nature of Iago and the seemingly chaotic nature of Othello’s language shows us how much, in fact, simple, yet effective words can change the psychology of the characters. Iago remains in control of his language throughout the play, yet, Othello in his blind jealous rage, begins to remind us of Iago – the calculatingly evil person who set out to destroy our hero in the first place. Words again, tell us of what our character is thinking and we begin to see degradation in Othello as the rage grows inside of him.
Shakespeare writes:Handkerchief – confessions – handkerchief. To confess and beHanged for his labor. First to be hanged and then to confess!I tremble at it. Nature would not invest in such shadow-ing passion without some instruction.
It is not words thatshakes me thus. Pish! Noses, ears, and lips! Is’t possible? Con-fess? Handkerchief? O Devil! (IV.i.
36-41)Here we are given lines that are not eloquent and laced with images of beauty and strength. Instead we have words that remind us of the villain who began this whole mess in the first place. Othello’s passionate love is corrupted by Iago and what’s left is the crashing mind of our hero – as is evidenced by his deteriorating speech. Again, we are reminded of the power of words, but interestingly, it is love that once broken, can drive men into violent rages. We essentially see Othello become what Iago already represents in a short span of time – and it is simply words that drive him there.
On the other hand, Iago remains the same throughout. His use of words does not change as Othello’s – instead, on many levels, his become more graphic and violent; the use of animal imagery continuing as before. In the final act of the play we see Iago’s language shift from long lines filled with evil thoughts to shorter sentences – much like Othello in act four.
However, Iago’s slyness remains. Shakespeare writes:I have rubbed this young quat almost to the sense,And he grows angry. Now, whether he kill CassioOr Cassio him, or each do kill each other,Every way makes my gain. (V.
i.11-14)It isn’t until Othello begins to understand what has happened that we see a shift in each characters word selections. Once Othello slowly comes to realize Iago was behind the scandal, his confidence in speech begins to come back – and we start to notice more coherent thought.
It’s interesting to think about how words play the most crucial role in creating imagery for an audience. In the case of these two characters, particularly Othello, the emotional wave he rode was only represented by his ever-changing use of words. In the beginning, we cheered for him – and by the end of play we weren’t sure what to think.
Had he become as evil as Iago? Iago on the other hand, well, he’s just Iago.