Each piece of literacy is unique as it is shaped by the place and time in which it is written and the experiences of he who wrote it. In turn those to encounter the text will be effected, making each text a human experience. Shakespeare’s Othello reinforces the idea that literature is shaped by human experience and its counter act. During Shakespeare’s time there were events major disturbance, social and cultural crisis that shaped the language, imagery and character in his plays. Shakespeare’s mastery of plot development, character development and language, makes his works important in the study of literature throughout time.
It is commonly believed that the eyes are windows to a person’s soul. However, Shakespeare allows the audience and reader of the play to see the true character through his words, giving words and the language of the characters great power. A technique that Shakespeare employs to great effect, is the use of the most poetic and lyrical language on that of the villain, Iago. This technique sets Iago apart from the other characters and makes it easier for the audience to understand how Othello is drawn into Iago’s deceit.
Opposite to Iago’s complex lyrical language are Othello’s lines, written in prose. The difference in their dialect represents their differences including race, status and good vs. evil. It also stands as a representation of the audience Shakespeare wrote for, which varied immensely in education, status (race) and wealth. Language used by Othello transforms throughout the play. At the beginning of the play Othello has such confidence in his skill with language; Shakespeare uses blank verse lines to portray him as a noble man with a calm nature.
As he begins to believe Iago’s lies, his language changes as well, becoming offensive and giving numerous references to hell. Under pressure from Iago in act three his language deteriates becoming fragmented and hesitant. “Ha! ” (3, 3, “o misery! ” (3, 3) there is also notable repetition, “not a jot, not a jot” (3, 3), “O blood, blood, blood! ” (3, 3) and “damn her, lewd minx! O, damn her, damn her! ” (3, 3). This shift from seemingly effortless verse to near inarticulateness, demonstrates how this larger then life, confident character is crippled by a mere jealousy.
He looses grip further to a point where he can only helplessly and automatically echo Iago’s questions. He is sent into frenzy, struggling to find the differences between “lying on” and “lying with”. His confidence with words and self control decreases so much so that he erupts in nonsense words, “pish! Noses, ears, and lips! ” (4, 1) this inability to communicate is symbolic of his inability to cope with the thought of an unfaithful Desdemona, and he is overcome physically and collapses. This transformation of Othello’s language is wholey due to the actions of Iago.
Imagery is used in Othello as a means for its characters, namely Iago, to communicate their thoughts and personality, aiding in creating a dramatic atmosphere and helps define the various meanings and themes in the play. Animalistic descriptions are used constantly throughout the play. Before Othello steps onto the stage he is described as an “old black ram” and a “Barbary horse” by Othello, depersonalising and degrading him to the level of an animal. This shows the level of respect he has for Othello.
The major female characters are referred to as hobbyhorse, minx and minion, a representation of women’s standings during the Elizabethan era, suggesting they are nothing better then a common horse. Of significance is the animal imagery used to describe Iago. His malicious nature is likened to that of a snake through the imagery of poison and the name of “the viper” as described by Lodovico, indicating the character is similar to a snake, the ultimate sign of evil. Religious imagery is used often within the play, in comparing good and evil and in describing hatred of each other.
Emilia to Othello “O, the more angel she, and the blacker devil you” (5, 2) shows contrast between Desdemona and Othello in addition to suggesting skin colour and evilness go hand in hand. Religious imagery describes the preoccupation people of the Elizabethan era had with religious order and the place of it in the chain of being… Imagery as a whole is a reflection of the thoughts of the characters in the play who in turn reflect the views of Elizabethan society and Shakespeare himself.
It helps illustrate the characters and their relationships who reflect the culture and time in which it is written, furthermore it represents the authors human experiences and ideas. The relationship between Othello and Iago is of extreme importance to the degeneration of Othello’s relation ship with Desdemona and Cassio and therefore, the development of the plot. The malicious nature of Iago, the true antagonist of the play is conflicting to the protagonists, Othello. Iago abuses Othello’s trusting nature and naive traits to cunningly convince him of Desdemona’s supposed unfaithfulness.
Henry Warnken describes Othello and Iago’s relationship, stating that while “Iago’s evil corrupts Othello, the potential for evil already lurked within the moor, Iago merely frees his capacity for evil”. Suggesting that Othello isn’t as pure and ‘good’ as the imagery already led the audience to believe. This would prove Iago’s intelligence in plotting to use Othello for his own gain, “I follow him to serve my turn upon him” (1, 1). Desdemona and Emilia are principle female characters. Just as Othello and Iago are opposites, so too are Desdemona and Emilia.
The two women are loyal characters, wanting to please their husbands, for different reasons as they see marriage in different ways. Emilia knows of the value of marriage and wishes to be loyal to Iago as part of her duty as a wife, however Desdemona wants to please her husband out of love. This difference demonstrates the views of the Elizabethan era. Emilia’s marriage is acceptable unlike Desdemona’s, however it is Emilia’s whose fails. She is loyal to her husband up to a point where she decides to speak out against Iago, being the cause of all the chaos.
Unlike Desdemona who remains loyal throughout the play even after Othello murders her she still tries to protect him when Emilia asks who murdered her she revives momentarily to state “nobody; I myself. ” And they both remain in love. The idea that the socially unacceptable couple, married out of love remained loyal to each other until the end in contrast to the acceptable couple whom ended up fighting against each other, is one that would surprise much of the audience during the Elizabethan era.
Human experiences are at the core of all literature, and the reaction we get from it. It is what shapes the plot, the language, characters and imagery used in the play. It creates themes such as love and loyalty which are vital for the story to transpire. In relation to Othello, Shakespeare’s opinion of Elizabethan values and focus on human nature creates themes of love and loyalty which still resinates with today’s audience. If human experience had no place in literature, every text would be virtually the same.