A submission!

Today we received a really nice email from a follower of the blog.  She also sent us a copy of her recent essay, about the power of language in Othello. It’s great, give it a read. Full credits to Anindita! x

Discuss the power of language in Othello.

Words in Shakespearean plays do not merely stand as words, but act as actions as well. This is mostly prominent in the play of ‘Othello’ where words are the very thing that leads to the tragic demise of Othello and Desdemona. Shakespeare builds up his characterisation through spoken verses, where even the construction of language is a key identifier of the character’s personality.

Othello’s language construction is very specific and in tune. His words are of authority where, with his first entrance, we are aware of his power as he calls for peace when Brabantio attempts to attack him, ‘Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them.’ He presents both beauty and power within him, through the joining of ‘swords’ and ‘dew’ in the same sentence, which immediately adds to the characterisation. We can also see that Othello is a marvellous story teller from his retelling of how he had won the heart of Desdemona through stories, ‘My story being done,/ She gave me for my pains a world of sighs./ She swore, in faith, ‘twas strange, ‘twas passing strange,/ ‘Twas pitiful, ‘twas wondrous pitiful.’ The fact that he was an outcast in the white dominated Venetian stage rings through the stories that he tells of ‘Anthropophagi, and men whose heads do grown beneath their shoulders.’ Change in Othello’s language structure represents the change of personality in Othello, where as Iago sows the seeds of jealousy (Othello: Ha, I like not that), Othello’s sentencing patterns change as well as his use of words. Previously, he used to swear on ‘Heaven’ and ‘faith’, representing the goodness within him. After Iago poisons his mind, however, he begins to curse with ‘zounds’ as Iago does, almost as if the ensign has taken complete control over him, even with his vocabulary. After Othello kills Desdemona and then realises the wrongdoing of his actions, Shakespeare completely deters from the usual language pattern used by Othello, ‘Pish! Noses, ears and lips. Is’t possible?/ Confess? Handkerchief! O devil!’ Grief has mingled with the language making Othello’s speech rather incoherent, suggesting the degeneration of the hero.

Female characters hardly have the ability to construct their own power through speech. Desdemona uses the same meter of the iambic pentameter as Othello’s to illustrate their ‘well-tun’d’ relationship, yet her words are misconstrued and she is unable to present herself as a victim, as she is barely given a voice. Emilia seems to be almost the same – she is hardly given any information to even create an opinion. She does exactly what Iago tells her, without question. However, eventually Shakespeare allows the character of Emilia to disclose Iago’s tricks, being the only one who knew about the handkerchief truly, aside from Iago. She speaks despite being both threatened and insulted by Iago, ‘Villanious whore’ and is allowed to vocalise herself, ‘No, I will speak as liberal as the north.’ Female characters are underestimated in their power of language so much that even the one who mastered in the art of language forgot about his wife’s ability to speak.

The power of language, however, is significantly embodied through the character of Iago, who acts as a puppeteer in the play, manifesting power that controls almost every character in the play. Iago’s first entrance in the play is of a villain, him spewing words of hate against Othello and success in enraging Brabantio instantly makes the audience recognise that his power of words is a dangerous one. However, it’s the way he designs his sentences that is particularly alerting to audiences, where he swears ‘By Janus’, the two-faced Roman god and provides a biblical allusion, except for one-word alteration that establishes his destructive power, ‘I am not what I am’. He goes against the very saying of a Saint, and in the Elizabethan and Jacobean period where religion played a significant role, this fundaments his character as an anti-hero. Iago’s dialogues are much more prosaic, in contrast to Othello’s who uses the iambic pentameter to establish his nobility, whereas Iago inclines on clarity. His presentations are image-perfect; he is very evocative in his descriptions which allows him to give the horrific image of Othello and Desdemona to Brabantio, simply to promulgate his rage, ‘An old black ram is tupping your white yule’. He presents Othello as a beast to vilify him in the white society, and he presents everything in a very sexual and body-oriented manner – he possess the soldier bluntness in speech as Cassio alludes to Desdemona who is disgusted by his presentation of women, ‘He speaks home, madam. You may relish him more in the soldier than in the scholar.’ He talks about Othello and Desdemona’s sexual activities through connotations and food innuendos, where he assures Roderigo that Desdemona would need someone else to ‘give satiety a fresh apetite’ and that the ‘wine she drinks is made from grapes’, referring that all women are same in wanting to consume sex, an act that Iago believes ‘the Moor is defective in’. All these bring out a graphic picture of Othello and Desdemona, almost disgusting which promotes the audience to view Desdemona and Othello’s love in a completely different manner.

Shakespeare designs Iago in a very particular and profound manner; Iago’s structure and prefacing of words and sceneries project him as an ultimate villain, a classic Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ embodiment of Lucifer who hates God (symbolised by Othello) for expelling him from his position in Heaven, despite being the most devoted Archangel. Iago is particularly intriguing for his soliloquies which sculpts the dramatic irony in the play, where Iago shares his plan to destroy Othello to the audience in a way that breaks the fourth wall, as by the end of the play, audiences feel like they’ve had a part in the fall of Othello and his lover, Desdemona.  Another irony that Shakespeare introduces are the words ‘Honest Iago’ which is repeated throughout the play through different characters, even by Iago himself as a verbal irony, and gives concreteness to Iago’s ability to deceive – he is a devil in disguise as a hero. All the characters in the play believe Iago to be a noble man and entrusts him for counsel which gives way to Iago to understand their breaking point –  Cassio’s drunkenness which provokes him into attacking Roderigo and thus makes him lose his position as Othello’s lieutenant. Metaphorical language used by Iago also serves purposes of foreshadowing, where Iago calls Desdemona and Othello ‘well-tun’d’ referring to musical instruments that play in perfect harmony but which also gives them a vulnerability that Iago can use to break them apart, ‘But I’ll set down the pegs that make this music,/ As honest as I am.’

Iago is ultimately silenced in the end when his actions are revealed and he can no longer control anyone with his words, ‘Demand me nothing. What you know, you know./ From this time forth I never will speak word.’ The power of language diminishes with the fall of Iago, as from the silence of the antagonist follows destruction and death. Shakespeare excels at creating the most vibrant characters and Iago is one created with precise mastery, his taking control of the stage as well as audiences present him as a villain that no one has seen before. Othello is hardly a play of actions, but rather a play of words.












Les Enfants Terribles |# It’s Lit

WordPress is a force to be reckoned with, and it certainly doesn’t like English students who want to separate their content into “Academic Analysis” and “Controversial Readings and Weird Facts That Maria Cannot Keep To Herself.” The best I can do is put my posts under their own tag. #It’sLit

Lately, I’ve been reading Sarah Churchwell’s fascinating biography “Careless People”, which depicts the lives of the notorious Fitzgeralds in glittering detail. Described as “un enfant terrible”, F Scott Fitzgerald has gone down in history as a god-like figure of jazz age excess, and this book is an as absorbing a narrative as it is a factual account of his and Zelda’s Dionysian pastimes. I really recommend getting your hands on a copy if you’re studying The Great Gatsby either at AS or as a part of your coursework. I’ve compiled a few facts about the Fitzgeralds which will provide you with some slightly lesser known context for your essays. Do drop us a comment if you know anymore.


  • Zelda and Scott would ride around on taxi cabs. Not in them. On them. Like on the roof.


  • Zelda was seen as the first “flapper” girl. She drank, smoked, and wore short skirts, which in her era was seen as outrageous. She also famously jumped fully clothed into a fountain in New York, making her the perfect “permanently eccentric” inspiration for many of her husband’s female characters.


  • The Fitzgeralds are known as a 20s power couple, but their relationship was actually very rocky. They cheated on each other multiple times, and consistently accused each other of stealing the other’s writing. Zelda’s only novel “Save Me The Waltz” is said to have “inspired” some of Scott’s “Tender is the night.”


  • Zelda dreamed of being a dancer, and trained in ballet obsessively up until her breakdown. Zelda was diagnosed with schizophrenia, which at the time was an umbrella term applied to anxiety, delusion and manic depressive behaviors.  She was admitted to hospital in her later life, where she tragically died in a fire.




Literary Context of The Handmaid’s Tale


The Handmaid’s Tale is a book that draws heavily on ideas about genre and the purpose of literature to create its style and content. One of the Assessment Objectives (AO3/Context) requires you to understand these ideas and refer to them to reach the top grades. The level of detail I go into here is unnecessary and may even be detrimental to your essay — your examiner already knows what postmodernism is! All you need is a one sentence explanation, before you link the context in to your analysis.

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Alternative Critical Interpretations of A Streetcar Named Desire


One of the Assessment Objectives for A Streetcar Named Desire in the AS Drama and Poetry exam is AO5 – alternative critical interpretations. This AO does not exist for A Streetcar Named Desire in the A2 Drama exam but it can still count as AO3 (context). The following is a list of critics and critical perspectives that I have collected over the last year. While it is not necessary to know the names of specific critics or perspectives, it is helpful — but I know it is easy to forget, so you can replace their names with stock phrases, such as “Critics say…” or “Some have interpreted this as…”.

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Meet the New Bloggers!

Hi, we’re your new English Literature bloggers.

Unfortunately, Ella, Beth and Hadiyah have moved on to university where they will be studying and so they can no longer update the blog! We’ve been selected to replace them and continue to post great resources like revision notes and mind maps. We will start sporadically now but will pick it up properly in September. We also have notes for year 12 topics so don’t be alarmed if there is some overlap in what we post.

We will be making some changes too — but don’t be scared, we’re sure you’ll love them!

Maria, Martha, Oliver

P.S. You can always contact us on englishlityear12@gmail.com — we love corresponding, penpalship is the future.

Example Essay – Education and Social Class (Poems of the Decade)

Image © Artistmaterial

Here is another Poems of the Decade essay, this time on the question:

Explore the ways in which poets present the theme of education and social class in ‘Out of the Bag’ by Seamus Heaney and ‘Poetry’ by Tom Leonard

Click here to download the file (PDF)

‘Poetry’ was an unseen poem – it isn’t currently available online (that I can find), but you can read other poems by Tom Leonard on his website.


Commentary From Roderick Ford on ‘Giuseppe’

Image – Sicily © Radio Times

A follower of this blog, Anees Malik, has generously shared with us an email she received from Roderick Ford (the poet who wrote ‘Giuseppe’) detailing his own inspiration for and interpretation of the poem, which you can read below. However, it is important to remember, as the poet himself states, that any interpretation is valid, and you will still gain marks in an exam for a reading of a text which does not match its writer’s intention. It is also useful to keep in mind that AO3 is not assessed in the modern poetry unit, so referencing Ford’s views will not automatically gain you marks unless you link it to your argument (in the A2 exam, it should also ideally be linked to the unseen poem).

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Romantic Poetry Context

Image © The Wordsworth Trust

Broad Romantics – Dated between 1789 and 1848

Preceding – Augustan Age (1700-1750) was about wit, classical, well-educated: Alexander Pope, Age of Sensibility (1750-1798) was about emotion: Samuel Johnson

Jean Jacques Rousseau – “Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains”. Believed that children are born naturally good and puts emphasis on creativity and the imagination which sought children out as said philosophers and closer to God. He challenged traditional moral and religious teaching, claiming “man is naturally good, loving justice and order”. He also argued that the ills of man would be cured with a return to nature.

Denis Diderot – Was a philosopher around the same time as Rousseau who believed future should be built on reason. He wrote the first Encyclopædia, mapping human development without God.

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