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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How much is Desdemona to blame for the tragedy of Othello?

 

How much is Desdemona to blame for the tragedy of Othello?

  • Desdemona is a defiant character who displays duality.
  • Her duality of being assertive and submissive has enabled her to reconcile conflicts e.g. her marriage to Othello.
  • This duality brings the theme of appearance and reality into play – Iago exploits this and depicts her as being untrustworthy and unfaithful, knowing that this would anger Othello because his greatest weakness is jealousy.
  • Act III, scene III is crucial in portraying her insistent nature – it marks the moment where Iago’s machinations begin fully.

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Historic Setting Use – Othello

How and why has Shakespeare used the historic setting of Venice and Cyprus in 1570-1?

Shakespeare had used the dramatic technique of a split geography with the first act taking place in Venice and the rest, in Cyprus. Othello explores what it means to live in a dynamic city like Venice, during times of high power and wealth as an independent republic. Stereotypes of hedonism fascinated the English, with Venice’s courtesans demonstrating the cities more relaxed view of sexual and promiscuous behaviour – something that Iago has anxieties about in Scene 1 when he tells Brabantio “your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs”. In contrast, Cyprus – an ideal area for economic success – yet an area of tension. Venice had owned Cyprus and had wanted to maintain it but the Ottoman Empire was looking to expand their territory. With Othello as leader of the Venetian mercenary army, he would have had authority but not status or respect as the army was not official. This is made clear when Cassio, a scholar “that never set a squadron in the field” could be promoted over Iago. It would create opportunities to move the plot along and introduce themes of jealousy which concludes the play to a tragedy.

Ella

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‘The Moor’ AO3 – Othello

The Moor AO3

  • Arab, Berber people of North Africa who inhabited Northern Spain
  • ‘Barbary’ – famous horse from the Arab world but when Iago says “your daughter covered with a Barbary horse” he is also playing the the term ‘barbarian’ meaning savagery
  • Genetic – moor, black African referred to as ‘blackamoor’
    Queen Elizabeth wanted to rid England of Spanish ‘negors’ and ‘blackamoors’ in 1601
  • Othello’s race sets him apart
    – he is a high noble, in charge of the Venetian army
    – racial tensions/sexual tensions
    – intermarriage anxieties
  • Moors were often the villains in literature of the time – early 17th century

Act I Scene II

“Let him do his spite;
My services, which I have done the signiory,
Shall out-tongue his complaints”
(MODERN TRANSLATION)
Let him do his worst,
What I have done has been approved by the governing body

Who will get the better of him
(ANALYSIS)
Othello is noble and honest – opposite to Iago

“I shall promulgate”
(MODERN TRANSLATION)
I shall make publicly know

(ANALYSIS)
More evidence that he is honest

“My parts, my title and my perfect soul
Shall manifest me rightly”
(MODERN TRANSLATION)
My qualities, my legal right and flawless soul
Shall reveal me correctly as I am
(ANALYSIS)
He is not hiding anything, appearance vs. reality

“Holla, stand there!”
“Keep up your bright swords”
“Hold up your hands”
(MODERN TRANSLATION)
Stop! Don’t move!

(ANALYSIS)
His use of imperatives shows his high status

“Good signor, you shall move command with years
Than with your weapons”
(MODERN TRANSLATION)
We don’t need to fight. Use your aged wisdom not violence.

(ANALYSIS)
He appears moral and peaceful, a type of pacifist (but not in war)

“Were it my cue to fight, I should have known it
Without a prompter”
(MODERN TRANSLATION)
If it was my turn to fight, I would know it without having to be provoked

(ANALYSIS)
He is sharp, clear – worthy of his role, nobility

Ella

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Act 1 Scene III – Othello

A key theme in the novel is stories and tales. This helps with characterisation too.

How does Othello and Brabantio say Desdemona fell in love?

Brabantio:

  • “She is abused, stolen from me”
  • “corrupted by spells and medicines”
  • “witchcraft”
  • “most imperfect/That will confess perfection so could err/Against all rules of nature”
  • “praises of cunning hell” – adjectives
  • “same mixtures powerful o’er the blood” – blood is linked to sexual passion
  • “some dram conjured to this effect/He wrought upon her”
  • She is “never bold” according to Brabantio – He puts no blame on Desdemona and says their relationship goes against nature

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Key Terms – Othello

Iambic Pentameter
Blank Verse
Caesura
Rhyme
Hyper syllabic lines
Alliteration
Consonance
Assonance
Prose
Shared line
Soliloquy
Antithesis
Paradox
Literary allusion

It is an extensive list but if you are unsure of any of the meanings you should really try and learn the definitions. This way you will be to refer to them in essays – it may also help to annotate in your text whenever you see them! Shakespeare uses them for a reason!

Ella

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