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The Use of Animal Imagery in Othello

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In William Shakespeare's play "Othello" the use of

animal imagery was evident throughout the telling of

the story. Shakespeare explained several characters

actions by comparing them to similarities in animals.

The characters in "Othello" were often depicted as

having animal-like characteristics. Some characters

were even compared to animals by other characters in

the play. By defining characters in terms of these

characteristics one can get a clear description of what

the character is doing or saying as compared to certain


In this paper I hope to give examples of animal

imagery used in "Othello" that assist in explaining the

play. The specific examples I present will describe a

character either as seen by himself or by a fellow


The first use of animal imagery I noted occurred

came in Act One when Iago, Othello's standard bearer,

has awaken Brabantio, who was a Venetian senator and

the father of Desdemona, to tell him that Othello has

taken his daughter Desdemona, and as they speak is

making love to her. Iago was attempting to instigate a

fight between Othello and Brabantio, using Desdemona as

the bait. Iago stated, "Your heart is burst. You have

lost half your soul. Even now, now, very now, and old

black ram is tupping your white ewe" (p. 13). In that

statement Iago was comparing Othello to an old black

ram by comparing Othello's skin color to that of the

black ram's, and the white ewe, a young female sheep,

to Desdemona. Shakespeare was trying to illustrate in

his writing the act of and old black man making love to

a young white woman. The use of a black ram and a

white ewe to compare Othello and Desdemona helped in

the visualization of their affair.

Shakespeare displayed animal imagery again in Act

Two when Cassio was explaining to Iago that if he had

as many mouths as Hydra, a many headed monster slain by

Hercules, he could silence the many questions asked of

him. In this Shakespeare presented Cassio as being

burdened by many questions that he could not answer all

at once, but if he had as many mouths as Hydra it would

be more accessible for him to do so. Cassio said, "I

will ask him for my place again; he shall tell me I am

a drunkard! Has I as many mouths as Hydra, such an

answer would stop them all" (p.101). Cassio was

explaining to Iago that if he went to Othello now to

speak with him, Othello would call him a drunk because

he had been drinking all night. This is exactly what

Iago wanted. His plan was to get Cassio drunk and have

him mutter words of hate and disgust to Othello, a

person who Cassio had great respect for, until he was

drunk and then fed him lies told to him by Iago.

Shakespeare's animal imagery in this paragraph helps

one to understand Cassio's burden of having too many

questions and not enough answers. In using the

comparison of Hydra, the many headed monster, to Cassio

explained how Cassio's burden would be lifted if he

only had more mouths to explain everything he had to

say at one time.

In Act Three Iago once again tries to manipulate

another character in the play. This time he told

Othello of an alleged affair that Cassio and Desdemona

were having. The affair that Iago spoke of was a

complete lie, for the two were nothing more than

friends. Upon hearing of this alleged affair though,

Othello went into a fit of rage yelling,

"Arise, black vengeance, from hollow hell! Yield

up, O love, thy crown and hearted throne To

tyrannous hate! Swell, bosom, with thy

fraught, for 'tis of aspics' tongues" (p. 149).

Shakespeare was attempting to illustrate a man, who was




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