Othello ranks among the top classic plays written by Shakespeare. It predominantly rotates around two key characters, Othello, the influential leader, and Iago, his follower. The play characterizes Iago as a manipulative person who is intent on using different tactics to bring down Othello, who appears jealous of him. In particular, Iago develops strong resentment towards Othello due to the leader’s failure to appoint him as a military lieutenant. With the stage set in Venice, Iago narrates his feelings to Roderigo for being bypassed in the military appointment despite being a hardened veteran at war (Hong, 2020). He indicates that Othello erred in appointing Cassio, who did not have the requisite experience for such a position. The subsequent discussion points to Shakespeare’s use of literary devices, specifically metaphors, similes, and imagery in building Iago’s character.
Literary devices are common in works of art as artists use them to build literature and make it interesting. The predominant literary device used by Shakespeare in Othello Act 1 is metaphors. A metaphor refers to a figure of speech where an object is used to compare one thing to another even as there may be no direct connection. Metaphors provide an implied comparison to enable the audience to visualize the narrator’s thinking, which leaves a lasting impression of the work (Yasmeen, 2022). There are numerous instances in the play Othello where Iago uses metaphors, such as when he seeks to make amends with Roderigo for not arousing Desdemona’s attraction to him. In Act 1 Scene 1, Iago states, “If ever I did dream of such a matter, abhor me,” to emphasize his apology for not acting in Roderigo’s interest (Shakespeare, 2021, p.8). He seeks to make Roderigo believe that he never wished that Othello would elope with Desdemona. Iago uses another metaphor by stating, “hast had purse as if the strings were thine,” (Shakespeare, 2021, p.8). The narration illustrates Shakespeare’s clear intent to bring forth Iago as a character who enjoys using metaphors in communicating with the other actors.
Additionally, Shakespeare uses simile, which helps to provide a clear comparison of two items with comparable characteristics by mainly using the terms “as” and “like”. In Act 1 Scene 3 Iago states, “The food that to him now is as luscious as locusts shall be to him shortly as bitter as coloquintida” (Shakespeare, 2021, p.53). The statement contains three components of simile represented by the food, locust, and coloquintida. The food refers to Desdemona while the locust depicts a delicious meal. Iago brings to the reader’s mind the sweetness that Othello enjoyed from Desdemona. Coloquintida is a type of plant that has a highly bitter taste and Iago uses the term to paint a picture of the bitterness with which Othello will treat Desdemona once their love for each other vanishes. Another simile is evident when Iago states, “wears out his time, much like his master’s ass” (Shakespeare, 2021, p.9). The statement characterizes the unfair treatment Othello accorded the servants. The illustrations point to a clear case where Shakespeare has used similes to define Iago’s character.
Shakespeare further shapes Iago’s character by using imagery to appeal to the reader’s wits. Images entail the use of vivid explanations through visual symbolism. In Act 1 Scene 2, Iago yells from the street to Brabantio, telling him, “An old black ram is topping your white ewe” (Shakespeare, 2021, p.13). The words describe the actions of Othello on Desdemona, who is Brabantio’s daughter to paint a picture of Othello as being highly immoral. Iago further compares Othello to a “Barbary horse” to emphasize his lustful behavior (Hong, 2020). The intention is to make Brabantio feel so bad about Othello to the extent that he gets activated to ensure the two lovebirds separate.
Another imagery appears when Iago uses his excellent judgment of nature to manipulate Othello into taking control of his love for Desdemona. In Act 1 Scene 2, Iago states, “Our bodies are our gardens, to which our wills are gardeners” (Shakespeare, 2021, p.51). He meant that people have the free will to exercise their power in choosing whether to cultivate weeds or other crops to every person’s liking. He aims to tell Othello that he can decide to act negatively or positively as he considers a person’s will to be stronger than emotions (Yasmeen, 2022). No individual should act weakly; everybody should take charge of their whims and feelings and master how to function correctly.
Shakespeare presents Iago as a character principally intent on using manipulation to have control over other characters in the play including the leader, Othello. The language used in Iago is predominantly filled with metaphors as a way of comparing one object to another despite there not being a direct connection. Metaphoric language largely implicates the actions of Othello, whom he seeks to bring down by painting a bad image of other characters. Shakespeare further uses similes to help the reader get a vivid meaning by comparing two objects with similar characteristics. Imagery that involves the use of visual symbolism has been employed in the play to mimic Iago’s statements made to describe particular actions.
Hong, Y. L. (2020). Sentiment analysis of Shakespeare’s Othello. The Journal of Mirae English Language and Literature, 25(3), 163–185. Web.
Shakespeare, W. (2021). The tragedy of Othello the moor of Venice. Folger Shakespeare Library.
Yasmeen, T. (2022). Critical discourse analysis of William Shakespeare’s play “Othello.” Pakistan Languages and Humanities Review, 6(2).