Othello- themes and motifs


Sex in Othello

"an old black ram is tupping your white ewe" (1.1, Iago to Brabantio) - sex as a vulgar and impure act due to racial divide between Othello and Desdemona  

"making the beast with two backs" (1.1, Iago to Brabantio) - euphemism for sex. Vulgar, sexual, demonic imagery used to describe Othello and Desdemona's union.

"he tonight hath boarded a land carrack" (1.2, Iago to Cassio) - Iago uses a crude sexual metaphor to debase Othello's marriage by viewing it as high seas piracy. Love is a battle?

"The purchase made, the fruits are to ensue; that profit's yet to come 'tween me and you" (2.3, Othello to Desdemona) - Sex as a fruit to enjoy, but perhaps Desdemona is objectified with the use of financial metaphors?

"In Venice they do let God see the pranks they dare not show their husbands" ( 3.3 Iago to Othello) Iago attempts to portray D. and other women as sexually promiscuous to invoke suspicion

"This hand is moist, my lady"+"young and sweating devil" (3.4 Othello to Desdemona) Othello suggesting his wife is sexually promiscuous, lustful and lecherous

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Sex in Othello

"They are all but stomachs and we all but food" (3.4 Emilia to Desdemona) Idea of consumption, men have a sexual appetite that must be sated whilst women are at the mercy of men's desires 

"Strangle her in her bed, even the bed she hath contaminated" (4.1 Iago to Othello) Bed is symbolic of love and sexual passion. A brutal and physical death which links to the physicality of a sexual relationship.

"Let husbands know their wives have sense like them" (4.3 Emilia to Desdemona) Highlights the sexual double standard of the era by suggesting that women also have sexual appetites

"Thy bed, lust-stained, shall with lust's blood be spotted"(5.1 Othello monologue) Passionate image of which the bed is symbolic. Sex as lustful, not loving. (percieved) adultery has tarnished their love and turned it to hate. Disturbing relationship between sex and death 

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Love and hate in Othello

"I do hate him as I do hell's pains" (1.1 Iago monologue) Iago is full of hatred and is motivated by hate and jealousy, rather than love. Devilish imagery used to convey Iago's despise for Othello

"She loved me for the dangers I had passed, and I loved her that she did pity them" (1.3 Othello to Brabantio) Othello describes the reciprocal love between him and Desdemona which is mature and perhaps more profound than love based on apperance. 

"To his honours and valiant parts did I my soul and fortunes consecrate" (1.3 Desdemona to Brabantio) Desdemona's love for Othello- devoted her whole being and future to Othello. She values him, despite his race, for his good nature and military virtues. 

"My life upon her faith!" (1.3 Othello to senate) Prepared to die for Desdemona's honour which is subtle foreshadowing. Death and love is strongly linked in the play.

"It is merely a lust of the blood and a permission of the will" (1.3 Iago to Roderigo) Iago thinks poorly of love as he believes he understands human nature. His knowledge will allow for him to manipulate Othello. Cynicism 

"The food that to him now is as lucious as locusts shall be... as acerb as the coloquintida" (1.3 Iago to Roderigo) The taste of love will become acidic

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Love and hate in Othello

"I do love Cassio well" (2.3 Iago to Montano) Love and hate become interchangable for Iago and when he states he loves someone, he means that he hates them. Iago is dishonest 

"Thy honesty and love doth mince this matter" (2.3 Othello to Cassio) Othello finds it hard to deal with this situation due to his love for Cassio. Mirrors the way in which he struggles to deal with Desdemona after believing she is impure and dishonest.

"Yield up, o love, thy crown and hearted throne to tyrannous hate!" (3.3 Othello to Iago) Iago has successfully convinced Othello that Desdemona is impure and his love rapidly turns to hate. Imagery of succession and monarchy link to Othello's leadership - he lets his emotions rule him

"O, thou weed, who art so lovely fair and smell'st so sweet" (4.2 Othello to Desdemona) Othello struggles with conflicting emotions- love and hate contrast in this image

 "I will kill thee and love thee after" (5.2 Othello monologue) Othello's twisted idea of love- he cannot love her when she's alive but death will make her pure again. Ideas of love and death.

"That death's unnatural that kills for loving" (5.2 Desdemona to Othello) Desdemona pleads for her life, she still loves Othello but does not understand his hate for her or why he would kill her

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Jealousy in Othello

"preferment goes by letter and affection, not by the old gradation" (1.1 Iago to Roderigo) Iago states how Cassio's position as Othello's officer is unwarranted and unfair as only Iago has had the necessary experience on the battlefield. Iago is thus motivated by jealousy - or does he use it as an excuse?

"wife for wife" (2.1 Iago monologue) Iago is jealous as Othello has supposedly slept with Emilia- is this the real reason for his malicious acts? Inconsistent motivations. in destroying Othello's marriage he will get his revenge. 

"It is the green eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on"(3.3 Iago to Othello) Warning Othello against jealousy using a vulgar image, suggesting that jealousy only torments the jealous man himself and is a personal tragedy 

"who dotes, yet doubts, suspects yet fondly loves" (3.3 Iago to Othello) References the conficting emotions that jealousy invokes- does Iago want Othello to experience what he has - jealousy and suspicion.

"trifles light as air are to the jealous confirmations strong as proofs of holy writ." (3.3 Iago monologue) Real proof of Desdemona's infidelity is not necessary as simple suspicion feeds Othello's jealousy  

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Jealousy in Othello

"Dangerous conceits are in their natures poisons" (3.3 Iago monologue) Iago understands the nature of jealousy and sees it as a poison that effects Othello deeply. Ideas fester and develop into full suspicion and jealousy.

"I think the sun where he was born drew all such humours from him" (3.4 Desdemona to Emilia) Desdemona does not believe that Othello could be jealous. Dramatic irony as this is pointedly not true. Also reinforces the idea that Othello is an outsider 

"They are not ever jealous for the cause but jealous for they're jealous. Tis a monster begot upon itself, born on itself" ( 3.4 Emila to Desdemona) Emilia understands men and jealousy more than Desdemona. Those who are jealous have no reason to be and it is the fault of the person who is jealous, not Desdemona. 

"of one not easily jealous but, being wrought, perplexed in the extreme" (5.2 Othello's final monologue) Othello does not want to be remembered a jealous man, but that he was decieved and confused. Jealousy shows weakness, perhaps? 

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Passion over reason in Othello

"You're robbed" (1.2 Iago to Brabantio) Othello and Desdemona's passionate relationship causes problems from the outset of the play. They did not consult Brabantio before getting married which creates conflict.

"I'll tear her to pieces" (3.3 Othello to Iago) Love quick to turn to hate and Othello's passion and hatred controls his actions more than his better judgement. Iago manipulates Othello well.

"Is the nature whom passion could not shake?" (4.1 Lodovico to Iago) Lodovico is confused by Othello's change. His passion has caused him to lose his wits and is therefore a weaker character in the eyes of the senate. 

"Handkerchief- confessions- handkerchief!" (4.1 Othello monologue) Loses self control, repetition of 'handkerchief' indicates a fixation with Desdemona's infidelity and his speech is fragmented which reflects his growing distress.  

"O balmy breath, that dost almost persuade" (5.2 Othello monologue) Othello is almost overcome by his passion for Desdemona and almost falters in his task to kill her. 

"One that loved not wisely but too well" (5.5 Othello monologue) Othello reflects on the fact that that love altered his better judgement and led him to destruction - fatal flaw?

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Gender in Othello

"You're robbed" (1.1 Iago to Brabantio) Objectifying Desdemona as Brabantio's possession that Othello has 'taken' by marrying her. Desdemona described as having no choice in the matter which indicates her percieved passivity. 

"They are all but stomachs and we all but food" (3.4 Emilia to Desdemona) Emilia reflecting on a woman's role as a man's outlet for his sexual desires 

"she was a wight" (2.1 Iago to Cassio and Desdemona) Iago joking about his ideal women- she would be a ghost. Women expected to be passive 

"Let husbands know that wives have sense like them" (4.3 Emilia to Desdemona) Emilia higlights that women aren't as passive as they seem and this should be made known to men

"To his honours and his valiant parts did I my soul and fortunes consecrate" (1.3 Desdemona to Brabantio and Othello) Highlights that Desdemona actively chose to persue Othello and was not passive which is somewhat of a progressive attitude. She asserts herself in this scene. 

"Nobody; I myself. Farewell" (5.2 Desdemona to Emilia) Desdemona regresses in terms of her strength of character as she passively accepts her own death at Othello's hand-she thinks she has brought her death upon herself.

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Race and Identity in Othello

"An old black ram is tupping your white ewe" (1.1 Iago to Brabantio) Black and white contrast, Othello's blackness means he is incongrous and sinister in this context. Animalistic image suggests he is corrupting the 'whiteness' and purity of Desdemona due to his race.

"If virtue no delighted beauty lack, your son in law is far more fair than black" (1.3 Duke to the senate) use of word play, the Duke admires Othello for his virtues and in spite of his race but it is notable that he associates virtue with whiteness.

"To fall in love with what she feared to look on?" (1.3 Brabantio to the senate) Brabantio is racist and believes that Desdemona's love for Othello is unnatural and must be false because he is black. We know that Desdemona's love for Othello is based on more than just apperance

"Her name, that was as fresh as Dian's visage, is now begrimed and black as mine own face" (3.3 Othello monologue) Othello suggests Desdemona has been tarnished by her unfaithfullness and he uses racist discourse to do so. Good reputation = whiteness and corruption = blackness. Othello has internalised racist ideas and sentiment of the era and comes to believe it 

"I think the sun where he was born drew all such humours from him" (3.4 Desdemona to Emilia) Othello as an outsider with a different psyche to the Venetians 

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Conflict and warfare in Othello

"Mere prattle without practice is all his soldiership" (1.1 Iago to Roderigo) Cassio does not have the necessary experience to be Othello's officer which leads Iago to seek revenge. 

"Rude am I in my speech" and "little of this great world can I speak more than pertains to feats of broil and battle" (1.3 Othello to Brabantio) Othello is more comfortable in the realm of battle than discourse as he is used to war, not debate. Othello links his wooing of Desdemona to battle suggesting the two are intrinsically linked in Othello's world.

"The flinty and steel couch of war my thrice-driven bed of down" (1.3 Othello to the duke) Suggests that warfare has become habitual for Othello and the battlefield is where he feels most comfortable and in control- contrast to his lack of control with more emotional affairs.

"Come, Desdemonna, 'tis the soldier's life to have their balmy slumbers waked with strife" (2.3 Othello to Desdemona) Conflict between love/sex/intimacy and violence- the two are linked in Othello's world and Othello seems resigned to this 

"I have done the state some service and they know't" (5.2 Othello's final monologue) Othello wants people to remember him as a good general who served the state well although he condemns himself for his actions and kills himself with the same sword he used to smite Venice's enemies on the battlefield. His actions as general will survive him? 

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Deception and treachery in Othello

"I am not what I am" (1.1 Iago monologue) Iago plays with the audience, twisting the words of the Bible as he does so-Iago as devilish. Suggests that Iago is not what he seems and should not be taken at face value but also suggests a lack of true identity. Paradoxical statement.

"She is abused, stol'n from me, and corrupted by spells and medicines" (1.3 Brabantio to the senate) Suggests that Othello has decieved both Desdemona and her father by using witchcraft to woo her. In reality, Iago is decieving Brabantio by making him suspicious of Othello and Desdemona's union. 

"if thou canst cuckold him, thou does thyself a pleasure, me a sport" (1.3 Iago to Roderigo) Suggests that manipulation is a game for Iago however we know that it goes deeper for Iago - he manipulates Othello for revenge, jealousy, hatred, so it is more than just sport. 

"The Moor is of a free and open nature, that thinks men honest that but seem to be so" and "as will as tenderly be led by the nose as asses are" (1.3 Iago monologue) Iago can deceive Othello as he is too trusting and easily manipulated so he will believe Iago. Iago belittles his victims.

"With as little a web as this I will ensnare as great a fly as Cassio" (2.1 Iago monologue) Malicious metaphor suggesting Iago is easily able to decieve with very little effort 

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Deception and treachery in Othello

"I'll pour this pestilence into his ear" (2.3 Iago monologue) Iago lays out his plot- he will lie to Othello and Othello will not put up a fight as he won't know what's happening. Iago is firmly in control and Othello is his passive victim. 

"Iago is most honest" (2.3 Othello to Cassio) Dramatic irony. Othello's inability to see Iago for who he truly is leads to his downfall. Othello is too trusting of the wrong people. 

"If the earth could teem with woman's tears each drop she falls would prove a crocodile" (4.1 Othello to senate) Othello is stubbornly convinced that Desdemona is decieving him when she is completely honest. Dramatic irony. 

"This is a subtle whore, a closet lock and key of villainous secrets" (4.2 Othello to Emilia) Othello has made his mind up that Desdemona is guilty so every claim of her innocence stands to further enrage him. Everything Desdemona does to prove her innocence comes across to Othello as further proof of her guilt. 

"demand that demi-devil why he hath thus ensnared my soul and body" (5.1 Othello to Iago) Othello has been decieved by Iago and wants to know why. Does Othello refuse to believe that he was truly responsible for events because he was manipulated by the 'devil'?

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Honour and Justice in Othello

"Till I am evened with him, wife for wife" (2.1 Iago monologue) Sense of justice/ revenge in the art of destroying Othello's marriage as Iago suspects that Othello has slept with Emilia. (Although Iago doesn't think his actions are honourable. 

"I have lost the immortal part of myself" (2.3 Cassio to Iago) Cassio lamenting that he has lost everything due to the loss of his good reputation. Honour is invaluable to Cassio

"Reputation is an idle and most false imposition" (2.3 Iago to Cassio) Iago states that reputation is worthless- he goes on to contradict himself later by stating that reputation is more valuable than money but we know that Iago has no honour. 

"the justice of it pleases; very good!" (4.1 Othello to Iago) presents a distorted view of justice, strangling Desdemona in her marriage bed. Reflects the distorted way in which Othello sees what has happened 

"Thy bed, lust-stained, shall with lust's blood be spotted" (5.1 Othello monologue) Othello’s violent plan to achieve justice is rooted in his sense that he has complete ownership and control over his wife, and that he can literally decide whether she lives or dies.

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Honour and Justice in Othello

"Yet she must die, else she'll betray more men" (5.2 Othello monologue) Othello believes that his acts are moral as she will be pure and chaste in death. Othello seeks self administered justice and he tries to justify his actions against Desdemona by suggesting that by killing her he will prevent more adultery. 

"Threw a pearl away richer than all his tribe" (5.2 Othello's final monologue) Othello challenged and questioned Desdemona's honour but now he realises his mistake. This image of honour and beauty highlghts the injustice of the play and Othello's inability to see what he had before he threw it away. However, also links to the idea that Desdemona is made eternally pure in death. 

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Other motifs and themes...

- poison 

- animals 

- prostitution

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