The comparison of humans with animals has been an interesting and powerful tool that has been effectively used by many authors and play writes. Shakespeare used it throughout many of his plays, and today animal imagery is still being used. It is ever so influential, and is very easily understood. In Shakespeare’s play Othello, bestial imagery is used through the entire play. Animal imagery helped show who the characters truly were. It also made everything said a lot more dramatic. Vivid images were placed in the readers’ head, which made the play a lot easier to understand. Animal imagery also helped show contrast between things; especially characters. In Shakespeare’s tragic play, Othello, animal imagery is a convincing device used throughout the play to further develop the devastating tale.
In the play Othello the use of animal imagery helps differentiate the characters from one another. This is illustrated from the beginning through the character Iago. Iago is evil and manipulative and uses animal imagery from the very beginning of the play. Iago decides to tell Brabantio about his daughter, Desdemona, leaving him and marrying the Moor, who is Othello. Iago says to him, “…You’ll have your daughter / covered with a Barbary horse.” (I, i, 112-3) Iago wants Othello to seem more evil, and wants Brabantio to take action against Othello. Iago’s evilness is seen from the very beginning of the play, and is evident throughout it. His devilish ways are particularly illustrated by his use of bestial imagery. In the beginning of the play, Othello was seen to be a lot different from Iago. Othello was a noble gentleman and was known for his greatness. He never compared people to animals or used animals in his everyday language. This changed once Iago began to manipulate and lie to him. As Othello’s character changed from good to evil, he started to use animal imagery. After Iago planted more lies about Desdemona and her relationships with Cassio, Othello’s lieutenant, Othello said to himself, “O curse of marriage, that we can call these delicate creatures ours / and not their appetites! I had rather be a toad / and live upon the vapour of the dungeon / than keep a corner in the thing I love / for others’ uses.” (III, iii, 270-5) In this quote Othello is talking very negatively about his wife Desdemona. He says to himself that he would rather be a toad, than stay in a relationship with Desdemona. Othello thinks that she is cheating on him, and he is disgusted with it. This is why he would rather be so many other things. He is also insinuating that being a toad, or living upon the dungeons air would put him in a better situation than what his is currently in. Dungeons were often the sewers of the castle which proves how desperate and hurt Othello is. This quote is only the beginning of his evilness, and it worsens from there. Desdemona however is a very different character compared to Othello and Iago. Her purity and goodness is apparent in the beginning, and continues to shine through for the entire play. She never truly changes, even after all of the hardships that she faces throughout. Her final words illustrate how powerful and loyal she was. She says to Emilia, “Nobody; I myself. Farewell. Commend me to my kind lord. O farewell.” (V, ii, 125-6) Before saying this, Othello strangled and tried to kill Desdemona. He thought that she was dead, but just as Emilia came in, Desdemona said her last few words. Emilia asked her what happened and who had done this to her. And in response, Desdemona said that quote above. Although Othello was the one who killed her, she did not want to expose her husband. She remained loyal to him even after all of the terrible things that he did to her. Desdemona never said anything negative about Othello throughout the play, and did not use animal imagery once. Although not every character was evil, the ones who used animal imagery were truly separated from those who never used it.
In Othello, the use of animal imagery made everything said a lot more powerful and dramatic. When Iago informed Brabantio of Desdemona leaving with Othello, he put explicit images into Desdemona’s father’s mind. Iago says to him, “I am one, sir, that comes to tell you your daughter and / the Moor and now making the beast with two backs.” (I, i, 116-7) Making the beast with two backs means having sexual intercourse. Iago wants Brabantio to get extremely angry with his daughter and especially with Othello. Iago knows that telling him that they are having sex, and referring it with beasts, would make Brabantio, or any father furious. Another instance where using animal imagery made the statement more affective was when Roderigo was stabbed by Iago. Roderigo was tricked by Iago throughout the play, and in the end, Iago killed him. After Iago stabbed Roderigo, Roderigo said, “O damn’d Iago! O inhuman dog!” (V, i, 62) He calls him an inhuman dog because of all of the people that Iago betrayed. Roderigo thinks that no human could even do all of the things that Iago had done. Calling him a dog was the worst thing that Roderigo could have called him, and he knew how powerful it would be. After Othello found out about all of the terrible things that Iago did to him, Othello talks to some of the other soldiers and says to them, “I look down towards his feet; but that’s a fable. If thou be’st a devil, I cannot kill thee.” (V, ii, 283-4) In this quote Othello is referring to Iago as the devil. The devil is known for having cloven feet, and when Othello looks down to Iago’s feet he is surprised and disappointed to see that he does not have them. Othello is so angry with this that he stabs Iago after he says this. This is a very strong quote and exemplifies animal imagery perfectly. Although some references to animals at times can seem immature, in this play, they serve great purpose were very powerful.
Animal imagery was a strong device used in Othello because it helped make certain points in the play, and showed contrast. In the beginning of the play, when Iago is telling Brabantio about Desdemona and Othello, Iago says to him, “Even now, now very now, an old black ram / is tupping your white ewe.” (I, i, 89-90) This quote illustrates the major differences between Desdemona and Othello. He refers to her as a white ewe, meaning pure and young. And Iago refers to Othello as an old black ram. The act of them running off together seems a lot worse when Iago compares them as he did. Their differences are much more obvious when they are compared this way. A contrast is similarly shown when Iago talks about Cassio, Othello’s lieutenant. Iago begins all of his scheming when he notices the close friendship between Desdemona and Cassio. As Iago sees them greet each other, he says to himself, “He takes her by the palm. Ay, well said; whisper. With as little a web as this will in ensnare as great a fly as Cassio.” (II, i, 163-5) Iago calls Cassio a great fly because of how noble Cassio is. The web he is referring to is all of the lies that Iago will cast around Cassio. This quote helped contrast the evilness of Iago with the greatness of Cassio. Later in the play when Othello and Desdemona were fighting, Othello hit her in the heat of an argument. As the continued to argue, Othello said to her, “If that the earth could teem with woman’s tears, each drop she falls would prove a crocodile.” (IV, i, 142-3) Desdemona is referred to as a crocodile because of her tears. Crocodiles use fake tears to deceive their prey, and by Othello saying this, he is implying that Desdemona’s tears are fake. She is very pure and noble, and should never have been compared with a crocodile. In this part of the play, Othello begins to lose his sanity. By showing the contrast between characters, through bestial imagery, the play further develops and becomes more powerful.
The play Othello, written by William Shakespeare, has a major theme of animal imagery, which is used throughout the play to further intensify and deepen the underlying meanings. Animal imagery helped further develop the play by showing who the characters truly were. It also made everything said a lot more dramatic. Their points were made a lot clearer by the use of animal imagery. And lastly, it showed contrast between the characters. Shakespeare uses the device of animal imagery very powerfully and intelligently. Although the play is in Shakespearian language it is easily understood through the animal references. By comparing people to beasts, their true evilness or goodness is shown through. The common person, as well as the well-educated person will be able to understand that comparison. What other device is a powerful as that? Could animal imagery be one of the strongest tools? It is evident in many intelligent pieces, and is continuously used.