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Ed Moss, L6L1

29/01/11

What is the effect of the language that Shakespeare gives Iago in


the play Othello?
In the play Othello, Shakespeare uses a variety of language in order to
reveal Iagos true character; while the other characters are fooled by his
guise of honour and loyalty, we as an audience are shown the true villain
that lies beneath his veneer of respectability. The playwrights ability to
illustrate Iagos personality through predominantly the use of language is
particularly significant as it means the audience are omniscient as they
view the events of the play, whereas the majority of the characters on
stage have their vision clouded by honest Iago. This indirect method of
portraying Iagos character also creates an incredibly tense atmosphere;
we as an audience appreciate Iagos malicious nature but can do nothing
other than watch in desperation as he creates chaos in Cyprus.
From the beginning of the play, the audience immediately receives an
impression of Iagos malicious character. In the very first scene, Iago uses
animalistic imagery when telling Brabantio of the scandalous marriage of
Othello and Desdemona, very now, an old black ram/ is tupping your
white ewe. The choice of lexis lends sexual connotations and thus
illustrates Iagos intelligence as he effectively infuriates Brabantio. The
fact that Iago highlights the racial difference between Othello and
Desdemona shows his awareness of his audience; the early 17th century
public would have thought it outrageous that a dukes daughter would
even consider marrying a black ram. Iago then continues to comment
youll have your daughter/ covered with a Barbary horse, youll have your
nephews/ neigh to you; the reductive imagery clearly illustrates Iagos
hatred of Othello and is particularly significant throughout the rest of the
play as we see Iagos ability to conceal his true emotions about Othello.
Iagos use of language is also relevant in that it reveals the mans wit and
intelligence, upon Desdemonas arrival in Cyprus he engages in a
conversation which reveals his true mastery of rhetoric. His use of
chiasmus players in your/ housewifery, and housewives in your beds
illustrates his intelligence and the use of the couplet If she be black, and
thereto have a wit,/ shell find a white that shall her blackness fit, shows
how Iago is able to use language to create a specific atmosphere.
Although in this instance his words are used to create humour, the events
of this scene are particularly significant as later on the play Iago will use
his accomplished wordplay to destroy rather than to entertain.
Throughout the play Iago predominantly uses language to convince
Othello that his wife is having an affair with his lieutenant Michael Cassio,
from the moment Iago first introduces the subject we immediately see
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Ed Moss, L6L1

29/01/11

how he uses his language to convince Othello. Before even beginning to


talk about Cassio Iago comments My noble lord, he then continues
throughout their conversation to make additional flattering comments
such as you know I love you and dear my lord. The way in which Iago
exaggerates is love for Othello is crucial in that it causes Othello to trust
Iago wholly and so leads to the name of honest Iago. The language is
also dramatically ironic for, as an audience, we know Iagos true emotions.
Iagos use of language is also particularly effective in this scene as he
uses his wordplay to control the pace of the conversation. It is crucial that
Iago does not seem to forceful in the way in which he talks of Desdemona
and Cassio and so uses various techniques to extend the conversation
over a long period. He repeats Othello on several occasions, Is he not
honest? / Honest, my Lord?/What dost thou think?/ Think my Lord? and
in doing so makes himself seem innocent. Throughout the conversation
Iago also continues to change the subject, he rarely speaks directly to
Othello and persists in a continuous use of imagery, Poor and content is
rich, and rich enough/ but riches fineless is as poor as winter. Not only
does this achieve the desired effect in extending the length of the
conversation, it also means Othello becomes more and more desperate to
hear what Iago has to say.
Once he has initiated the idea that Desdemona is having an affair, Iago
then uses his mastery of language to further convince Othello that it is
true. He cleverly suggests adultery without ever using any obvious
language. For example he comments, In Venice they do let God seethe
pranks/ they dare not show their husbands; this is said in almost
lackadaisical fashion but is particularly pertinent. Although Iago may seem
to be simply joking, it obviously touches a raw nerve in Othellos mind.
Iago also suggests that Desdemona may be having an affair, again not
through a direct comment, but by suggesting she has supernatural
powers. To seel her fathers eyes up close as oak/ He thought twas
witchcraft, he draws Othellos attention to the fact that she deceived her
father and so may deceive him. Again we see how Iago is careful in that
he uses imagery to imply that Desdemona is not loyal and so makes it
seem as much Othellos idea as his. Shakespeares continuous use of
imagery in many ways reflects Iagos character for I am not what I am,
he is always pretending to be something that he is not.

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