Imagery in the play Othello In the play Othello, Shakespeare uses imagery to illustrate the theme of racism. Shakespeare uses three different forms of imagery, each with a different purpose. Religious and colour imagery is used to suggest racist stereotypes and the idea that black races suffer from poor circumstance. In addition, Shakespeare uses animal imagery to express Othello’s position in the chain of being. All of this to show, that racism is unacceptable and cannot prevent the love of anyone, no matter what race they are.
Firstly, in the play Othello, Shakespeare uses animal imagery to suggest Othello is lower in the chain of being. “Even now, now, very now an old black ram Is tupping your white ewe. Arise, arise; Awake the snorting citizens with the bell, Or else the devil will make a grandsire of you. Arise I say! ” (I. I. 9). In this quote Iago is comparing Othello to an old black ram by linking Othello’s skin colour to a black ram’s and associates the white ewe, a young female sheep, to Desdemona. In Shakespeare’s work he attempts to demonstrate to his audience an old black man making love to a young white woman.
You can visualize their affair better when relating Othello and Desdemona to a black ram and white ewe because it would seem disturbing to the audience that an old black ram would be mating with a young white ewe. Therefore, animal imagery is just one of the many examples of imagery used to express racism in Othello. Secondly, Shakespeare uses religious imagery to show how Othello follows your typical black man stereotype; violent, savage, and to be feared. “O the more angel she, And you the blacker devil! ” (V. II. 130-131).
Emilia describes Othello as “the blacker devil” just after he killed Desdemona. Shakespeare’s description “blacker” means Othello is a grander sinner than Desdemona, who he is accusing, and “devil” is used as a strong expression of hate used by Emilia. The irony is that the prejudice people had toward Othello was unjust and biased, but by the end of the play, Othello became what he was accused of being. This can also be seen as foreshadowing. The devil imagery used at the end of the play differs than earlier imagery said by people who respected and admired Othello.
For examples, when Othello was arriving late in Cyprus because of a storm Cassio said “/O let the heavens Give him defence against the elements, For I have lost us him on a dangerous sea” (II. I. 44-46). “Heavens” is a straight difference to “devil” and those words prove Cassio’s love for Othello, and give the impression Othello is a good man and is not uncontrollably violent and lustful. Therefore, religious imagery is another way Shakespeare expresses the racism towards Othello and suggesting he followed the racial stereotype and became “the devil”.
Lastly, colour imagery consistently appears throughout the play. Shakespeare uses colour imagery and the following quote to suggest people of the black races are generally unfortunate. “What a full fortune does the thick-lips owe If he can carry’t thus! ” (I. I. 66-67). Roderigo becomes very jealous that he wasn’t the one to “win” Desdemona over and Roderigo calls Othello “thick-lips”, emphasizing a physical feature of black people. This helped establish that Othello is black, a race that is often targeted for prejudices.
In Shakespeare’s work he expressed how lucky and fortunate Othello is for getting away with marrying Desdemona, considering he is a black moor marrying a young, white lady would be unethical. It is so rare for a black moor to be married to a young, white woman that Othello is accused of having used witchcraft to make Desdemona fall in love with him. Therefore, colour imagery was used by calling Othello “thick-lips” to be racist and stereotypical against him in suggesting Othello is black and therefore should be unfortunate.
Shakespeare uses a wide variety of imagery to express the numerous examples of racism in Othello. Shakespeare uses animal imagery by suggesting that Othello was a stereotypical black man – violent, savage and to be feared, which follows the stereotype and went from being a noble man to the devil and uses colour imagery by calling Othello “thick-lips” and expecting Othello to have been unfortunate and not been able to marry Desdemona.
Shakespeare uses a great number of racist imagery in the play Othello mostly all directed at Othello himself. The three examples discussed above are not nearly half the amount of racism in Othello. In conclusion, Shakespeare uses imagery in his work and linked it to the major theme of racism in Othello to prove that racism is unacceptable and cannot stop the love of anyone, no matter what race they are.