What Are Some Metaphors In Othello?

Updated 30 September, 2024
Metaphors are quite often utilized in Shakespeare’s Othello. The most colorful ones are used by Iago when he describes Othello as “an old black ram”, “a Barbary horse” and contrasts him to “white ewe” Desdemona.
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Shakespeare uses a wide variety of literary devices in his play, Othello. One of the most nobable is metaphor. This literary device is mostly utilized to characterize Othello.
In Act 1 Scene 1, Iago says: “Even now, now, very now, an old black ram / is tupping your white ewe. Or else the devil will make a grandsire of you.” He goes on to say “…you’ll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse. You’ll have your nephews neigh to you.” These metaphors provide animal terminology and references to Othello’s Moorish descent: “black” and “Barbary” in contrast to “white”, illustrating the contextual hostility towards Othello’s ethnicity and interracial marriage. Brabantio is horrified that his white daughter is with a black man, and this exposes that whilst Othello has his respect on the battlefield, his race means that he is not good enough to have his white daughter’s hand in marriage.
“I am one, sir, that comes to tell you your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs.” Shakespeare uses this metaphor as a way to further heat Brabantio. At this point in the act, Iago and Roderigo are trying to get Othello in trouble by bringing the news of Desdemona getting married behind Brabantio’s back. By saying “the beasts with two backs” Iago is referencing sex and compares the Othello and Desdemona being together almost as a “disgrace” because the word beast has such a negative connotation and, with that, even denotation. This contributes to the theme of how words, objects and phrases, whether being based on fact or fiction, can drive someone to believe and do, what before, seemed to be unthinkable acts.
“A horned man’s a monster and a beast…” Othello makes this metaphor as a way to compare who he is now as a person to that of a beast/ monster. This is a result of Iago filling Othello’s mind with the idea is Desdemona having an affair, and because of this he is seeing himself have more monster like thoughts. These thoughts can be seen through his concocting of a scheme to kill, not only Cassio but also his wife. This relates to the theme of words, objects and phrases, whether being based on fact or fiction, can drive someone to believe and do, what before, seemed to be unthinkable acts and thoughts.

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