Friday, May 23, 2014


There are many animalistic references in the play. The easily-recognised denigrations that Iago uses when referring to Othello early in the play as a

Not so obvious is what happens after Desdemona's murder at the hand of Othello. Here Shakespeare uses allegory to show the depth of depravity that has taken place.

When Iago's schemes are at last exposed, Othello, finding it impossible for a moment to believe that a man could have contrived such evil, stares at Iago's feet and then says sadly, 'but that's a fable.' (Act 5, Scene 2).* What he hopes to find when he looks down are the cloven hoofs of the devil, and had they been there he would have been an actor in a morality play, tempted beyond his strength like many a man before him, by a supernatural power outside himelf.

The whole play can be seen a morality play, offering an allegorical journey between heaven and hell on a stage filled with purely symbolic figures.

But...Othello does not see the cloven hoofs when he looks down; he sees a pair of human feet at the end of a very human body; and Othello is forced to realise that far from living in some simplified 'fabulous' world where evil is a metaphysical power raiding human life from without, he dwells where evil is somehow inextricably woven with good into man himself. On this stage, however, the good angel does not return to heaven when defeated, but is murdered and her body remains on the bed, 'cold, cold.'

Shakespeare's plays are both allegorical and realistic at the same time. His characters are both recognisable men and at the same time devils, demigods, and forces in nature.

In Othello, Desdemona represents one particular human value, love or charity - no tragic flaw in her lead to her death. Her love and charity are shown in her actions, language and emotions. She is Shakespeare's word for love.  

*As though he were a judge, Lodovico calls Iago forth to stand beside his victim, Othello. Othello says of Iago, "I look down towards his feet; but that's a fable. / If that thou be'st a devil, I cannot kill thee" (5.2.286-287). Then he swings his sword at Iago, wounding him. The "fable" which Othello mentions is the one that says that devils have cloven feet. Because it's only a fable, Othello can't tell if Iago is a devil by looking at his feet, so he swings his sword at Iago, to see if he's human and can be killed. Othello's thought may seem strange, but we ought to remember that it wasn't too many minutes ago that Othello thought Iago the most honest man in the world. The transformation of Iago from honest friend to dishonest villain may easily seem devilishly unnatural.

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