In William Shakespeare's Othello, the use of imagery and metaphors is significant in conveying meaning as it helps to establish the dramatic atmosphere of the play and reinforce the main themes. Through this, the audience is able to grasp a better understanding of the play. Throughout Othello, images relating to poison frequently occur. These references are predominantly made by Iago. This seems appropriate for Iago who exhibits the characteristics of poison; they being fatal and deadly. There are several possible explanations to what motivates Iago: being overlooked for the lieutenancy, the belief that Othello and Cassio had committed adultery with his wife, though this is never really proved; class differences present in the society that made him feel inferior, and racial differences. This study discusses Shakespeare's use of imagery in story to develop theme and/or reveal character. Therefore, the main focus of the study is the character of Igo, Emilia and Desdemona with specific reference to imagery.
Many references are made to imagery in the play. Iago uses beast imagery to express his contempt and to downgrade those he despises. Early in Act 1, he rouses Brabantio's anger by using crude images of animals fornicating to inform him that his "daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs." Such a metaphor is designed to evoke a strong emotional response. In a soliloquy at the conclusion of Act One, Iago says "It is engendered. Hell and night / Must bring this monstrous birth to the world's light." Shakespeare uses the image of a monster being born as a metaphor for the start of Iago's evil scheming. It also becomes evident that Othello's mind has been corrupted by Iago's evil handiwork when he too starts to use the same sort of animal imagery in his speech. In one scene, convinced of his wife's infidelity, Othello loses all self-control crying out "goats and monkeys," animals traditionally considered lascivious. There is also a wealth of heaven and hell imagery in Othello. Iago, who is Machiavellian in nature and revels in tormenting others, can be perceived as the devil personified. Even he himself acknowledges this when he says "devils will the blackest sins put on...suggest at first with heavenly shows / As I do now." Iago's manipulation of Othello causes him to see Desdemona as 'devilish', therefore she must be brought to 'justice'. Desdemona, though, is associated with images of light, heaven and purity, thus suggesting her innocence. Even in the last scene as Othello prepares to kill her, he uses a rose as a metaphor for Desdemona. This indicates that her beauty still has an influence over him as well as his ever present feelings of affection for her. When at last Iago is exposed as the true villain and just before committing suicide, Othello, using another metaphor, compares Desdemona to a pearl whom he has thrown away. This is one of many times where she is referred to as a priceless jewel.