Bestility In Othello Essay, Research Paper
For as long as literature has been around, authors have used imagery to make their point more understandable. Many times the use of bestial imagery is utilized to draw similar themes or traits between the actions of a character and others in the story. This is not a new technique, in fact it is one that dates back to the days of Shakespeare. The play Othello portrays bestiality as recurring theme and image from the beginning to the final verse of this tragedy. In the case of Othello, success also meant socio-cultural imitation of the social values of the dominant society; or in blunt terms, living white . (MacDonald, 33) His invisibility, his conscious submergence of his oppositeness, is now stripped away. A flesh of racism is added, to make him into a savage, brutish man; a black man who hides his oppositeness beneath a facade of whiteness. He achieves his white destiny, but he still retains that one aspect of his character, the beast. The evidence of bestial imagery is seen in terms of animalistic portrayal. Iago, Othello, and Michael Cassio, just to name a few characters in this play that have bestial imagery associated to them. The comparison of bestial thoughts and depictions in various characters brings about the theme of bestiality in Shakespeare s Othello.
One of the best ways to understand the use of animal imagery and the duration of its existence is to compare the famed Shakespearean Play Othello with a more recent work called Goodnight Desdemona, Good morning Juliet by Ann Mac Donald. While MacDonald’s story is an actual spoof of two Shakespearean plays, that includes Othello as well as Romeo and Juliet, the use of animal imagery is as strong as it is in the original play of Othello. In her story, Macdonald uses the image of the cat and mouse game with which to draw a mental picture for the reader of the various chases that went on between the protagonists. Her use of the cat and mouse game was an excellent illustration of the comedic underpinnings that she believed were in Shakespeare’s plays. The cat and mouse images drawn by MacDonald are not unlike the real life cat and mouse games that many people play when getting involved in a relationship. The cat thinks he is doing the chasing when in reality it is the mouse all along being chased until he catches the cat.
Animal imagery is very fluid and evident in Othello. The idea of dominant and submissive animals has been a literary theme for many years and this play is no different. Between Othello’s complete domination of his wife, Desdemona, and Iago’s domination of Othello it is a wonder that anyone had their own ideas. The dominant animal even shines through in the character of Emilia when she first comes across as a domineering and angry woman who grows to love and respect Desdemona. In fact she protects Desdemona with the fierceness of a tigress guarding a cub. But perhaps the most consistent underpinning of animal imagery in the play is the imagery given life regarding the character of Iago. Iago is a manipulator who takes advantage of the trust of everyone from his wife, to his friend, to his friend’s wife. He is the epitome of a vicious and stalking animal and a profound example of losing one’s human sense of compassion. This animal imagery in his core personality is displayed many times throughout the play. Even when he is trying to convince Othello of his wife’s infidelity he uses the image of animals to make his point. “Were they as prime as goats, as hot as monkeys,” (III.iii.403) his description consequently overcomes the Moor, that later, in greeting Lodovico he suddenly blurts out, “Goats and monkeys!” (V.i.256).
The evidence of bestial images in regards to Iago lies in his vial hatred for Othello. From the beginning, Iago likens Othello as the beast in Venice. From his hatred Iago is hell bent on destroying Othello, in his own mind unmasking the Moorish beast that hides behind a prince s face. Iago plans to ruin Othello by carrying out a plan based on lies and deceit. This plan will make Iago the only person that Othello believes he can trust, and Iago will use this trust to manipulate Othello. In his quest for Othello s demise, Iago in an ironic twist of fate uncovers his true devilish side, revealing the beast within himself. (King) In Iago s selfish bid to provoke Brabantio s exasperation of his daughters marriage to the Moor, he infuriates this old senator. He does so by referring to Othello as a beast that has stolen fair Desdemona. He says to Brabantio, “Even now, now, very now, an old black ram, Is tuping your white ewe” (I.i.85-86). He continues, “you ll have your daughter cover d with a Barbary horse; you ll have your nephews neigh to you; you ll have coursers for cousins and gennets for germans” (I.i.108-112). He vehemently incites Brabantio s fury by saying” your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs” (I.i.115-116). (King) For Iago, infuriating Brabantio by referring to Othello using animal imagery is just another step in his scheme for Othello s undoing. Iago makes his views of Othello very clear. He sees him as a barbarian , someone who can be duped into trusting the untrustworthy.
Iago realizes that his cunning abilities would work to perfection if he were able to convince Othello to murder Desdemona. In order to destroy Othello, Iago manipulates a stage where Desdemona and Cassio incriminate themselves by arranging a meeting between the two. Through this meeting, Iago provides Othello with ocular proof of Desdemona s affair, leaving Othello with the thought of murder on his mind. Othello is convinced that he must kill Desdemona for her betrayal of their marriage, deciding on poison as the method of execution. Iago, however, convinces him to strangle his wife: “do it not with poison; strangle her in her bed, even the bed she hath contaminated” (IV.i.200-201). (King) He exploits Othello s frailty at the time, and convinces him that he must kill Desdemona with his bare hands, thus leaving no marks on her body. Iago perceives the murder of Desdemona with a dagger or poison as an act of man. By strangling her with an instrument of the body on the other hand, can be traced as an act of a true beast. (King) As the play progresses, the use of animal imagery referring to character description shifts from Othello to Iago. In act 5, scene 1, after being stabbed by Iago, Roderigo says, “O damn d Iago! O inhuman dog!” (VI.ii.287). Later in act 5, Lodovico describes Iago first as a “viper” (VI.ii.288) and then as a “Spartan dog” (VI.ii.364). (King) In this description of Iago s character from the words of his so-called friends, it can be safe to say that he is more a beast than any other person in this play.
The main and most consistent image throughout the play Othello is that of animals in action. The animals in Othello, if one can consider Iago an animal, prey upon one another just as they do in the wild in real life. They display traits such as cruelness, suffering, michevievousness and lasciviousness toward one another, with little or no regard to the affect that their actions are having on others. If one watches an animal in its natural habitat it will go about its daily life with no regard whatsoever to the needs or desires of the animals around it. This is the same trait that Iago displays throughout the play. He first deceived Emelia into giving him Desdemona s handkerchief, and then convinces Othello that Cassio has slept with Desdemona behind Othello’s back. Over the progression of this story, Iago s animalistic traits take over his rational essence, resulting in a loss of his conscience, if he ever possessed one is still up in the air. This loss is most evident when he says at the end of act 1, “Hell and night; Must bring this monstrous birth to the world s light” (1.3.397), he is referring to Othello s inner beast. (King) In relation to Iago s inner voice, it is crystal-clear that Iago himself is mutating into a man of bestial mannerism. With the many vial acts under his belt, Iago s most vicious and long running animal like behavior is displayed is his manipulation of his wife.
Iago’s character can be compared to many animal images to illustrate the nature of his beliefs and actions. Some of the animal images that come to mind are quarrelsome dogs, and plague of flies. The numerous times he is manipulating or conning Othello regarding the fidelity of Othello’s wife can easily compared to the snaring of a bird. A bird is a trusting yet skittish creature. One can stand very still and a bird will eventually move closer and rely on that person not to hurt it. This is what happens between Iago and Othello. Othello can be viewed as a skittish bird and Iago the trainer. One of the tactics he uses is Othello’s previous distrust of females in general. Unfortunately for Othello he chose the wrong friend in which to confide his fears and beliefs. This gave Iago the perfect path to undertake the desolation of Othello’s marriage.
When one peers beneath the surface of this play and truly studies the underpinnings of imagery, that is when Iago s true animal instincts rear their ugly heads. In doing so, one can easily draw a parallel between the manipulation of Othello by Iago and the leading of a horse around by the nose. When one takes the horse by the nose and begins to walk, the horse has no choice really but to walk in the same direction and follow the lead. This is the same pattern that Iago uses in leading Othello to the conclusion that his wife is being unfaithful to him. When Iago initially confronts Othello and exclaims of Desdemona s affair, Othello is drawn like fly to honey to this information. In reality all Iago did was take Othello s insecurity and play it out for the result that he wanted. In keeping with the animal imagery, Othello trotted right along beside the story that Iago weaves.
The deception and vengefulness that Iago displays is that of an angry wolf, yet the treatment Othello gives to his wife is worse by far. As in the animal kingdom where there is no loyalty even to the mother of one’s children, Othello displays a lack of feelings for the person he was married to. Instead he reacts as if she was a possession of his. This reaction of his to be the head lion or wolf in the pack is typical of animal behavior. The many ways it was implied throughout the play gave rise to the audiences understanding of the man he became under the direction of Iago.
In both Goodbye Desdemona and Othello the use of animal imagery enhances the theme of the story. Each literary work displays the characteristics of animalistic behavior. In Desdemona’s story the game of chase and cat and mouse are evident throughout the story. Her description spoofs of Othello in many ways portrays a lion (Iago) dominating and controlling a little mouse in Othello. While each story has its own unique thematic thread that carries it from start to finish, both literary works are based on the manipulation and animal control of one human over another. In much the same way a stronger animal controls the weaker one in the wild. The final scene of Othello is a prime example of the imagery that runs throughout the story. Othello being the tiger in the bedroom scene in which he kills his wife is quickly reduced to a scared mouse figure when Emelia forces him to hear the truth! She makes clear the fact that his wife loved him and was never unfaithful. When Iago enters the argument an image of a larger lion coming into the den comes to mind, Othello backs down and is no longer dominant. When one wants to know why we react the way we do at times, one needs only to look at the animal kingdom to be reminded of the instinctive nature that we as humans beings carry within ourselves. Othello is a play depicting the theme and imagery of bestiality. A theme conveyed to the surface to show the interested reader what happens when the animal that is our most inner fear is unleashed.