Diction of Othello

Diction is the author's choice of words, taking into account correctness, clearness, and effectiveness. Shakespeare's works focus on human problems and resolving them. The use of Shakespeare’s diction throughout Othello is very unique because he is very clear in the emotions and the plans of characters. He lays out what a character's plan is before he acts it out. He also has a tendency to retell the recent events. These subtle hints allow the reader to foreshadow and develop a feel for each character.

The intimations of what’s to come is prominently seen through Iago’s soliloquies. He often speaks openly of his plan for revenge that only the reader will know. This in turn creates dramatic irony. The effect of this type of diction is that the reader has a clearer and comprehensive understanding of what exactly is going on. He uses imagery several times in the describing of various people as animals or in terms of comparing things. Most of the imagery pertains to Othello and his various travels or especially his jealousy. This use of imagery and diction is effective because in addition to having merely an idea of what is going on the reader can have a mental picture as well. These strong bouts of imagery are beneficial to the work as a whole because they give strong pictures in which the general action of the work can be amplified, which is something Shakespeare strives for. The women in the story: Desdemona and Emilia, play an important role in the theme of the story. It is possible to establish a clear relation behind Shakespeare’s diction towards each of these women and the theme of ignorance behind a man’s view of the women in his life, and misconceptions of what love truly is. 

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Although it seems like Shakespeare used very strong-willed women in his plays, he also gave them weaknesses, making them seem real and easy to relate to. On the other hand, he sometimes made women seem vicious, spiteful, or malicious. It is believed that Shakespeare wrote about two types of women, virtuous subhuman or deceiving subhuman. He believed that a woman could go from virtuous to deceiving, but could never return to the virtuous status. Throughout the play, Desdemona is a very compliant and submissive wife to Othello. She believes that it is her duty to be a “good wife” and that it is her only role in life. When Othello abuses her, she blames herself, never thinking one negative thought about him. She thinks that she cannot exist without her husband, just as she did not exist without her father. Shakespeare’s diction describes Desdemona’s character when she says to Othello “And yet I fear you; for your fatal then when your eyes roll so. Why should I fear I know not, since guiltiness I know not, but yet I feel I fear” (5.2.37-38).She does not even know why she is afraid of him, as she did nothing to feel guilty about. She has nothing to be ashamed of, yet the sight of Othello, her husband, makes her scared of him. Desdemona was a strong, wealthy woman who was willing to stand up for what she wanted. The only thing she truly wanted, however, was Othello. In order to fight for him she would have hurt him, which she could not do. This creates a great internal conflict for Desdemona. When Othello finally confronts Desdemona about the so called affair with Cassio, Desdemona is shocked and tells Othello: “I never did offend you in my life; never loved Cassio but with such general warranty of heaven as I might love. I never gave him token” (5.2.58-61). Desdemona tried to explain to Othello that she had never cheated on him, but because of Othello’s ignorance and trust in an enemy’s word over his wife’s he did not listen. Shakespeare was able to give depth to the character of Desdemona because her actions showed her to be a strong woman but she was unable to stand up for what she wanted. 

Emilia is an intelligent, cynical and witty character who is unafraid to challenge the authority of men. Desdemona and Emilia represent two different versions of womanhood. Not only does Emilia represent the middle class women, Shakespeare also made her very outspoken and free-willed. Emilia makes her views on marriage clear in act four, scene three. She states of “Marry, I would not do such a thing…nor any petty exhibition.” (4.3.82-86) She feels that a man is not needed. Emilia believes that you make your own life and own world. This view is very different than Desdemona’s because her entire life she has been dependant on a man. Iago states on two occasions that he believes Emilia may have had affairs with both Othello and Cassio. While, unlike Desdemona, Emilia takes a very realistic view of sexual love and infidelity, “…but for the whole world,—why, who would not make her husband a cuckold to make him a monarch? I should venture purgatory for't.”(4.3.85-87) There is certainly no other evidence of this affair. After Desdemona’s death, she shows no concern for her own safety as she confronts Othello. However, when she learns of her husband’s plot, Emilia confesses her part in stealing the handkerchief and is promptly stabbed by Iago. Although Iago looks down upon Emilia, there is still lust between the two. Lust is all Iago believes love is. 

From the beginning of the play, Iago plays the sex and race cards. Othello is a "black ram" that is "tupping" the "white ewe" Desdemona (1.1.88-89). The offspring of their union will be a bunch of animals, including "Barbary horses" and "coursers" and "gennets (1.1.111-113)." Sexual relations between Othello and Desdemona are conceived by Iago as "the beast with two backs (1.1.116-117)." Shakespeare uses a lot of imagery throughout this scene to help the reader “see” the contrast between the two lovers. Later, Cassio and Iago engage in conversation about Desdemona and for every innocent comment Cassio makes about her, Iago adds a sexual one (2.3.18-30). For example, Cassio will say, "She's a most exquisite lady," to which Iago will respond, "And I'll warrant her, full of game (2.3.18-19)." Granted, Iago is trying to egg Cassio on so that he can have "evidence" against him when he puts his "case" before Othello, but his responses are over the top. Iago is unable to see that Desdemona and Othello have put aside their differences because of their true love for one another. He does not know what love is and has a difficult time understanding this. 

Iago refers to women as “pictures” because they paint make-up all over their faces. They are “bells” because their tongues ring constantly. They are saints in their injuries because when they do someone an injury they pretend they’re doing it for a saintly reason, but they never give anyone else the benefit of the doubt, so they are devils when they are offended. Iago is putting women down directly to Desdemona and it comes off as a joke, which is exactly how Desdemona responds to it. She thus encourages Iago to keep joking, but she also believes that she isn’t anything like those women he was describing. Iago responds with “She never yet was a foolish that was fair; for even her folly help’d her to an heir”. (2.1.136-137) Iago is trying to prove to Desdemona that beautiful women can’t really be foolish, because their sexual attractiveness will get them what every woman wants, a man and a child. This is a much skewed idea about the female gender. Iago’s ignorance allows him to develop this idea, although it couldn’t be more closed minded. He also feels that all women are the same “there’s none so foul and foolish thereunto, but doe foul pranks which fair and wise ones do.” (2.1.141-142) These statements are made in a mocking sense, really showing Iago’ shallow character as well as proving the theme of ignorance behind a man’s view of women. Through the act two Iago continues to go on about what he believes a perfect woman is; one who’s every good quality is balanced by another good quality.

The means in which Shakespeare develops the dialogue between his characters allows the reader to hear the words as if they are being spoken to them personally. This helps in understanding the personality of each character. Once a reader develops a feel for each character and who they are, the audience begins to foreshadow and analyze a theme for the story. Shakespeare uses imagery and repetition of events in his dialogue to make the story easy to understand. Overall, diction place an important role in every story whether it be describing a character, developing a plot, or understanding a theme. 

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