Othello & The World of Animals

Othello begins in Venice in the time an argument is taking place between Roderigo and Iago because Roderigo has been loaning money to Iago by some type of special arrangement. Othello is the tragic hero of the play who is a general in the Venice army; the controversy begins when Othello chooses another man to be his lieutenant, and this is where the good stuff really gets going as Iago is angered by this and begins to come for Othello. To summarize quickly, Iago and Roderigo come together to make a diabolic plot to get rid of Othello and Cassio. Iago comes up with a plot that makes it seem that Desdemona and Cassio are having an affair to anger Othello so that in hope, he will replace Cassio. In the end, Iago has it arranged so Cassio and Roderigo kill each other Desdemona is killed, as well as Othello taking his own life, and Cassio rules over Cyprus.


What I really want to discuss is within the context of the reading and that context is animals. There are many different types of animal metaphors and sayings throughout this specific work by Shakespeare. For example, Iago calls Othello a “Barbary horse”, an “old black ram”. Towards the end of the writing, one may also read where Emilia states, “I will play the swan, / And die in the music”. Now that one can obtain that there is quite a bit of “animal content”, what does it mean?



Personally, these references to animals express a type of order of nature, rather than the order in which society is functioning. One aspect that really stuck out to me also was the context and how some of these analogies and metaphors speaking of animals are flat out racist. Specifically towards Othello, when he is called a “Barbary horse” and “an old black ram”. “Barbary horse” is a very vulgar term and so is “an old black ram.” Maybe some of these metaphors are used to relate to the laws of nature and it is also easy for one to say that the context behind some are strictly racist.


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