Sunday, August 26, 2012


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At the commencement of Shakespeare’s play, Othello, Othello is portrayed as a rational and incredibly trusting individual, who thinks calmly and logically. However, throughout the play, Iago masterfully and maliciously corrupts Othello, using his virtues against him to transform Othello into a paranoid and bitter man, who is simply Iago’s pawn.

The first passage portrays Othello as a fully rational and considerate husband and lover. An effusive and impassioned tone is created as Othello expresses his undying affection for Desdemona. Hyperbolic language is used to shape this tone, by exaggerating Othello’s immense joy at reuniting with Desdemona. He exclaims, “If it were now to die, twere now to be most happy.” This, and other exaggerations of the sea reaching as high as Mount Olympus and as low as hell combine to express Othello’s abundant joy and exuberance. Othello’s enthusiasm is also reflected by Shakespeare’s use of syntax. Throughout the passage, Shakespeare uses longer syntax, with more drawn out thoughts. This creates a largo rhythm, which adds to the idea that despite Othello’s excitement, he is still somewhat dignified and cultured. This idea is also furthered by Shakespeare’s use of periodic sentences. By separating the subject and verb, Shakespeare gives Othello a more scholarly and insightful language, by speaking in complex sentences. However, this rhythm is broken by an apostrophe, when Othello cries out, “O, my soul’s joy!” This phrase is particularly effective in emphasizing how deeply Othello loves Desdemona, and how enthusiastic he is about their reunion. Further reflecting Othello’s character at this point in the play, gallant imagery is used to reinforce his valor and courage as a general, as he challenges a tempest to strike him. Finally, the use of soft, blowing consonants create a whispering sound to the passage. This both mirrors the imagery of strong winds throughout the tempest, but also works to emphasize Othello’s contentedness and satisfaction with his wife, by speaking somewhat softly and gently to her. Thus, after the first passage, the reader imagines Othello as a gentle, logical, trusting, and loving husband and general.

This image of Othello is completely destroyed by the second passage’s portrayal of his darker side. In this passage, Othello is portrayed as vengeful and irate. A malicious and condemnatory tone is developed as Othello denounces Cassio and Desdemona for betraying him. In distinct contrast to the more formal and picturesque language of the first passage, Othello slips into more colloquial and informal language by the second passage. This is particularly effective because it reflects the idea that Othello is no longer thinking rationally or logically, and is simply expressing his true, unrestrained emotions. Such simpler language is also mirrored through the shift from periodic to loose sentences. The loose sentences employed in the second paragraph are simpler, with the subject and verb at the beginning, followed by a longer and more detailed description. This creates a sort of ranting style in which Othello expresses his ideas abruptly, and then continues to belabor his point. Furthermore, Shakespeare switches to a shorter syntax, which continues to emphasize Othello’s lack of rationality in comparison to his logical and methodical way of thinking in the first passage. The choppier and more disconnected thoughts are enhanced by use of many apostrophes throughout the passage. For example, when Othello shouts, “Arise, black vengeance from thy hollow cell,” the phrase expresses his malicious and furious emotions, since Othello has been driven to the point of summoning evil itself. Moreover, the use of such imperative, commanding sentences which are contained in the apostrophes emphasizes Othello’s enormous power, both over those in direct contact with him, and over his society through his position as general. However, it is indicated that Othello will misuse his power, since his authority in the second passage is use for revenge and destruction. Also, in contrast to the softer sounds of the first passage, Shakespeare utilizes explosive consonant sounds in the second passage, which makes Othello sound almost as if he cannot stand the taste of the words and thoughts he is presented with, and is ranting in disgust. These sounds, in combination with Shakespeare’s use of shorter syntax create a staccato and disconnected rhythm, further emphasizing Othello’s inability to think clearly. By the end of the second passage, Othello has proven himself to be thoroughly instable and downright dangerous.

The importance of language and syntax in these two passages is evident through their portrayal of Othello’s moral disintegration. He evolves from a loving and gentle husband and logical general in the first passage to a frenzied and malevolent madman in the second paragraph. This abrupt contrast gives the reader a sense of uncertainty and impending doom, since Othello is proven to be unstable and almost neurotic.

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