Animal Imagery in Othello

In Othello, the use of animal imagery is used multiple times by Iago to describe the relationships between humans, especially that of Desdemona and Othello. Iago uses influential and appalling imagery to describe Othello. He calls him a ‘beast’, a ‘Barbary horse’ and an ‘old black ram’ to Brabantio, Desdemona’s father. He does this to create this illusion that Othello is perverted, has no control over his sexual urges, and is lustful, immoral and selfish to take the virginity of a young white girl as an old black man. He uses this to reduce Othello and his actions to that of an animal, proving his desires are solely animalistic. The contrast between this ‘illusion’ and the virgin Venetian is very strong and further infuriates Brabantio, who was already angry about Desdemona and Othello marrying in secret. This selection of words from Iago, show’s us he is actually the perverted one as he compares everything to sex, even animals. In Act 2, Scene 3, Iago refers to Desdemona as ‘sport for Jove’. Jove was a mythical creature who often took the form of various animals to have sex with young beautiful females. This again shows Iago’s perversion and disinterest in love, and more obsessions with lust and fantasy. ‘Were they as prime as goats, as hot as monkeys, as salt as wolves in pride and fools as gross as ignorance made drunk" (3.3. 400-401) Here he compares Desdemona and Cassio to animals to bring into Othello's mind terrible and horrific images to make him angry. This re-iterates how Iago’s mind works and how wayward he is.
‘…an old black ram / is tupping your white ewe.’ Iago (1.1.89-90)
‘…you’ll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse; you’ll have your nephews neigh to you; you’ll have coursers for cousins and jennets for Germans.’ Iago (1.1. 111-114)
‘Your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs’ Iago (1.1. 117-118)
Iago is not the only one to use animal imagery in the play. Roderigo calls Iago ‘O inhuman dog!’ in Act 5 once he has discovered Iago’s monstrous plans for Desdemona and Cassio. Lodovico also compares Iago to a ‘Spartan dog’ which was well known for being notoriously fierce. He also calls him a ‘viper’ comparing him to a poisonous reptile. Cassio also mentions a Hydra which was an ancient nameless serpent-like chthonic water beast, and for each head cut off it grew two more. This shows how Cassio believes Iago is very manipulative and back-stabbing and is worse than being two-faced

Black and White Imagery in Othello

Black and white imagery in Othello is incredibly prominent through out the play as Othello is the only black character we meet. Because Othello is black, he is an out-sider and it is through his colour that Iago manipulates his reputation within society. He basically uses Othello’s colour to say that he is an uncontrolled, lusty, mindless animal who cannot contain his emotions. This paired with Othello’s flaws of being ruled more by his heart than by his head gives for a rather dramatic deterioration of Othello’s character.
Othello is black, Desdemona is white. This is powerful imagery, symbolizing the society’s opinion of interracial marriages as ‘good vs. evil’ where Othello (being black) is the ‘evil’. The quote ‘an old black ram is tupping your white ewe’ is a very strong metaphor where Othello is again degraded to evil due to his colour.
Othello is controlled by his emotions; he is very susceptible to manipulation as he is a very trusting man. Iago uses Othello’s colour to emphasize this making him seem incredibly ‘lusty’ as an old black man. The pure white of Desdemona versus his own 'blackness' is a source of insecurity for Othello, leaving him more open to jealousy.
While Iago uses black and white imagery to cast a negative shadow over Othello’s character, the Duke uses it otherwise. After Othello and Desdemona have proved to the Senate that theirs is a love match, the Duke tries to talk Brabantio into accepting the marriage. The very last thing that the Duke says to Brabantio is, "And, noble signor, / If virtue no delighted beauty lack, / your son-in-law is far more fair than black" (1.3.288-290). "Fair" means "white," but also "beautiful" and "good." The Duke's point is that Brabantio would be much wiser to quit focusing on Othello's colour and start appreciating his virtue.
In Cyprus, waiting for Othello's ship to arrive, Iago amuses the company with some banter about women. Desdemona challenges him to say something about her, and Iago expresses some reluctance to answer Desdemona's challenge, but Desdemona keeps after him until he starts in again. He says, "How if she be black and witty?" (2.1.131). "Black" can mean "brunette," just as "fair" can mean "blonde," but here Desdemona is asking about a woman who is smart and ugly. Iago answers, "If she be black, and thereto have a wit, / She'll find a white that shall her blackness hit" (2.1.132-133). The word "white" is a pun on "wight" (a person, a man), and also on the "white" (the centre) of an archery target. "Hit" has the same sexual connotation as it does in modern phrases such as "hit on her." Iago is saying that no matter how ugly a woman is, she can use her intelligence to attract a handsome man, ugly being ‘black’. This could potentially be another stab at Othello for being black.
With her dying words Desdemona protects Othello by telling Emilia that she killed herself. After a moment of pretending innocence, Othello says of Desdemona, "She's, like a liar, gone to burning hell: / 'Twas I that kill'd her" (5.2.129-130). Emilia shoots back, "O, the more angel she, / And you the blacker devil!" (5.2.130-131). In Emilia's view, Othello has his morality all turned around; he thinks black is white, and white is black.

Magic Imagery in Othello

Brabantio confronts Othello. ".......O thou foul thief, where hast thou stowed my daughter? Dammed as thou art, thou hast enchanted her, for I'll refer me to all things of sense, if she in chains of magic were not bound..." His mind is clouded by rage spawned from taunts yelled to him in the night by Rodrigo and Iago. When he approaches the duke with his affairs the scene is described. "She is abused and stolen from me, and corrupted by spells and medicines bought of mountebanks. For nature so preposterously to err, being not deficient, blind or lame of sense, Sans witchcraft could not." Brabantio can't believe this match. His daughter cannot be in love with the moor. He can only believe that witchcraft is to blame. This paired with Othello being a foreigner and black only reinforces the idea in Brabantio’s mind that his perfect daughter could betray him to be with an old black man.
Magic is peppered through the story like ingredients in a cauldron. During the times of Shakespeare people believed in superstition, witches and sorcery. Shakespeare brought amusement with these subjects to the stage. For example seizures are believed to be the way the body fights off the devil during. When Othello has these seizures Iago exults in his "medicine" making Iago look like he is concocting something.
Iago tells Othello that he can prove that Desdemona is cheating on him, and makes it look like she gave Cassio the handkerchief. Othello angrily confronts Desdemona of the handkerchief’s whereabouts. As she has lost it, he becomes even more enraged. He tells her a story of how Othello's mother received it from an Egyptian sorceress. There was magic in it. It made Othello's mother lovable. This brought his father to her. If the handkerchief was given away or lost that the magic of it would be lost. She gave it to Othello with the same magic. Now lost by Desdemona, the fate will be the same in the end.