Metaphors in Othello

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  • 0:03 Definition of Metaphor
  • 0:38 Iago
  • 2:27 Othello
  • 3:06 Emilia
  • 3:39 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Audrey Farley

Audrey is a doctoral student in English at University of Maryland.

This lesson identifies and analyzes five instances of metaphor in William Shakespeare's play, 'Othello.' In this play, characters primarily use metaphor for dramatic effect.

Definition of Metaphor

A metaphor is a figure of speech used to express an abstract thought. Metaphors illustrate an idea or concept through comparison. It has two parts: a vehicle and a tenor (the describing word or phrase and the described object). William Shakespeare frequently used metaphors, among other rhetorical devices. In his play, Othello, characters primarily use metaphors to ignite other characters' passions. For instance, Iago often uses metaphor to provoke Othello and Brabantio.


We'll first look at Iago's use of metaphor. In Act III, scene iii, he stated:

'Oh, beware, my lord, of jealousy. It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.'

In this passage, Iago compares jealousy to a green-eyed monster that is self-consuming. He's warning Othello that jealousy only causes a person to go mad, never leading to virtue. However, Iago's warning is somewhat devious. By instructing Othello not to be jealous, he suggests that Othello actually become jealous. Iago's words cause Othello to become enraged about the prospect of his lover, Desdemona, with another man.

Another example is in Act I, scene iii, where he states:

'Our bodies are our gardens, to the which our wills are gardeners.'

Here, Iago compares the body to a garden that can be controlled and cultivated. The will is the gardener which controls the garden. Essentially, Iago is claiming that a human's will is more powerful than emotions. Weak people succumb to their whims and feelings, but the noble man knows that he is master of himself. Iago speaks these words to Othello, encouraging him not to let his passions overrule his reason.

Act I, scene i shows Iago's racism through the metaphor:

'An old black ram is tupping your white ewe.'

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