Personification in Othello

Instructor: Bryan Cowing

Bryan is a freelance writer who specializes in literature. He has worked as an English instructor, editor and writer for the past 10 years.

Personification is a literary technique that helps describe ideas. In ''Othello'' William Shakespeare uses personification to make the play more interesting and entertaining.

Bertha the Truck

'Bertha' was the name of my dad's truck. If we were driving up a hill and the engine seemed to be fighting back, sometimes he would pat the dashboard and say 'Come on Bertha, you can do it.' When Bertha finally gave up, my dad got a new truck and named it 'Jack'.

If you have ever named your car or any other nonliving thing, you have personified it. Personification is when a nonhuman object is given human characteristics.

In William Shakespeare's Othello there are quite a few examples of personification. Exploring a few examples gives us a chance to gain a deeper understanding of the play and help us pick up on other examples we encounter in the future.

Othello Personifies Desdemona's Ear

In the beginning of the play, we find that a woman named Desdemona has run off with a man named Othello. Othello is black, and this upsets Desdemona's father, Brabantio. Brabantio hunts down Othello and demands that he explains what sort of witchcraft he used to lure his innocent daughter in. Othello explains that he won Desdemona's heart by telling of his adventures.

Othello explains that he would tell the stories of his past. If Desdemona had to leave to complete a chore, she would 'come again, and with a greedy ear / Devour up my discourse.' Describing an ear as being greedy is a solid example of personification, as the ear cannot actually express desire or greed.

The personification portrays Desdemona's emotions and actions at the same time. She listened eagerly, in a way that asked for more.

Iago Personifies Time

Another example of personification comes in Act 1, scene 3, during a conversation between Iago and Roderigo. After Othello and Desdemona are married, Roderigo complains to Iago that he has no reason to live. He tells Iago that if he can't have Desdemona, then he may as well kill himself.

Iago responds by telling Roderigo to sell everything he has and 'Put money in thy purse' in order to win over Desdemona. Iago explains that Roderigo must be patient because 'There are many events in the womb of time which will be delivered.' In other words, Roderigo needs to calm down and wait. Comparing time to a womb gives the idea that time is pregnant with events--another example of personification. The also foreshadows Iago's plan to sabotage Othello's love.

Time as a womb conveys the idea that time carries and matures these events and that they will only come to fruition when they are due. The personification also implies that Roderigo can't push the events forward any faster than he could cause a woman to give birth.

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