Some of the most colorful metaphors in Othello come from the antagonist – Iago. He compares Othello to an old black ram, Desdemona to a white ewe. Iago even calls the act of and the love between Othello and Desdemona using metaphor. Talking to Desdemona’s father, Brabantio, Iago proclaims:
“I am one, sir, that comes to tell you your daughter
and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs.”
(Act 1, scene 1)
Numerous metaphors indicate racial and gender prejudices typical for the period.
In Act 1, Iago attempts to set Desdemona’s father against Othello. Using the latter’s racial prejudice, he compares Othello to a barbary horse:
“Because we come to
do you service and you think we are ruffians, 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 gennets for germans.”
(Act 1, scene 1)
Iago makes derogatory remarks towards his skin color and portraying him as a mindless animal. On top of that, the villain describes the lovers as “the beast with two backs”. Such a rude metaphor helps Iago to alienate Desdemona’s father, who later confronts Othello.
Meanwhile, speaking to Othello, Iago pretends to be his best friend. He even warns the Moor against a “green-eyed monster”, commonly known as jealousy.
Iago often uses animal imagery to humiliate other characters. When talking to Roderigo, Iago compares women to guinea-hen:
“I have looked upon the world for four
times seven years; and since I could distinguish
betwixt a benefit and an injury, I never found man
that knew how to love himself. Ere I would say, I
would drown myself for the love of a guinea-hen, I
would change my humanity with a baboon.”
(Act 1, scene 3)
Proclaiming these words, Iago laughs off Roderigo’s intention to kill himself because Desdemona chose another man. Furthermore, he states that he would be an ape rather than a man if he committed suicide because of a woman.
Emilia, Iago’s wife and Desdemona’s friend, also reflects on the position of women in society using a metaphor. In Act 3, she states:
“’Tis not a year or two shows us a man:
They are all but stomachs, and we all but food;
To eat us hungerly, and when they are full,
They belch us.”
(Act 3, scene 4)
These words turn out to be a prediction of her and Desdemona’s fate. Both of them die at their husbands’ hands.