- Books, Literature, and Writing
Othello Soliloquy Analysis
Today I will be reciting Act 3 Scene 3 Lines 262 – 281 of the Arden edition of Shakespeare’s Othello. It is on pg. 224 – 225 and is Othello’s first soliloquy in the play.
This fellow’s of exceeding honesty
And knows all qualities, with a learned spirit,
Of human dealings. If I do prove her haggard,
Through that her jesses were my dear heart-strings,
I’d whistler her off and let her down the wind
To prey at fortune. Haply for I am black
And have not those soft parts of conversation
That chamberers have, or for I am declined
Into the vale of years – yet that’s not much –
She’s gone, I am abused, and my relief
Must be to loathe her. O curse of marriage
That we can call these delicate creatures ours
And not their appetites! I had rather be a toad
And live upon the vapour of a dungeon
Than keep a corner in the thing I love
For others’ uses. Yet ‘tis the plague of great ones,
Prerogatived are they less than the base;
‘Tis destiny unshunnable, like death –
Even then this forked plague is fated to us
When we do quicken.
This soliloquy is rather fascinating in the insight that it provides on Othello’s personality. My decision to present this soliloquy today was influenced by the drama and significance it conveys. This speech marks the psychological tipping point in the play and symbolises the transition in Othello’s character – from a devoted husband and brave general to a blood lusting, revenge-seeking Moor, upon hearing of Desdemona’s purported affair with Cassio. Moreover, this soliloquy is a lament that explores a wide array of the play’s core motifs, symbols, recurring ideas and images, which sows the seeds for Othello’s eventual demise.
The first few lines of this soliloquy intrigued me as it ignited my emotions of anger towards Iago, and pity towards Othello. As expressed by my positive tone in my reading of the first few lines, I highlighted the dreadful dramatic irony that permeates throughout the play. Othello naïvely believes Iago to be of “exceeding honesty” and is oblivious to his plot to taint Desdemona’s virtuous image with infidelity. This irony is apparent earlier in the play with Othello’s repeated remarks, “honest Iago”. The audience begins to feel uneasy at Othello’s perception of Iago as a ‘friend thy husband, honest, honest Iago’, which is highlighted by the use of alliteration, despite the fact that Iago states he “follows him to serve and turn upon him” as he is “not what I am”. This irony has captivated me; so much so that I chose to present this soliloquy.
I have also been absorbed by Othello’s flaw of self-doubt as he “is rude in speech”. The deterioration in his sophistication of speech symbolises the decline in his judgment, evidenced by his use of repugnant animal metaphors. The inherent contradiction of “delicate, creatures and appetites!” awkwardly mixes animalism with the theme of sexuality, which is characteristic of Iago’s language, particularly his metaphorical description of Othello as “the beast with two backs” and “the black ram”. To exemplify Othello’s emotional turmoil and vulgar speech, I accented the exclamation mark after the word, ‘appetites’, changed the pace of my speech and paused. Othello’s use of metaphor in “I had rather be a toad/And live upon the vapour of a dungeon” shows the base reduction in his speech. The allusion to “toad” is resonated in Act 4 where Othello metaphorically compares Desdemona to a “cistern for foul toads/To know and gender in”, which is a gross hyperbole of her inexistent infidelity. It is the degradation of Othello’s speech which has also compelled me to deliver this soliloquy for my audition.
You may have also noticed the rather definitive tone that I used in “she’s gone, I am abused” and in “’tis destiny unshunnable –death”. This imperative tone augments my previous perceptions of Othello as a loving devoted husband. His use of imagery in “the battles, sieges and fortunes that he has passed”, which caught Desdemona’s heart, are contrasted to his altered view of her, in “She’s gone, I am abused, and my relief/Must be to loathe her”. This firm tone, which is accentuated by short syntax, stresses Othello’s jealous nature, and the malleability of his personality to Iago’s manipulation. Furthermore, this soliloquy sets the tone for Othello’s future ‘jealousy’ fuelled speeches as he attempts to exact revenge on Desdemona as “it is the cause” that “she must die, else she’ll betray more men”.
Another interesting flaw of Othello is his inclination to doubt himself, which is evidenced in “haply for I am black”. Othello ruminates and cogitates over the possibility that Desdemona has betrayed him. The fact that he “does not have these soft parts of conversation/That clamberers have” encapsulate his lack of confidence, which is a product of his status as a social outcast in Venetian society. Furthermore, the age difference between Othello and Desdemona is a catalyst for his belief that Desdemona has betrayed him. His swift self correction in “-yet that’s not much –“, fails to dull the bite of his concise lines, which confirms his sense of panic. Othello’s fears are further enhanced as Brabantio stated earlier through a rhyming couplet that “she (Desdemona) has deceived her farther and may deceive thee”. It is this soliloquy that brings to the fore, Othello’s flaws and eventual demise.
Overall, as an actor, this soliloquy has proven pivotal to expanding my understanding of Othello and the play as a whole. It sparks the beginning of the end for Othello and a transition in his personality with his diminishing state of speech and definitive tones.