Othello

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Animals Symbol Icon
Othello is rife with animal metaphors. In particular, this language is used to describe Othello, the "Barbary horse," or the "beautiful creature" Desdemona. In each case, the animal language is connected to prejudice. Describing a person or group in animal terms is a way of defining that person or group as being less than human, something that deserves to be humiliated and controlled.

Animals Quotes in Othello

The Othello quotes below all refer to the symbol of Animals. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Prejudice Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Simon & Schuster edition of Othello published in 2015.
Act 1, scene 2 Quotes
"Damned 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,
Whether a maid, so tender, fair, and happy,
So opposite to marriage that she shunned
The wealthy curled darlings of our nation,
Would ever have, t'incur a general mock,
Run from her guardage to the sooty bosom
Of such a thing as thou—to fear, not to delight."
Related Characters: Brabantio (speaker), Othello, Desdemona
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 1.2.82-90
Explanation and Analysis:

Brabantio and his men have arrived at the inn where Othello is staying. Iago has advised Othello to go inside in order to avoid a confrontation with Brabantio, but Othello has decided to stay, declaring that he is a loyal soldier and husband to Desdemona and thus he has nothing to be ashamed of. Brabantio, having learned about his daughter's marriage, accuses Othello of enchanting Desdemona and binding her in "chains of magic"; he claims there is no other explanation for why she would choose to marry Othello. He uses racist language to describe Othello, calling him a "thing" with a "sooty bosom," and saying that it would make more sense to fear him as opposed to love him.

This speech is a pertinent example of the racial prejudice directed at Othello by the other characters. Brabantio's words reflect the widespread idea that Othello is not a normal human, but is either an animal-like "thing" or a fantastical being with supernatural powers. Note that Brabantio's horror emerges in particular from the thought of his daughter, whom he describes in terms that evoke pure white womanhood ("a maid, so tender, fair, and happy"), being intimate with Othello ("run... to the sooty bosom of such a thing as thou"). Desdemona is presented as de-sexualized, an innocent child, whereas Othello is suggested to have sinister sexual powers akin to magical enchantment. As well as indicting Othello, this idea robs Desdemona of agency; Brabantio considers it impossible that she has chosen to marry Othello of her own free will.

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Act 1, scene 3 Quotes
"The Moor is of a free and open nature
That thinks men honest that but seem to be so;
And will as tenderly be led by th' nose
As asses are."
Related Characters: Iago (speaker), Othello
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 1.3.442-445
Explanation and Analysis:

Roderigo has confessed to Iago that he is miserable at the thought that he has lost Desdemona to Othello; Iago has told him not to indulge these sentimental emotions, and has promised to help Roderigo win Desdemona if Roderigo pays him. Alone onstage, Iago reflects on his own hatred of Othello and details his plan to bring about Othello's downfall. In this passage, Iago notes that Othello is an open, trusting person, and that because of this, manipulating him will be easy, like leading a donkey by the nose.

This is one of the many instances in the play in which Othello is compared to an animal. Iago's reference to an ass (donkey) in particular highlights that the racist view of Moors as animalistic is closely entwined with the idea that Moors are naturally subservient and unintelligent. Iago's view that Othello is feebleminded is clearly false; Othello has already demonstrated that he is not only a highly skilled soldier, but also talented in rhetoric. On the other hand, Iago's observation that Othello is overly trusting is correct. Indeed, Othello's readiness to believe in appearances is the fatal flaw that––as Iago predicts––ultimately leads to his downfall.

However, the extent to which this trusting nature is actually a flaw remains ambiguous. Othello's "free and open nature" is contrasted with Iago's duplicitous cunning, and although Shakespeare shows that gullibility is dangerous, it is still presented as morally preferable to selfish scheming and deceitful appearances.

Act 2, scene 1 Quotes
"I'll [...] make the Moor thank me, love me, and reward me
For making him egregiously an ass."
Related Characters: Iago (speaker), Othello
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 2.1.330-331
Explanation and Analysis:

Having established a plan with Roderigo to provoke Cassio into a fight, Iago is once again left alone and delivers another soliloquy about his evil scheme. He has proclaimed that winning Desdemona for himself would be the best possible form of revenge against Othello, but that he will settle for driving Othello mad with jealousy by tricking him into thinking Desdemona has been unfaithful. Iago finishes his speech with the alarming boast that he will make Othello "thank me, love me, and reward me" for making a fool out of him, again using the racist imagery by saying he will turn Othello into an ass (donkey).

This passage is a reminder of Iago's scheming nature––he wants to destroy Othello not only for the pleasure of vengeance, but also for the "reward" of advancing his own career. It also reveals the truly perverse, sadistic extent of his desire for revenge. It is not enough for Iago to ruin Othello; he wants Othello to "thank" and "love" him for it.

Act 2, scene 3 Quotes
"Reputation, reputation, reputation! O, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial."
Related Characters: Michael Cassio (speaker)
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 2.3.281-283
Explanation and Analysis:

Othello charged Cassio with keeping an eye on the victory celebration, instructing him to make sure the men on guard do not get too drunk; Iago, meanwhile, manipulated the situation so Cassio himself got drunk and ended up fighting and injuring Montano. Having discovered this, Othello demanded to know what happened, and Iago described the fight while making it seem like he was reluctant to implicate Cassio. A shocked Othello has said he will have to dismiss Cassio as an officer, and with Othello gone, Cassio mourns the loss of his position and reputation. In this passage, Cassio refers to his reputation as "the immortal part of myself," and says that without it he is no better than a beast.

Cassio's statement confirms the huge value placed on reputation at the time; the immediacy with which he is ruined despite his otherwise flawless record highlights the danger of mistaken appearances and foreshadows Othello's fall from grace later in the play. His comment that "what remains is bestial" emphasizes the importance of honor as the characteristic that distinguishes men from animals, again connecting Cassio's predicament to the racist distrust of Othello as animalistic.

Act 4, scene 1 Quotes
"A horned man's a monster and a beast."
Related Characters: Othello (speaker)
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 4.1.77
Explanation and Analysis:

Overcome with anguish about Desdemona, Othello has had an epileptic fit, during which time Cassio briefly enters and advises Iago on how to revive Othello. With Cassio offstage gain, Othello has regained consciousness and immediately accuses Iago of mocking him. Iago, bewildered, says that he hasn't, to which Othello responds "a horned man's a monster and a beast." At the time, folklore held that a cuckold––a man whose wife was unfaithful––would grow horns, making his humiliated status visible to the rest of society. Although irrational, this clearly represents a significant fear for Othello. Not only would Desdemona's infidelity ruin his reputation as a noble and manly husband, it would confirm the racist beliefs that, as a Moor, Othello is more like an animal or supernatural creature than a human.

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Animals Symbol Timeline in Othello

The timeline below shows where the symbol Animals appears in Othello. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, scene 1
Prejudice Theme Icon
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
Jealousy Theme Icon
Manhood and Honor Theme Icon
Womanhood and Sexuality Theme Icon
...a "Barbary horse" (1.1.110), and adds that "your daughter and the Moor are making the beast with two backs"(1.1.118). (full context)
Act 2, scene 3
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
Jealousy Theme Icon
Manhood and Honor Theme Icon
Womanhood and Sexuality Theme Icon
...lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial" (2.3.251-3). Iago asks if Cassio knew who he was chasing after, but Cassio says that... (full context)