Othello

by

William Shakespeare

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Othello: Oxymorons 1 key example

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Definition of Oxymoron
An oxymoron is a figure of speech in which two contradictory terms or ideas are intentionally paired in order to make a point—particularly to reveal a deeper or hidden truth... read full definition
An oxymoron is a figure of speech in which two contradictory terms or ideas are intentionally paired in order to make a point—particularly to reveal... read full definition
An oxymoron is a figure of speech in which two contradictory terms or ideas are intentionally paired in order to... read full definition
Act 5, scene 2
Explanation and Analysis—Violence of Love :

Shakespeare repeatedly places language of desire and violence side by side to emphasize the paradox that love can be harmful. Othello himself constantly describes how it is the greatness of his love for Desdemona that dictates the greatness of his desire for violence. Just before he goes to kill Desdemona, he says:

Be thus when thou art dead, and I will kill thee
And love thee after. One more, and this the last. <he kisses her>
So sweet was ne’er so fatal. I must weep,
But they are cruel tears. This sorrow’s heavenly:
It strikes where it doth love. 

This passage is rife with clashing imagery of love’s softness and harshness: the “cruel tears,” the “heavenly sorrow,” love as both “sweet” and “fatal.” Othello’s act of kissing Desdemona before killing her encapsulates the duality of his passion, which at once is drawn to love and violence—“it strikes where it doth love.” 

Othello’s repeated use of this paradox may also be interpreted as demonstrating his attempt to convince himself that his motivations come from love and not violence. The frequency of the images may suggest disingenuousness, with Othello’s overemphasis on the connection between love and violence a way for him to come to terms with the bloodiness of his actions. Indeed, Desdemona later remarks “that death’s unnatural that kills for loving,” highlighting the corruptness of Othello’s actions. 

Desdemona’s use of an oxymoron in her reference to the “bloody passion” that grips Othello encapsulates this extended paradox. The reference to blood forges a fitting link between the passion of violence and the passion of lust, with blood being an image also associated with sex, for example in the loss of virginity.

The paradox of the violence of love also more generally highlights the theme of duality in Othello, with duplicitous appearances being pivotal to the play’s tragedy.