Othello

by

William Shakespeare

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Othello: Personification 1 key example

Read our modern English translation.
Definition of Personification
Personification is a type of figurative language in which non-human things are described as having human attributes, as in the sentence, "The rain poured down on the wedding guests, indifferent... read full definition
Personification is a type of figurative language in which non-human things are described as having human attributes, as in the sentence, "The rain poured down... read full definition
Personification is a type of figurative language in which non-human things are described as having human attributes, as in the... read full definition
Act 5, scene 2
Explanation and Analysis—Moon and Stars:

Othello refers to the moon and stars multiple times, personifying them in a way that also feminizes them.

Othello’s feminization of the moon is significant, with the moon and stars coming to be tied up with ideas of both female purity and female bewitchment. Before Othello kills Desdemona, he invokes the “chaste stars,” and earlier he compares Desdemona to Dian, goddess of the moon, when reflecting on how she has “begrimed” her purity. The allusion to Dian is particularly apt as it invokes a feminine symbol that represents both purity and danger, a combination which perfectly represents the perceived duplicity of female sexuality that Othello so fears in Desdemona.

The feminization of the moon and its bewitching qualities is further invoked after Othello has just killed Desdemona. He personifies the moon by describing it as a “she”:

It is the very error of the moon
She comes more nearer Earth than she was wont
And makes men mad 

This image not only personifies the moon by assigning it with a gender, but also ascribes it with the same kind of agency as a human. The idea that the moon can make errors, for example, suggests that it is not an unthinking element of nature but rather an entity with a human will. This assignment of agency to the moon is particularly important in the context in which Othello is speaking, while Othello is coming to terms with the murderous act he has just committed. His belief that it is the moon that “makes men mad” may be a comforting way of removing his own agency, with his actions willed by the stars and not by himself. Othello’s later reference to Desdemona as an “ill-starred wench,” a comment he makes after he realizes Desdemona has been faithful all along, reflects a similar attempt to blame nature for his acts rather than acknowledge his own agency. In this regard, Othello may be interpreted as a more complex exploration of the idea of the “star-crossed lovers” that Shakespeare made famous in his earlier play Romeo and Juliet.