Epithets in Othello


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Epithets in Othello

 

An epithet is an adjective or adjective phrase that characterizes a person or thing.  Epithets can often consist of abusive or contemptuous words such as those directed by the professionally offended Iago in Shakespeare's Othello.  Iago refers to Othello with damning epithets to suggest the Moor as a lust driven animal that is violating the innocent Desdemona.  For instance, he calls Othello, "an old black ram" who is "tupping" Brabantio's "white ewe"(Act I, Scene I: 90-91).  He is referring to the fact that Othello is a Moor, or dark skinned man.  Iago is also making the insinuation that Othello is, at this moment, copulating with Brabantio's innocent daughter, Desdemona.  In addition, Iago warns Brabantio that if he does not rescue his daughter, the "devil" will make Brabantio a grandfather (Act I, Scene I: 93).  Again, he is suggesting that Othello is demonic and comparable to a wild animal.  He continues erupting insults shouting that a "Barbaray horse" is mounting Desdemona and that Brabantio's nephews will "neigh" and cousins will be "coursers," or strong horses (Act I, Scene I: 113-114).  Yet again, Iago is suggesting that Othello is animal-like and that this quality will arise throughout Brabantio's family.  It is important to note that in the play production Iago speaks such crude and obscene language while hiding behind several clustered poles below Brabantio's window.  This gesture reveals Iago's attempt to remain an "honest man" in the eyes of the other characters while carrying out a plan of revenge.  Although Iago's insults toward Othello appear to be racial, it does not  make the entire play racist.  Iago is so consumed by revenge against Othello, for passing him over for the promotion that he will say or do anything to attain his "peculiar end" (Act I, Scene I: 62).

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  In addition, the play is a reflection of a time period when most people married inside their own race. However, Desdemona has deviated from such beliefs by marrying a Moor.  Iago uses this opportunity to upset Brabantio and, thus, initiate his plan for revenge against Othello.  Had Othello not been a Moor, Iago would have found some other means to destroy him.


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