In Act II, Scene I of "Othello" by William Shakespeare, there is a big storm that wipes out the Turkish fleet.  But this storm also serves a non-literal purpose.  I believe this purpose is to...

In Act II, Scene I of "Othello" by William Shakespeare, there is a big storm that wipes out the Turkish fleet.  But this storm also serves a non-literal purpose.  I believe this purpose is to symbolize/foreshadow the turmoil that is to come for the main characters in the play.  My problem is the matter of textual evidence.  My English II teacher requires that I provide specific and direct textual evidence for each answer, but I'm not sure what sort of textual evidence I would use to prove that the storm is a symbolic element for the main characters.  Any ideas of what evidence I should pull?  Thank you in advance!

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The question of whether to read an event in a narrative as symbolic or literal is not one with a straightforward solution. Because Shakespeare died four centuries ago and left no written guide to his works, we cannot know what he intended. Even worse, in dramatic works we do not have a narrator to guide us through the story, only the voices of individual characters. Adding more complexity is the fact that many narrative elements can function on both real and symbolic levels. What textual evidence means in this context is close analysis of individual quotations to prove your point. 

In the case of the storm, the strongest argument for its being symbolic would be that there is really no need in the plot for the Turkish fleet to be destroyed by the storm. For the plot to focus on the conflict between Iago and Othello, the Turkish fleet could be delayed, or just not mentioned except as a distant threat. The lack of plot necessity for the storm suggests that it serves a symbolic purpose. 

There are a few quotations you can use to support this claim. For example:

DES. I thank you, valiant Cassio.
What tidings can you tell me of my lord? ...
CAS. The great contention of the sea and skies
Parted our fellowship.
The delay, in which the storm separates the ships, is not essential to the plot; one could simply have one ship land before the other to organize the sequence of the dialogue. Instead, the storm here is invoked as a metaphor of the separation among the fellowship arriving from Venice, which does seem to foreshadow the turmoil that will eventually lead what might appear a happy fellowship (although the audience knows it is not from overhearing Iago's earlier plotting) into contention and eventual destruction.
 
A second relevant passage is:
But this same Cassio, though he speak of comfort
Touching the Turkish loss, yet he looks sadly,
And prays the Moor be safe; for they were parted
With foul and violent tempest. 
Again, the tempest is described as not only destroying the Turkish fleet, but separating the Venetians. This seems to imply that the physical storm acts to foreshadow the events and emotional storms (Othello's rage and Iago's duplicity) that will shatter the social environment.
 
Sources:

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