I'm writing an analytical essay on Othello with the topic of communication.  I'm looking for points to make within the essay....Any suggestions?The prompt: Look at the function of speech and...

I'm writing an analytical essay on Othello with the topic of communication.  I'm looking for points to make within the essay....Any suggestions?

The prompt: Look at the function of speech and silence in the play.  When do characteers choose to speak? When do they decide to remain silent? Is it words that drive the characters to act? Or is it the absence of dialogue? What argument might the play be putting forth about the nature of verbal communication?

Expert Answers
mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hi jvd13,

This is a great topic and the primary theme in Othello, I think.

First, there's a division between Act I, which takes place in the civilized society of Venice and Acts II-V, which take place in the uncivilized Cyprus.  Whereas the Senate is a venue for public, civilized discourse, the island is a venue for private, uncivilized language.  On the island, Iago reigns like the serpent in the garden, tempting the couple toward their great fall.

In Venice, Othello is as articulate as the senators.  His monologue about his life's story is quite moving.  Even though he says, "Rude am I in speech," Othello knows the power of rhetoric.  The only magic he used to win Desdemona and her father is language.  Othello impresses the Duke so much that the Duke not only condones the secret marriage but says he wishes he had a daughter for Othello to marry--quite an endorsement.

I think this tale would win my daughter too.


And, noble signior,
If virtue no delighted beauty lack,
Your son-in-law is far more fair than black.

In Cyprus, however, Othello loses his control over his men, loses control of his passions, and--most importantly--control over his language.  Through Iago's scheming and Othello's jealousy and uber-masculine attitudes, the once-articulate general is reduced to a seizure-induced, monosyllabic beast:

O monstrous! monstrous!


O, blood, blood, blood!

In Venice, Desdemona too is defiant privately and publicly.  She defies her father privately by eloping with Othello and publicly by speaking out in court.  In Act I, Desdemona is a vixen ahead of her time.

In Cyprus, however, she loses her tongue.  Even though she knows that she is innocent and that Othello will kill her, she stays in his room, in the bed, obedient, silent.  It's as if marriage made her submissive and mute.  The vixen from Act I is gone.  Instead, she is clearly a victim in Acts II-IV.

Iago, too, ends in silence.  Having talked non-stop throughout the play, he refuses to "monologue" at the end.  Wounded but not killed, Iago goes mute rather than explain the reasons behind his treachery or show guilt for his actions.  Much like the serpent in the garden, Iago is an agent of chaos who, after tempting others through cunning language to sin, retreats to his own silent abyss.

Emelia moves in the opposite direction.  She is unusually quiet in Act II.  When we first meet her off the boat, she publicly takes Iago's put-downs without complaint.  In Act V, however, she openly disobeys him:


Be wise, and get you home.


I will not.


So, we have the victims of Iago's language (Othello and Desdemona) moving from eloquence to silence.  Emilia, the true hero of the play, moves from silence to defiance.  All, however, end up dead.  The point, I think, is that language is the great "magic" in love, hate, marriage, war, murder, racism, and jealousy.  It raises men to great heights publicly and causes their destruction privately, especially in marriage.  Most importantly, women--no matter if they speak out Emilia) or not (Desdemona)--are too often victims of men's language.