In act 5, scene 2, lines 258-279 of Othello, some commentators have said that the broken Othello is attempting to use language to reclaim his former glory as a renowned military leader. This is reflected in his use of metaphor, hyperbole, simple powerful monosyllables, and grand poetic language. Identify one example of each in Othello's speech and evaluate their effectiveness. Consider which of these features link to other parts of the play.

In Othello’s speech, these are examples of specific literary devices. He uses the metaphor of “journey” to mean his life. Hyperbole is used in “more impediments/ Than twenty times your stop.” “Cold, cold, my girl” are simple, powerful monosyllables. Grand poetic language appears in the lines from “Whip me” through “liquid fire.” While each communicates some aspect of Othello’s intentions and state of mind, in combination they are highly effective in revealing a bold, distraught man in crisis.

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In this speech in act 5, scene 2, Othello realizes that he has killed his adored wife. Shakespeare uses numerous literary devices to show the audience that Othello intends to act decisively but is beside himself. Othello refers metaphorically to the end of his “journey,” meaning his life; he now...

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In this speech in act 5, scene 2, Othello realizes that he has killed his adored wife. Shakespeare uses numerous literary devices to show the audience that Othello intends to act decisively but is beside himself. Othello refers metaphorically to the end of his “journey,” meaning his life; he now intends to kill himself. Another traveling metaphor follows, saying that this “butt” (or end) of his sword is the “very seamark of my utmost sail,” in which “utmost sail” is another way of saying his life’s end.

Hyperbole appears in the lines “I have made my way through more impediments / Than twenty times your stop.” Othello boasts of the many obstacles he has overcome in his military career, far more than the mere lack of a weapon that Gratiano says will stop him from killing himself.

Throughout the speech, monosyllables and short sentences are interspersed with longer words and sentences. The individual instances reveal that he sometimes struggles to articulate complex thoughts. “Cold, cold, my girl” is one brief, complete sentence entirely composed of monosyllables. In addition, he frequently inserts the interjection “O,” both to begin a sentence and, finally, on its own repeated three times. Three instances are:

O cursed, cursed slave!

But, O vain boast!

O ill-starr'd wench!

Together the lines lead up to the repeated use of "O" in his final outburst over his wife's corpse. In addition, the repetition of the words "cold" and "cursed" anticipates the repetitions of "Desdemon! dead."

O Desdemon! dead, Desdemon! dead!
O! O! O!

While there is limited use of grand poetic language, the extravagance of one passage reveals his deep despair and conviction that he is doomed to hell. Looking on Desdemona’s lifeless body (“this heavenly sight”), Othello uses apostrophe, direct address, to the devils in Hell, commanding them to punish him.

Whip me, ye devils,
From the possession of this heavenly sight!
Blow me about in winds! Roast me in sulphur!
Wash me in steepdown gulfs of liquid fire!

The wide-ranging variations in Othello’s emotions that arise as he faces the fact that he has killed Desdemona are shown by the variations in his speech. Each of the different devices communicates some aspect of Othello’s plan to take his own life and his precarious state of mind. The way Shakespeare uses them in combination is what proves most effective. The playwright shows a man well-accustomed to taking charge who now, because of his terrible despair, is committing to one final, bold action despite knowing that he is damned.

Please note: In the Annotated Text of Othello available in the eNotes Study Guide, the line numbers of this passage are 302–325.

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