What literary devices are used in Iago's soliloquy in act 2, scene 3 of Othello?

And what’s he then that says I play the villain?

When this advice is free I give and honest,

Probal to thinking and indeed the course

To win the Moor again? For ’tis most easy

Th' inclining Desdemona to subdue

In any honest suit. She’s framed as fruitful

As the free elements. And then for her

To win the Moor, were to renounce his baptism,

All seals and symbols of redeemèd sin,

His soul is so enfettered to her love,

That she may make, unmake, do what she list,

Even as her appetite shall play the god

With his weak function. How am I then a villain

To counsel Cassio to this parallel course,

Directly to his good? Divinity of hell!

When devils will the blackest sins put on

They do suggest at first with heavenly shows

As I do now. For whiles this honest fool

Plies Desdemona to repair his fortune

And she for him pleads strongly to the Moor

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Literary devices are the typical structures and methods authors use to convey their messages to readers. Writers use them to enhance an image, convey a feeling or mood, or accentuate such feeling or mood. When they are used effectively, such devices help readers to interpret, analyze and appreciate a writer's work.

In the extract, one of the most prominent literary devices is the simile in lines 6 to 7:

She’s framed as fruitful
As the free elements.

In this direct comparison, he equates Desdemona's generous spirit to the abundance existent in nature. What exists in nature is freely available to those who want it. In essence, it means that Desdemona has so much goodness in her that she will generously and freely assist anyone who seeks her help.

The alliteration (the use of the same sound, usually a consonant, in successive words), also accentuates Desdemona's good qualities. The repetition of the f-sound is used for emphasis in this regard. 

These words illustrate one of Iago's most typical ploys. He sees goodness as a weakness and goes out to exploit a character's good nature to further his evil purpose.

The metaphor "His soul is so enfettered to her love," compares Othello's entire being to an object irrevocably chained to Desdemona's love. This further means that the general cannot separate himself from her. He is so overwhelmingly attached to her love for him and, evidently, his love for her that he would do her every bidding.

Iago extends the above metaphor and exaggerates it by stating:

Even as her appetite shall play the god
With his weak function.

Iago is suggesting that Desdemona's desires will take possession and control of Othello's every action for his resolve will be weakened because of his love for her. He would act as if he is not entirely in control of his destiny for he will put Desdemona's wants before his own.

Iago curses the "Divinity of hell!" He is using paradox in this instance. In this literary device, a statement is made which seems absurd or self-contradictory but makes sense on closer investigation or explanation. The juxtaposition (contrast) between the divine and hell suggests that hell is divine or good. Iago is, in fact, commenting on his devious nature. He maintains an air of friendliness and acts as a trustworthy advisor to some characters while he is plotting against them. It is in this manner that he so easily and successfully manipulates others.

Iago's soliloquy indicates his malicious intent and foreshadows the devastation that his nefarious plot will bring about. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Iago's soliloquoy is a perfect example of how Iago manipulates every situation. He begins with a rheutorical question which almost allows the exploitation of the virtues and  weaknesses of his so-called friends. Iago justifies himself and ironically, having given Cassio 'good' advice as to how to win his position and favor back with Othello, knows he can poison Othello's mind sufficiently to misinterpret Cassio's and Desdemona's pleas.

The "divinity of hell" reinforces the spiritual element of the play and Iago's role as the devil. It entrenches the concept of appearance versus reality and is paradoxical as there should be no reference to divinity when speaking about hell! There are several references throughout to heaven, hell , the divine, evil powers and damnation. Act II itself opens with a storm, preparing the audience for what may follow.  

The word "honest"  when speaking about Iago is often repeated and, as Cassio has just uttered, adds more to the dramatic irony and is in keeping with everyone's misguided opinion of Iago. It

serves as an ironic backdrop for Iago’s treachery.

Othello is a christian but Iago reduces his faith by suggesting, in this metaphor, that Desdemona has him "enfetted" and claims he is weak and will do her bidding, at any cost.

There is also a double meaning in the use of "blackest" as obvioulsy Othello is black.  


See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial