Allusion in Othello

Allusion Examples in Othello:

Act I - Scene II 1

"By Janus, I think no...."   (Act I - Scene II)

Iago’s choice to swear by Janus is important for two reasons. Janus is the Roman god of transitions, of beginnings and endings. In this transitional moment, on the brink of Brabantio’s clash with Othello, Janus is the pertinent god. Janus, in his looking forward and backward through time, is also two-faced. Shakespeare draws a comparison between Janus and the deceitful, two-faced Iago.

"that was as fresh As Dian's visage, is now begrimed and black(430) As mine own face...."   (Act III - Scene III)

In an intriguing double metaphor, Othello characterizes Desdemona’s shift in reputation as a change in her face’s complexion. Her face was once “fresh as Dian’s”—an allusion to the Greek goddess Diana, whose virginity and moonlike skin are used to symbolize purity. Now her face is as “black” as Othello’s, an image that draws again on the play’s complicated association between racial blackness and moral blackness. Othello’s metaphor suggests that Desdemona’s fall from grace would place her at his level.

"Here I kneel: If e'er my will did trespass ‘gainst his love Either in discourse of thought or actual deed, Or that mine eyes, mine ears, or any sense, Delighted them in any other form,(175) Or that I do not yet, and ever did, And ever will, though he do shake me off To beggarly divorcement, love him dearly, Comfort forswear me!..."   (Act IV - Scene II)

In this passage, Desdemona frames her repentance to Othello as a prayer to God. In fact, Shakespeare draws some of the language of her repentance from the Catholic Eucharist, specifically the section devoted to the confession of sin. There is an irony to this moment, because Desdemona confesses to a sin she did not commit.

"Where is that viper? Bring the villain forth. OTHELLO: I look down towards his feet; but that's a fable. If that thou be'st a devil, I cannot kill thee...."   (Act V - Scene II)

The “fable” of Iago’s feet refers to his metaphorical nature as a serpent, as suggested by Lodovico. Othello equates Iago’s snake-like character to that of “a devil” who cannot be killed. This equation originates in the Bible, wherein the devil appears in the form of a serpent. Much like the serpent in the garden of Eden, Iago is a tempter and corrupter.

"That's he that was Othello. Here I am...."   (Act V - Scene II)

Just as Iago’s famous line “I am not what I am,” Othello’s alludes to the Bible passage in which God utters “I am that I am.” Othello is dissociated from himself, pointing to a self that “was Othello.” This dissociation of self marks his fall from grace. Where Othello once had a sense of divine wholeness, now his identity has become separated into a past and present self.

"Whip me, ye devils,(320) From the possession of this heavenly sight! Blow me about in winds! Roast me in sulphur! Wash me in steepdown gulfs of liquid fire!..."   (Act V - Scene II)

Having accepted his guilt, Othello calls for perdition. In this passage, he offers up images of eternal punishment in hell. As some scholars speculate, Shakespeare may well have read Dante’s work. The scenes Othello describes align with Dante’s vision of hell in Inferno.