Meter in Othello

As in many of his plays, Shakespeare employs a combination of prose and blank verse—unrhymed pentameter—in Othello. Characters of lower class tend to speak in rough prose in contrast to those of higher standing who speak in verse. Occasionally, Shakespeare uses metrical moves to create a specific effect. For example, in Act V Othello exclaims, “My wife! My wife! What wife? I have no wife!” In the series of monosyllabic words, “wife” falls on four of the line’s five stressed beats, creating a powerful pulse which underscores Othello’s crisis as he reconsiders his relationship with Desdemona.

Meter Examples in Othello:

Act I - Scene II 1

"Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them.—..."   (Act I - Scene II)

Shakespeare employs an intriguing formal technique to convey Othello’s authority. The line consists of a series of eleven monosyllabic words, more than the typical ten. The shortness of the words gives the line a sense of forcefulness.

"If I can fasten but one cup upon him, With that which he hath drunk tonight already,..."   (Act II - Scene III)

Shakespeare uses a clever metrical device here. These two lines of iambic pentameter have eleven syllables, so that each has an unstressed syllable hanging off the end. This effect gives these lines a loose, uncontrolled feeling. This is fitting, for in these lines Iago plots to get Cassio drunk.

"Your wife, my lord, your true and loyal wife...."   (Act IV - Scene II)

This is a tragic and powerful line. Desdemona defines herself in terms of her faithfulness to Othello, but he does not trust her. Shakespeare chose to construct Desdemona’s statement as a line of perfect iambic pentameter in order to heighten its impact.

"If she come in, she'll sure speak to my wife.(115) My wife! My wife! What wife? I have no wife...."   (Act V - Scene II)

In this tragic moment, Othello forgets that Desdemona has died. His sudden realization of the truth rings out in a line of ten monosyllabic words. This metrical feature gives the line a quality of fullness and forcefulness.