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Rhyme in Othello

Most of the language in Othello is unrhymed, either in the form of prose or blank verse. In certain passages, however, Shakespeare uses end rhyme to heighten the rhetorical pitch of the scene. The first four acts end on a rhymed couplet from Iago, who uses the lines to divulge the next stage of his unfolding plan. Other uses of rhyme include a satirical, blazon-style poem by Iago and several intense declarations from Othello.

Rhyme Examples in Othello:

Act I - Scene II

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"For if such actions may have passage free, Bond-slaves and pagans shall our statesmen be...."   (Act I - Scene II)

It is not clear whether Brabantio actually believes that Othello has committed a crime, or whether he is just threatened on a personal level. Nonetheless, Brabantio frames his condemnation of Othello as a broader act of justice. It is notable that Brabantio ends his lines, and the scene as well, with a rhyming couplet, a departure from the usual blank verse of the play. Shakespeare often uses this technique to end a scene or speech with emphasis.

"I have't. It is engender'd. Hell and night Must bring this monstrous birth to the world's light...."   (Act I - Scene III)

Iago ends Act I with a strange, dense rhyming couplet. In these two lines, Iago layers three separate metaphors to describe his plot. The three metaphors are initiated in the first line and completed in the second. The first metaphor uses a cycle of conception—or engenderment—and birth. The second uses a movement from hell, or the underworld, up to the living world. The third uses the transition from night to day. One could say that the use of “monstrous” is aptly metaphorical as well. After all, the mythological definition of monster—a composite creature—finds its parallel in the “double knavery” of Iago’s plan.

"If virtue no delighted beauty lack,(310) Your son-in-law is far more fair than black...."   (Act I - Scene III)

The Duke continues his pattern of issuing words of wisdom in the form of rhyming couplets. Using “black” as a double entendre to signify both virtue and race, he characterizes Othello as a virtuous man, no matter his race.

"To mourn a mischief that is past and gone Is the next way to draw new mischief on...."   (Act I - Scene III)

The Duke takes on a scholarly tone here, speaking in rhyming couplets, each one of which serves as a wise saying. For the rest of his speech, the Duke invents new ways to tell Brabantio to get past his woes.

"the bloody book of law You shall yourself read in the bitter letter After your own sense...."   (Act I - Scene III)

The Duke of Venice grants Brabantio the role of judge, jury and executioner. Shakespeare crafts these lines to be delivered dramatically. Notice the heavy alliteration and rhyme in phrases such as “bloody book of law” and “bitter letter.”

"If she be fair and wise, fairness and wit, The one's for use, the other useth it...."   (Act II - Scene I)

Iago’s praise for Desdemona comes down to her combination of “fairness and wit”—her beauty and intelligence. As he puts it, beauty is a resource meant to be used by one’s wit. The rhyming couplets Iago uses to praise Desdemona underscore the irreverence and frivolity of his words.

"Why, how now, ho! from whence ariseth this?..."   (Act II - Scene III)

Othello takes control of the scene with a commanding, eloquent speech. The musicality of his phrasing marks a change in tone from the brawl to the aftermath. He employs a number of subtle rhymes and alliterations: “turn’d Turks”; “barbarous brawl”; “holds his soul”; “dreadful bell”; “matter, masters.”

"If drink rock not his cradle...."   (Act II - Scene III)

Shakespeare uses a combination of consonance and assonance to give this phrase emphasis. The pair of r and k sounds in “drink” are repeated in “rock.” This is an example of rim rhyme, a technique in which the beginning and ending sounds of a word are repeated in another. “Rock” shares its short o sound with “not,” creating a short rhyming chain. The phrase is additionally startling because of the trio of stressed syllables in “drink rock not.” These effects are purposeful; we get the sense of a cradle being rocked.

"“And let me the canakin clink, clink; And let me the canakin clink:..."   (Act II - Scene III)

Shakespeare pens this tune using onomatopoeia, a technique in which the sounds of the words imitate their subject. In this case the words “canakin”—a drinking can—and “clink” recreate the sounds of cups and cans clinking together in a toast.

"Think every bearded fellow that's but yoked May draw with you. There's millions now alive That nightly lie in those unproper beds Which they dare swear peculiar...."   (Act IV - Scene I)

Iago attempts to calm Othello by saying how common jealousy is. Iago uses the metaphor of a team of oxen to describe the shared plight of suspicious husbands together drawing the heavy plough of jealousy. Shakespeare assembles a sonorous trio of rhyming words in “dare swear peculiar.”

"Strumpet, I come! Forth of my heart those charms, thine eyes, are blotted; Thy bed, lust-stain'd shall with lust's blood be spotted...."   (Act V - Scene I)

In a rhyming couplet, Othello addresses Desdemona from afar. He claims that her hold on him, represented by her eyes, has been “blotted,” or removed. The second line is highly ironic. While Othello plans to spill Desdemona’s lustful blood on their bed, the sheets are already stained with her matrimonial blood—the symbol of her faithfulness.

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