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Tone in Othello

Tone Examples in Othello:

Act I - Scene III

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"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.

"Rude am I in my speech, And little blest with the soft phrase of peace;..."   (Act I - Scene III)

Othello uses a rhetorical tactic similar to those used by Mark Antony in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. By claiming to be ineloquent—“rude in… speech”—Othello hopes to appeal to the statesmen. Ironically, this is itself a rather eloquent move. The eloquence is heightened by his repetition of l and t sounds in “little blest” and f sounds in “soft phrase.”

" Do not think, gentlemen, I am drunk: this is my ancient, this is my right hand, and this is my left. I am not drunk now; I can stand well enough, and I speak well enough...."   (Act II - Scene III)

In this humorous exchange, Cassio drunkenly attempts to convince the party of his sobriety. He stumbles into a hilarious but poetic moment. These lines are often staged so that Cassio reaches for Iago—his “right-hand man”—with his right hand as he utters “this is my ancient, this is my right hand”; he then flourishes his left hand.

"She's a most exquisite lady. IAGO: And, I'll warrant her, full of game...."   (Act II - Scene III)

In this dialogue, Iago and Cassio share slightly different opinions on Desdemona’s character. Cassio views Desdemona with admiration and respect, referring to her as “exquisite,” “fresh and delicate.” Without disagreeing, Iago adds a sexual tone, calling Desdemona provocative and “full of game.” Iago’s goal is to compel Cassio to make advances on Desdemona.

"O, thereby hangs a tail...."   (Act III - Scene I)

The clown, continuing his ribbing, subtly calls the sound of the wind instruments flatulent. Even in a play as serious as Othello, Shakespeare is sure to include a fart joke. Shakespeare understood the value of comedic relief, incorporating a clown or jester in each of his plays.

"He's a soldier; and for one to say a soldier lies, is stab- bing...."   (Act III - Scene IV)

As the play’s action escalates, the clown appears again to provide comic relief. In this exchange, he builds puns on the dual definitions of “to lie.” The central idea is that the clown would be lying if he claimed to know Cassio’s location—where Cassio lies. Even in tragedies such as Othello, Shakespeare always includes touches of light humor.

"I understand a fury in your words, But not the words...."   (Act IV - Scene II)

Othello has undergone a significant shift since the play’s beginning. In the opening act, the general is calm, collected, and eloquent. After hearing and believing the lies about Desdemona, Othello can no longer express himself coherently. His communication here is defined by his snarling tone since his words do not explain his anger.

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