Language Techniques in "Othello"

Updated November 21, 2016

The language of Shakespeare's plays often seems "foreign," even though it is, actually, Modern English, just as we use today. To get over the language hurdle of studying Shakespeare's "Othello," try placing a little less emphasis on literary language techniques, such as metaphor, simile and alliteration, and more emphasis on the dramatic language techniques, such as soliloquies, verse, prose and dialogue.


Shakespeare intended for characters' soliloquies -- text delivered by one character alone on stage -- to be conversations between the actor and the audience. Iago, for example, actively contrives to "win" the audience over to his point of view with his soliloquies, explaining why he has cause to hate Othello and charming the audience with his wit. Have a student stand in front of the class and read Iago's soliloquy of Act II, scene iii, which begins "And what's he, then, that says I play the villain." Encourage the student reading Iago to attempt to convince the audience to see things his way. Both the speaker and the student audience will, in this circumstance, experience first hand the persuasive power of a soliloquy.


Students can study the effective use of verse in "Othello" by looking at Othello's speech to the Venetian Senate in Act I, scene iii. Have the students read aloud Othello's verse speech that begins "Her father loved me; Oft invited me." Encourage them to focus on the "music" of the verse, the natural rhythm of the iambic pentameter, and the sounds create by the word choices made by Shakespeare. Try not to intellectualise the poetry through too much explanation of the structure of the verse. Iambic pentameter is a natural rhythm of English and the "da-DUM/da-DUM" rhythm matches that of our own heartbeat. Emphasise the exploration of the sounds of the words rather than worrying too much about what they mean. Have the listeners comment on the effect of the speech, based on what they hear.


Begin by sharing with your students that Shakespeare's use of prose instead of verse is an important distinction and is done for a purpose. Then, without further explanation of the use of prose, have the students look at the exchange among Desdemona, Cassio and Iago in Act II, scene i. The dialogue begins and continues in verse, but concludes in prose, ending with a few lines of prose that Iago shares as an aside to the audience. Have the students read this scene aloud, including the prose spoken by Desdemona, Cassio and Iago. See if the students, from reading the scene, can determine that the prose is meant to create a much more informal, comic tone and that Shakespeare is emphasising the secrecy of Iago's words shared with the audience.


All plays contain dialogue, but how the dialogue is used to convey the action of the scene is an important element in understanding the conflict in a play. Look at the exchange between Iago and Othello in Act III, scene iii. In this crucial scene, Iago manages, through innuendo, to convince Othello that there is something going on between Cassio and Desdemona. Have students read this scene aloud, focusing on the exchanges between Iago and Othello. Ask them to pay particular attention to the way that Iago draws Othello into his scheme without blatantly accusing Desdemona or Cassio. Have the students offer their observations on how Shakespeare uses the technique of dialogue here to show Iago's masterful entrapment of Othello by exploiting his potential for jealousy.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author