Othello's Heroic Language

The following entries are samples of Othello's heroic language, not a complete list.

Othello compares the value of his freedom and his love to all the treasure of the sea. He says, "But that I love the gentle Desdemona, / I would not my unhoused free condition / Put into circumscription and confine / For the sea's worth" (1.2.25-28).

Facing Brabantio and his supporters, Othello says, "Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them" (1.2.59). This is the kind of thing that many men fantasize about; with a few well-chosen words, the hero calms an angry crowd. "Keep up your bright swords" means "put your bright swords back in their sheaths," and "the dew will rust them" is a bit of gentle sarcasm. Othello is reminding the men he's facing that their swords will be quite useless. He and his men are soldiers. Brabantio's men are policemen and civilians. It is quite impossible for Brabantio and his men to win any fight against Othello and his men. [Scene Summary]

At the Senate, replying to Brabantio's accusations, Othello first pays his respects to all present, addressing them as "Most potent, grave, and reverend signiors, / My very noble and approved good masters" (1.3.76-77). Then Othello judiciously distinguishes truth from fiction. He says, "That I have ta'en away this old man's daughter, / It is most true; true, I have married her: / The very head and front of my offending / Hath this extent, no more" (1.3.78-81). By "head and front of my offending," Othello means the very worst that can be said of him. The phrase is a bit ironic; Brabantio has made all kinds of accusations, but the only thing that Othello has really done is marry Desdemona. Othello then says he can't give a good speech, since he has been a soldier from the age of seven, but he will "a round unvarnish'd tale deliver" (1.3.90) of his love. Again being ironic, he also says that he will give an account of "what drugs, what charms, / What conjuration and what mighty magic" (1.3.91-92) he used to win Desdemona's heart. His irony conveys the idea that his love is greater than any drug, charm, conjuration, or magic. [Scene Summary]

In Cyprus, after passing through a storm at sea and being reunited with Desdemona, Othello expresses his joy:
If after every tempest come such calms,
May the winds blow till they have waken'd death!
And let the labouring bark
[ship] climb hills of seas
Olympus-high and duck again as low
As hell's from heaven! If it were now to die,
'Twere now to be most happy; for, I fear,
My soul hath her content so absolute
That not another comfort like to this
Succeeds in unknown fate.   (2.1.185-193)
His comparisons express an emotion that knows no bounds — not the bounds of sky, sea, heaven, hell, death or fate. [Scene Summary]

As a way of making Othello jealous, Iago warns him against jealousy. Othello says he's not the jealous type and declares, "No, Iago; / I'll see before I doubt [suspect]; when I doubt, prove; / And on the proof [i.e. , proof of either innocence or guilt] there is no more but this,-- / Away at once with love or jealousy!" (3.3.189-192). For Othello, there are no gray areas, but despite what he says, Othello already has strong suspicions, not from seeing anything, but just from listening to Iago.

A little later in the scene Othello says that before this he was happy. He didn't suspect anything; he couldn't taste Cassio's kisses on Desdemona's lips and everything was right in his world. If he had never known anything about Desdemona's adultery, he would still be happy, no matter what she did, but now his world is falling apart. In a speech so famous that it's often referred to simply as "Othello's farewell to his occupation" he says that even if Desdemona went to bed with the dirtiest, sweatiest soldiers in camp (the "pioners"), he would have been happy so long as he hadn't known, but now he can't be a soldier anymore:
I had been happy, if the general camp,
Pioners and all, had tasted her sweet body,
So I had nothing known. O, now, for ever
Farewell the tranquil mind! farewell content!
Farewell the plumed troop, and the big wars,
That make ambition virtue! O, farewell!
Farewell the neighing steed, and the shrill trump,
The spirit-stirring drum, the ear-piercing fife,
The royal banner, and all quality,
Pride, pomp and circumstance of glorious war!
And, O you mortal engines
[deadly cannon], whose rude throats
The immortal Jove's dread clamours
[fearful thunder] counterfeit,
Farewell! Othello's occupation's gone!   (3.3.345-357)
As Othello speaks, he evokes an image of war as a spiritual experience, sanctioned by Jove. In other plays, Shakespeare shows that he understands the ambiguities of war, but for Othello there are no ambiguities.

Near the end of the scene, when Othello forswears his love for Desdemona, Iago teasingly suggests that he may change his mind. Othello answers,
Never, Iago: Like to the Pontic sea,
Whose icy current and compulsive course
Ne'er feels retiring ebb, but keeps due on
To the Propontic and the Hellespont,
Even so my bloody thoughts, with violent pace,
Shall ne'er look back, ne'er ebb to humble love,
Till that a capable and wide revenge
Swallow them up   (3.3.453-460)
The "Pontic sea" is now called the "Black Sea"; the "Propontic" is now called the "Sea of Marmora"; and the "Hellespont" is now known as the "Dardanelles." The Black Sea is the very large sea north of the Aegean Sea, which is the northeastern arm of the Mediterranean. The Black Sea flows into the much smaller Sea of Marmora, which passes through the straits of the Dardanelles into the Aegean. Thus Othello compares the force of his hatred to the force of a huge body of water as it descends through a constantly narrowing passage. [Scene Summary]

After seeing the handkerchief in Cassio's hand, Othello says to Iago, "I would have him nine years a-killing. A fine woman! a fair woman! a sweet woman!" (4.1.178-179). Othello believes that no punishment would be too cruel for Cassio, but when he thinks of killing his wife, he thinks of how beautiful and loving she is. Trying to convince himself that his extreme hatred will overcome his extreme love, Othello says, "my heart is turned to stone; I strike it, and it hurts my hand" (4.1.182-183), but then he adds, "O, the world hath not a sweeter creature! she might lie by an emperor's side and command him tasks" (4.1.183-185). Iago tells him that her beauty makes her crime worse. To that, Othello responds, "Nay, that's certain. But yet the pity of it, Iago! O Iago, the pity of it, Iago!" (4.1.195-196). Iago answers, "If you are so fond over her iniquity, give her patent [permission] to offend; for, if it touch not you, it comes near nobody" (4.1.197-199). It may look like Iago is suggesting that Othello adopt a casual, laissez-faire attitude, but Iago is only egging Othello on. He knows that there can never be anything casual about Othello's emotions. [Scene Summary]

In the scene in which Othello calls Desdemona a whore, he says that he could bear the pain of being scorned as a cuckold, "But there, where I have garner'd up my heart, / Where either I must live, or bear no life; / The fountain from the which my current runs, / Or else dries up; to be discarded thence!" (4.2.57-60). Desdemona is that life-giving fountain; feeling that he has been discarded from her love makes Othello feel dead, but he can't keep her with him. If he keeps her, she would no longer be a fountain, but a tank where ugly toads have ugly sex, "a cistern for foul toads / To knot and gender in!" (4.2.61-62). Then Othello calls upon the angel of patience to see what he sees and become angry too: "Patience, thou young and rose-lipp'd cherubin,-- / Ay, there, look grim as hell!" (4.2.63-64). Othello not only expresses himself in most extreme terms, he feels that anyone would feel as he feels, even the angel of patience itself. [Scene Summary]

After discovering the truth about Iago's treachery, Othello feels that he has done a thing for which there can be no forgiveness. Looking at the body of Desdemona, Othello is so possessed by the image of his dead love that he feels it would be better to be in hell:
Whip me, ye devils,
From the possession of this heavenly sight!
Blow me about in winds! roast me in sulphur!
Wash me in steep-down gulfs of liquid fire!
O Desdemon! Desdemon! dead!
O, O!   (5.2.277-282)
His grief, like his love and hatred, knows no limit. [Scene Summary]