SHAKESPEARE; Othello & King Lear - A comparison

If Shakespeare was alive today it is certain that there
would be a lot written about him. We would read reviews of
his new plays in newspapers, articles about his poetry in
the literary papers, and gossip about his love life and his
taste in clothes splashed across the glossy magazines. His
views about everything under the sun, from the government to
kitchen furniture, would probably appear regularly in the
colour supplements. His face would be familiar on television
talk shows, his voice well-known from radio broadcasts.
There would be so much recorded evidence about his life and
his opinions that it would not be hard to write about him.
Shakespeare, however, lived some four hundred years ago
in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, when there was no tele-
vision or radio, nor even any newspapers as we know them
today. Although he was respected as an important person in
his own lifetime, nobody ever thought of writing about him
until well after his death. And Shakespeare did apparently
not believe in keeping a diary either. So it is largely by
luck that the little evidence we have, such as the entry of
his birth in the parish register, has survived at all.
And yet, by looking carefully at contemporary pictures, by
reading contemporary accounts, it is possible to get a good
idea of how the boy whose birth is recorded in the Stratford
register of 1654 grew up into the man who wrote such famous
plays still known all over the world, as we type.

Imagery used in Othello and King Lear.

In Othello and King Lear Shakespeare uses a lot of
imagery. The main image in Othello is that of animals in
action, preying upon one another, mischievous, lascivious,
cruel or suffering, and through these, the general sense of
pain and unpleasantness is much increased and kept constant-
ly before us.



More than half the animal images used in the play
Othello are of Iago, and all those are contemptuous or
repellent: a plague of flies, a quarrelsome dog, the recur-
rent image of bird-snaring, leading asses by the nose, a
spider catching a fly, beating an offenceless dog, wild
cats, wolves, goats and monkeys.


To these, Othello adds his pictures of foul toads
breathing in a cistern, summer flies in the shambles, the
ill-boding raven over the infected house, a toad in a
dungeon, the monster
\'to hideous to be shown\', Othello Act III, Sc iii
line 107
bird-snaring again, aspics\' tongues, crocodiles\'
tears and his reiteration of

\'goats and monkeys\'. Othello act III, Sc iii
Act IV, Sc i
line 403
In addition, Lodovico very suitably calls Iago

\'that viper\', Othello Act III, Sc iii
line 265
and the green-eyed monster

\'begot upon itself, born on itself\',
Othello Act III,
Sc iv
line 161, 163

is described or referred to by Iago, Emilia and Desdemona.


It is interesting to compare the animal imagery in
Othello with that in King Lear. The plays have certain
similarities; they were written near together (Othello



probably in 1604, King Lear about 1605), they are the most
painful of the great tragedies, and they are both studies of
torture. But the torture in King Lear is on so vast and on
so inhuman a scale, the cruelty of child to parent in the
doubly repeated plot is so relentless and ferocious, that
the jealous and petty malignity of Iago shrinks beside it.


This difference in scale is expressed in the animal
imagery. In Othello we see a low type of life, insects and
reptiles, swarming and preying on each other, not out of
special ferocity, but just in accordance with their natural
instincts, mischievous and irresponsible wild cats, goats
and monkeys, or the harmless, innocent animal trapped. This
reflects and repeats the spectacle of the wanton torture of
one human being by another, which we witness in the tragedy,
the human spider and his fly; whereas as in King Lear our
imagination is filled with the accumulated pictures of
active ferocity, of tiger, wolf, wild boar, vulture, serpent
and sea-monster, all animals of a certain dignity and
grandeur, though seen here only when their desires

Are wolfish, bloody, starved and ravenous.
Merchant of Venice Act IV
Sc i
line 137
This represents the terrific scale of the suffering in King
Lear, which makes us feel, as we never do in Othello, that
the vileness of humanity is so great, so unchecked and
universal that if the gods do not intervene, the end of such
horrors must come and

Humanity must perforce prey on itself,
Like monsters