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Transcript of Othello: Allusions
with two faces
Quote: "By Janus, I think no."
The term Janus, because he is believed to be a two-faced god, is often used to describe someone who is deceitful. Ironically, the allusion is a quote from Iago who is a deceitful and two-faced character. When Othello steps away in this scene, Iago shows his "other" face of Janus and begins his evil scheming once again. He then switches back to his deceitful original face when Othello returns.
Goddess of Chastity
Quote: "I'll have some proof! [Her] name, that was as fresh as Dian's visage, is now begrimed and black as mine own face."
Diana is the Roman goddess of chastity and virgin childbirth. Othello is revealing that he previously thought Desdemona to be honest and chaste (like Diana). Othello calling himself "begrimed and black" suggests that he is having doubts about himself, and that he doesn't think he is as pure as he thought Desdemona to be.
(Roman god of love)
Quote: "No, when light-winged toys of feather Cupid seel with wanton dullness..."
Shakespeare is alluding to Cupid because Othello is speaking of how his love for Desdemona will not get in the way of his duty to the military. In Roman mythology, Cupid is the god of love. Those who follow the Roman beliefs would believe that Cupid is the reason for their love so Cupid and love would be used interchangeably.
Quote: "I am about it, but indeed my invention comes from my pate as birdlime does from frieze: it plucks out brains and all. But my muse labors, and thus she is delivered."
The Muses were deities believed to inspire poets to write. Shakespeare alludes to the muses because it helps to develop Iago's character. It helps to show how he is being sarcastic to Desdemona about being inspired to write poetry when she asks what he would say about her.
(John the Baptist)
Quote: "The food that to him now is as luscious as locusts shall be to him shortly as bitter as coloquintida."
Allusion to "locusts and wild honey" that fed John the Baptist when he lived in the wild (Matthew 3.4). In the book of Matthew, locusts are also the pods of carob trees because they look like the insect. This is true for Iago as well. In the Bible, locusts are food that is thought to be provided freely by God.
The Burning Bear
Quote: "Seems to cast water on the burning Bear and quench the guards of th' ever-fixed pole."
The constellation Ursa Minor (the little Bear) contains two stars which are the guards of the polestar. The Turkish fleet, because of a big storm, has been lost at sea on its way to Cyprus. The waves are so large from the storm that they are washing the burning Bear. This is an allusion because the character speaking is saying the waves are so large that they are washing even Ursa Minor.
Cupid (Roman god of love)
Locusts and John the Baptist
(The burning Bear)
Roman god Janus
Quote: "You, mistress, that have the office opposite to Saint Peter and keep the gate of hell!"
Shakespeare is alluding to hell here with "the office opposite to Saint Peter." Saint Peter is admired greatly in heaven, therefore, the opposite of where he is is hell. The reason for this allusion is to show that where Othello believes Desdemona deserves to go is a place entirely opposite of where a pure and holy Saint resides.
Quote: "But once put out thy light, thou cunning’st pattern of excelling nature, I know not where is that Promethean heat that can thy light relume."
Promethean heat in Greek mythology is the fire with which Prometheus gave his clay figures life (which resulted in humans). Prometheus is a titan who stole the god Zeus' life-animating "fire". Othello is referring to this life-giving fire because he knows that once he kills Desdemona, he has no way to bring her back like he could if he had the Promethean fire.
Prometheus (stealing Zeus' fire)
A Spartan Dog
Quote: "O Spartan dog, more fell than anguish, hunger, or the sea, look on the tragic loading of this bed."
A "spartan dog" is a dog that has been raised and trained to kill. Iago has caused the deaths of multiple people this night, and Lodovico is referring to this by calling him by such a name. Also, the Spartans were people who very often spoke shortly and precisely. Iago up until this passage spoken by Lodovico has been speaking in very short and curt sentences, as the Spartans would.
(the King of Gods in Roman Mythology)
Quote: "He hath not yet made wanton the night with her, and she is sport for Jove."
Jove, in Romany mythology, is the god of thunder and lighting. He is the Roman equivalent to the Greek god Zeus. Shakespeare is using this description to show how Othello is often seen as a godly figure. Cassio, for example, greatly respects and looks up to Othello. Cassio's obedience and love for Othello makes Othello resemble a holy figure. This is shown when Cassio is waiting for Othello to get to Cyprus because he entirely believes that Othello will make everything better when he arrives.
Roman god Jove