“O damned Iago!” –Othello (4.2.242)
Shakespeare, one of the most beloved authors in history, chose his words very carefully. It is no accident that the word “damn” is used by the characters in Othello frequently and always with the same connotation. “Damn” is used to reference hurting or killing someone, specifically by Iago and then Othello, the two evil characters in the play. “Damn” is Shakespeare’s word of choice to characterize people as evil. This word sticks out in intensity and profanity among the emotional, evil conversations and asides that the characters have as they “damn” each other throughout the play. Shakespeare even has a clever plot twist using this word as the play comes to an end where it almost resembles the Pandora’s Box story. Pandora’s Box is a story where all of the evils of the world are contained in one box or jar, and in the story are released, never to go back in, when the box is open. The world becomes polluted with this evil. The story of Pandora’s Box is comparable to Othello because the play ends with the word “damn” being used by multiple, random characters, no longer with the same significance!
The word “damn” is used by Iago repetitively in the first acts, when he is plotting against Othello and Cassio. Iago introduces Cassio in the opening scene of the play as “Michael Cassio, a Florentine, A fellow almost damned” (1.1.21). “Damn” in this context is to hurt, die, etc. The beginning storyline of Iago hunting Cassio is introduced early and uses “damn” to characterize Iago as the villain and this is the first time we see the connection between this word and evil characters’ actions. The use of “damn” immediately demonstrates how intentionally Shakespeare uses this word and how he wants to convey to the audience how Iago is the villain, even before the audience knows anything else about him or the story. Because the rest of the book challenges the original established characterization of villian and hero, this word becomes key to understanding the dynamic that Iago and Othello have; foil then mirroring. Of all the words that Shakespeare uses, this one is immediately present. This tell the audience that the choice was no coincidence and is a symbol of its own. This line is here to establish the connection between “damn” and evil characters that later continues. The word “damn”, as a tool to demonstrate evilness in characters, is repetitively used by Shakespeare.
Iago starts off as the main evil character and the evilness of the book is concentrated in him. He contrasts the prideful, good Othello in the beginning, as we see Iago’s evil side immediately. However, as the play goes on, Iago is not the only one with evil intentions, or intentions to “damn” someone. Othello goes through a transformation in the later acts of the book, when he thinks Desdemona is cuckolding him. Othello goes from being a positive leader in the community, as the leader of the military at Cyprus, to displaying just as much evilness as Iago after this transformation. Shakespeare uses the word “damn” to demonstrate this and characterize Othello this way. Since there is already have an established connection between a character being targeted and the word “evil”, it stands out. To make it stand out more, Shakespeare has Othello use the word three times to reference Desdemona, “Damn her, lewd minx! O, damn her, damn her!” (3.3.541). By repeating the word, Shakespeare emphasizes this new characterization. This line is much later in the play than Iago originally uses it, at a different part of his plan to hurt Othello. We see Iago’s progress at his plan by this new Othello, who has adopted evilness and “damn”. Othello even admits that he has changed emotionally, no longer the loving husband to Desdemona when he says, “Ay, let her rot and perish and be damned tonight, for she shall not live. No, my heart is turned to stone.” (4.1.202). This quote clearly shows how Othello has now been changed. Shakespeare makes this profession of transformation using “damn” to connect these characters and show how Iago as a constant evil character now mirrors, instead of foils, Othello. He makes it clear that he wants to “damn” her, in the same way Iago said of he and Cassio in the the beginning. It is also worth noting that after Othello starts using this word, Iago stops. This shows how the evil of the play is first within Iago, and then is opened up like Pandora’s Box.
“Damn” is one of the most obvious ways Shakespeare choses to characterize and demonstrate change in his characters lines. There are other negative words that may demonstrate similar plot trends, like “kill”, “evil”, “hate” or even “moor”. However, it seems that there was a purposeful use of the word “damn” in Othello. It even seems to tell a similar story to Pandora’s box. Instead of being used in a very specific way by a few characters, Shakespeare ditches, or kills, this whole literary device. This mirrors the way the plot is changed when Othello, Emilia, Roderigo, and Desdemona are all dead in the end. Othello is not only a central character who goes through a transformation, but a play about evil and damnation.