Shakespeare uses many types of figurative language tools such as metaphor, simile, and
personification to paint pictures with his words. Recognizing when his characters are speaking
figuratively helps to understand what they are saying. For example, Othello’s soliloquy before he murders Desdemona (5.2.1–22) is overflowing with figurative language:
It is the cause, it is the cause, my soul,—
Let me not name it to you, you chaste stars!— (personification)
It is the cause. Yet I’ll not shed her blood;
Nor scar that whiter skin of hers than snow, (imagery)
And smooth as monumental alabaster. (simile)
Yet she must die, else she’ll betray more men.
Put out the light, and then put out the light: (juxtaposition)
If I quench thee, thou flaming minister, (personification)
I can again thy former light restore,
Should I repent me; but once put out thy light,
Thou cunning’st pattern of excelling nature,
I know not where is that Promethean heat (allusion)
That can thy light relume. When I have pluck’d the rose, (imagery/metaphor)
I cannot give it vital growth again.
It must needs wither: I’ll smell it on the tree.
Ah balmy breath, that dost almost persuade (alliteration)
Justice to break her sword! One more, one more. (personification)
Be thus when thou art dead, and I will kill thee,
And love thee after. One more, and this the last: (repetition)
So sweet was ne’er so fatal. I must weep,
But they are cruel tears: this sorrow’s heavenly; (contrast)
It strikes where it doth love. She wakes.
Of course, the text of the play provides many other examples of figurative language, such as the following:
Dangerous conceits are, in their natures, poisons,
Which at the first are scarce found to distaste,
But, with a little act upon the blood,
Burn like the mines of sulphur.
— Iago (3.3.326–29)
They [men] are all but stomachs, and we all but food:
They eat us hungerly, and when they are full,
They belch us.
— Emilia (3.4.104–06)
I see sir, you are eaten up with passion.
— Iago (3.3.391)
I think the sun where he was born
Drew all such humours from him.
— Desdemona (3.4.30–31)
Yield up, O love, thy crown and hearted throne to tyrannous hate!
— Othello 3.3.448–49
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.--Now, by yond marble heaven,
In the due reverence of a sacred vow
I here in engage my words.
— Othello 3.3.453–62
Othello: She was false as water.
Emilia: Thou are rash as fire,
To say that she was false: O she was heavenly true.