Hell and Devil Motifby Diana Singh
The mention of hell and the devil in William Shakespeare’s Othello emphasizes the evil found in the characters and the sins they are committing to show the audience that these traits are unfavorable to possess and indicate weak character.



The character of Iago is most associated the with the hell and devil motif in the play. He is considered the villain of the play because of his selfish and manipulative character. Iago can make his targets believe that he is helping them when in reality he is helping himself. For instance, Iago’s advice to Cassio involves using Desdemona to earn the lieutenant’s position back. However, Iago will use the increased interactions between Cassio and Desdemona to convince Othello of an affair between the two. “Divinity of hell! / When devils will the blackest sins put on, / They do suggest at first with heavenly shows, / As I do now” Act II. 3 (370-373). The seemingly harmless advice given by Iago is the catalyst that eventually contributes to the downfall of Othello. Furthermore, the words “hell,” “devil,” and “sin” spoken from the character himself strengthen Iago’s association with being a sinister person. Shakespeare is emphasizing Iago’s role as the villain in this method to demonstrate to the audience that his actions are not moral. He wants the audience to realize that living a life filled with deceit and sin is not respectable.

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After Iago provides evidence of an affair between Cassio and Desdemona, Othello is overcome with anger and a need for revenge. Othello says, “…All my fond love thus do I blow to heaven. / …Arise, black vengeance, from the hollow hell!” Act III. 3 (505 – 507). Othello is essentially asking for help from the devil to succeed in avenging his wife. Shakespeare is stressing the negativity of Othello and his actions with the use of the hell and devil motif. Moreover, the words “devil” and “hell” have an unfavorable connotation. Thus, Shakespeare suggests that Othello is not of good character because he is easily manipulated and has a willingness to convert to the dark side after hearing faulty evidence from Iago. Additionally, Othello is naïve and has a tendency to trust others too much, which is also negative characteristic in Shakespeare’s viewpoint. He wants his audience to avoid possessing these characteristics as well.

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Othello commits a sin by murdering his wife. Shortly after killing her, Emilia discovers that Desdemona is dead. In response Othello says, “She’s like a liar gone to burning hell! / ‘Twas I that killed her” Act V. 2 (159 – 160). Othello admits to killing her and does not have any regret. He calls her a “liar” who deserves to go to “hell.” In reality, Othello is the one who deserves to go to hell because of the evil deeds he has done. He has doubted his angelic, loyal wife and murdered her as well. Shakespeare is highlighting Othello’s horrendous crime with the hell and devil motif to show the audience that he has converted to the dark side. Furthermore, he is emphasizing that Othello is not worthy of reverence and people similar to Othello in real life are not either.

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In conclusion, Shakespeare wants the audience to be able to discern certain characters, their characteristics, and their actions as dishonorable as indicated by the character’s association with hell and the devil.