Whilst re-reading Othello, I came across the following quote from Iago. I understand that there is metaphor within the quote, however, can anyone identify any more interesting techniques within the following, possibly relating to a belief of self-creation from Iago?

"Our bodies are our gardens, to the which our wills are gardeners: so that if we will plant nettles, or sow lettuce, set hyssop and weed up thyme, supply it with one gender of herbs, or distract it with many, either to have it sterile with idleness, or manured with industry, why, the power and corrigible authority of this lies in our wills."


2 Answers 2


Normally this would be described as an extended metaphor because it elaborates on the similarities.

It also contains parallelism in the description of possibilities, and antithesis, in that some paired possibilities are of opposites.


This passage in Othello also includes garden imagery, gustatory imagery, medicinal imagery, and olfactory imagery, as well as double entendre and alliteration.

Nettles = treat painful muscles and joints, eczema, arthritis, gout, and anemia

Lettuce = common vegetable a source of vitamin K, which helps strengthen bones

hyssop. = aromatic herb used in food and curative for digestive and intestinal problems, infection of the airways, poor circulation, skin problems, and other conditions,

thyme = pungent in taste used to flavor foods and are also used as medicine

“wills” = double entendre is sexually loaded denoting (in the time period) sexual desire

manure = gardening imagery perhaps; also olfactory imagery

alliteration = which. . .wills. . .weed. . .with. . .etc.

It is unclear what you mean by “belief of self-creation from Iago?” But if you are asking how this passage advances Iago’s character, it might be profitable to include the line that is omitted from this quote “Virtue! a fig! ’tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus” (1.3). This line, besides adding to the catalogue of gustatory imagery that follows, contains the derogatory statement “Virtue! A fig! (typically said with a derogatory hand gesture of the thumb between first and third fingers) denoting the notion of virtue as nonsense. This rejection of virtue continues to develop Iago’s evil nature as he told us previously “I am not what I am” (Act 1.1.65). Shakespeare scholars recognize this statement as an allusion to the name of God given to Moses: “I am what I am” (or I am that I am) (see Exodus 3:14, KJV). In essence, this statement by Iago renders him antithetical to God (i.e., a villain, a devil). We might expect a devil or a villain to say “Virtue! A fig.”


Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen, Othello, The RSC Shakespeare, 2009, pg. 26.

Harold Bloom, Othello, Modern Critical Interpretations, Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.

Jane Coles, Othello, Cambridge School Shakespeare, 2007, pg. 40.

Russ McDonald, Othello, The Pelican Shakespeare, 2001, pg. 28

National Library of Medicine https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6100552/

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.