Othello is black. Desdemona is white. Imagery, needless to say, is very important in Othello. The audience first sees Othello, not in the flesh, but in the imagination. We are presented with a powerful image created by Iago: of a creature untamed an uncivilised, driven only by base instinct. The man that appears on stage in the second scene is no such creature. His speech to the senate paints a very different picture. It is not one of your average Venetian. It is exotic and strange but it is presented with eloquence and a noble authority that outstrips the civilised company that is present. At the end, Othello reverts to the rhetoric that he used in front of the senate. Again, the imagery is most powerful. He talks of pearls, of Arabian trees. The same sort imagery that he used to woo Desdemona, he uses to conclude the tragedy.
Iagos use of imagery is the basis for his power. At the outset, he deceives the audience with the image he paints of Othello. He uses simple images, of fires in populous cities, of gardens and gardeners, for the simple-minded Roderigo. His deception of Othello needs to be very much more subtle. Here too, though, his tool is imagery. The proof that he presents is imaginary. Othellos passion is aroused by the images that Iagos words conjure up of Cassio and Desdemona lying together. The handkerchief becomes a symbol for this imaginary infidelity. Othello sees Desdemona, white-skinned and beautiful, the very image of purity and is torn apart by the images that have poisoned his mind.
Her name, that was as fresh
As Dians visage, is now begrimed and black
As mine own face.(3.3.389-391)
The visual imagery serves to confuse the identities of the characters. Who or what is Othello? Iago? Desdemona? This question is an important one. The play revolves around mistaken identity. It is important to understand both real and mistaken identities in order to understand the play.
Were I the moor, I would not be Iago
I am not what I am.
What are you?
What profane wretch art thou
Thou art a villain.
You are a senator(1.1.56ff)
Tis in ourselves that we are thus, or
I have lost the immortal part of
myself - and what remains is bestial(2.3.259-260)
And whats he then that says I play the villain?(2.3.331)
Is this the noble Moor whom our full senate