Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
All's (Un)fair in Love and War
Every major character in the play packs up and heads for Cyprus, where we've been promised a bloody battle. (They seem pretty pumped at the prospect.) And then, due to inclement weather, there is no war. We, the innocent and unknowing reader, accept this with a little confusion and move right into the sordid plot.
We might forget about the whole war thing until Othello's crucial monologue in Act 3, Scene 3, in which he describes the components of the battlefield—horses, troops, trumpets, banners, cannons—and how they are all lost to him now that he knows Desdemona is unfaithful:
I had been happy, if the general camp,
Pioners and all, had tasted her sweet body,
So I had nothing known. O, now, for ever
Farewell the tranquil mind! Farewell content!
Farewell the plumed troop, and the big wars
That make ambition virtue! O, farewell!
Farewell the neighing steed and the shrill trump,
The spirit-stirring drum, th' ear-piercing fife,
The royal banner, and all quality,
Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war!
And O you mortal engines, whose rude throats
The immortal Jove's dead clamors counterfeit,
Farewell! Othello's occupation's gone! (3.3.397-409)
Here, these implements of war become symbols of Othello's sexuality. Think about it—what's more historically manly than a big collection of (often phallic) warlike objects? Desdemona has deflated him; he is emasculated by her betrayal.
So what's the conclusion? We got our war in Cyprus, after all; it's just that the battlefield turned out to be in the minds of the characters, and not on the literal battlefield. If all is fair in love and in war, then it's a pretty freaking bloody battle that's going on in Othello's psyche.