- Published: November 25, 2021
- Updated: November 25, 2021
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“ Othello” is one of Shakespeare’s most intense plays and reflects the Aristotelian ideas of the perfect tragedy. According to Aristotle, “ A tragedy is the imitation of an action that is serious,” (From Poetics, p. 1). In addition, the tragedy has a “ magnitude [that is] complete in itself; in appropriate and pleasurable language [and] in a dramatic rather than narrative form; with incidents arousing pity and fear,” (From Poetics, p. 1). In other words, an outstanding tragedy looks at a single issue that is very important in the play and allows the reader to feel pity and fear for the hero as he heads towards a destructive ending. Shakespeare uses his protagonist, Othello, to create the perfect tragedy as Othello moves from a happy and successful soldier with a good marriage, to a man deeply consumed by rage and jealousy. In the end, Othello commits murder and reinforces Kelly Mays idea of the tragic plot as one that “ trace[s] a downward movement [that] center[s] on a character’s fall from fortune into misfortune and isolation,” (Mays, p. 89). Clearly, “ Othello” is the ideal tragedy that depicts how a low self-esteem intensifies with little or no outside influences, and serves as one of the greatest tragedies of all times.
Othello is the original black protagonist in much of Western literature. Today, he serves as one of the most famous of all black protagonists. The play, “ Othello” depicts Othello’s destruction. At the start of the play, the readers see Othello as a kind-hearted nobleman. There is great respect for Othello although he is black. However, the events in the play lead to Othello becoming a violent and insanely jealous individual who allows his inner emotions to take control. As a black man in Venice, Othello travels the world. His experience in slavery and his escape leaves him vulnerable to the onslaught of Iago’s actions. Nonetheless, he is a Christian soldier with a vast experience. It is his formative years that help to shape his character and leaves him susceptible to the tragic flaws that he suffers.
Film director, James Stone, notes “ Othello questions his racial fitness only when preyed upon directly by Iago in dialogue,” (par. 1). The temptation scene shows that Othello allows Iago to imply that he makes “ a monster” (“ Othello,” III, iii, line 307” of him as Iago plays on Othello’s emotions. The moral intention of the protagonist, Othello, is essential to the development of the plot. The readers are clear as to his moral purpose as he is consistently good and honest in throughout the play, but falls victim to the evil and devious plans of the antagonist, Iago. In fact, literary analyst Steve Criniti notes that Shakespeare’s “ The Tragedy of Othello,” “ is a complex and powerful one,” (Criniti, p. 1) because of “ Shakespeare’s ingenious rendering of human evil and jealousy,” (Criniti, p. 1). Shakespeare presents the Othello as the victim of Iago’s dark jealousy. The human characteristics of hatred and love make up two of the greatest themes in the literary arena. Although both of these characteristics are different in the play, they are similar in many respects. Iago’s obvious hatred for the protagonist, Othello, serves as the destructive force in the lives of Othello and Desdemonia.
Paul Skrebels points out that Shakespeare “ by no means exhausts the moral universe and neither does he take the drama in every direction it might go, “(par. 5), instead he creates the typical tragic hero who falls because of human flaws. The play takes place in Venice at the time when the Turks invaded Cyprus. Shakespeare’s protagonist is a recently married Moorish general who is susceptible and gullible because of his interracial marriage at a time when racial prejudice caused much confusion. Othello fails to promote Iago to the position of lieutenant, and instead promotes a young, attractive Cassio. As a result, the readers witness the negative consequences of Othello’s good intentions. Through Othello, Shakespeare teaches the moral lesson that irrespective of what an individual does; there are others who will respond negatively to their actions.
Arguably, Shakespeare employs the use of a tragic and serious tone throughout the play to add to the sympathy that he illicit from the readers. Because there is no direct point of view in the play, Shakespeare allows the reader to use his imagination to understand the protagonist with the actions and words of the characters in the play. However, as Othello is the protagonist, the playwright expands on his explanation of Othello’s actions as Shakespeare expects the readers to recognize that while Othello is a fearless and brave warrior, he can be broken. While critics note that Othello is “ a brave, honorable soldier with a good record, Othello loved Desdemona more than anything. Highly passionate, he wasn’t able to control his jealousy in the face of Iago’s lies,” (The Sixty Seconds Times, par. 4), his personal life interferes with his sound judgment. One can say that his tragic flaw is that of being a jealous person and this jealousy triumphs over his good sense of judgment. In fact, his reactions to Iago’s devious designs show the devastating effect that jealousy has on people.
Conversely, there are numerous conflicts in the play and the inner conflict in the protagonist, Othello becomes apparent when Othello questions Desdemona’s faithfulness in their marriages. One sees that Othello’s love for his wife runs deep, but the sadistic manipulations of Iago leads Othello to his downfall. Metzger notes “ Iago was evil because he enjoyed being evil,” (Metzger, p. 1) and this evil contrast directly with Othello’s “ good” character because Othello enjoyed being good. One could say that the character of Othello possesses traits that make him immature and to an extent, unsophisticated when one looks at the other characters. These limitations to his characteristics help to channel Othello along the path of self-destruction.
Iago uses him to heighten his need for revenge as Iago leads Othello to believe that he is honest and trustworthy. The reader realizes that Iago is far from good. One is left to question Othello’s blind devotion to Iago. Is it that Shakespeare wants the readers to recognize that even the best of humans fall victims to the devious nature of mankind? If this is the situation, then Shakespeare adds one more credit to his brilliant career as a playwright as the Iago’s actions are common in the modern day society. In fact, the reader can understand Othello’s misconception even though Iago tells Roderigo, “ O, sir, content you./ I follow him to serve my turn upon him,” (“ Othello,” I, i lines 42-45). Clearly, Iago shows how easy it is to manipulate Othello’s because of hero’s tragic flaw of trusting of others readily.
Unlike Shakespeare’s other tragic male protagonists, Shakespeare does not allow Othello to use soliloquies early in the play to express his thoughts on the events that surrounds his life. Shakespeare presents Othello as a hero who is open and free and who trusts that all men are honest and sincere. It is this flaw that Iago alludes to in his soliloquies as he notes that Othello has an unvarying, affectionate, and righteous nature. The readers see that Othello is forgiving by nature. It is obvious that Iago sees this aspect of Othello and plays on this detail. The Renaissance tragedy relied on the internal conflict in the protagonist’s to end in mistakes that leads to revenge, but Othello does not display this internal conflict. Consequently, Shakespeare makes sure that Iago’s main goal is to generate the internal conflict in Othello. The reader sees this vividly towards the end of the play when Iago is captured. He points out that he will not speak again. The use of his silence here, suggests Shakespeare need to develop catharsis even though Iago normally directs the through his soliloquy.
Shakespeare deliberately presents Othello’s internal conflict later on in the play as he questions Desdemona’s infidelity through a late insertion of his first soliloquy. Without Iago as the antagonist, one cannot truly understand Othello’s role as the protagonist. One cannot begin to analyze Othello’s demise unless one analyzes the role Iago plays in the development of the tragic flaws in Othello. Iago’s deception leads him to take advantage of Othello at every turn of the plot. Othello is a strong self-righteous character that controls his every movement in the play, including the death of his wife. His control spans to his prowess as an outstanding warrior.
Interestingly, Othello’s power becomes clear in his encounter with Brabantino in Act I. Brabantio comes to kill Othello, but immediately Othello tells him ” Hold your hands, both of you of my inclining and the rest. Were it my cue to fight, I should have known it without a prompter,” (“ Othello,” I, ii, lines 83-85). However, Metzger notes that “ the theme of the outsider was central to each character’s actions,” and leads to Iago telling Brabantino that Othello and Desdemonia had eloped. This reference to racial prejudice suggests that “ Othello may be a heroic figure but he has no part in the Venetian power establishment,” (Metzger, p. 1), as Brabantino becomes upset as a result of Iago’s insinuations.
Nevertheless, Shakespeare shows that love can destroy even the strongest of men. In spite of the dangers Othello faces in war, he cannot deal with his jealous nature and the human flaw of corruption. One can say that Othello’s trusting personality allows him to be open an honest with the individuals he encounters. He trusts Iago as he fights alongside him, and cannot see that Iago is pure evil. Of course, this is not the most ideal act as it is his wholehearted trust in Iago that leads to his not seeing the true evil in Iago. Othello tells the Duke, ” So please your grace, my ancient;/A man he is of honesty and trust./To his conveyance I assign my wife,/ With what else needful your good grace shall think,/ To be sent after me” (“ Othello,” I, iii, lines 284-8). Therefore, when Iago brings the news of Desdemona’s infidelity, he believes the news without question.
Othello’s soliloquy creates the poignant tone for the rest of the play as the readers sees different emotions surfacing as he speaks. The passionate sadness Othello shows indicates that he loves Desdemona deeply, but he now hates her because of Iago’s manipulations. His pride surfaces as he sees himself as a “ great one.” Nonetheless, this fire dies out as he resigns himself to the evil that Iago brings to his mind. In addition, the soliloquy gives the reader an insight into the alterations from Othello’s customary, peaceful, composed, and honest self into a self-hating, resentful, heartbreaking, fuming, and unpleasant man who resorts to murder to ease his heartbreak. The reader clearly sees the impact of Iago’s actions on the protagonist and eventually destruction of Othello.
This soliloquy serves as the ending of the corruption in the play as Iago skillfully plants the ideas of jealousy in Othello’s mind. Shakespeare shows Othello’s insecurity, and this insecurity acts as the foundation of the tragic flaw that weakens his determination not to doubt Desdemona’s faithfulness to their marriage. One sees that Othello is a strong warrior with a low self-esteem as he believes that he is unappealing, poorly spoken, and older. This false impression of himself leads him to readily accept that his young, attractive wife is unfaithful. The reader sees that Othello’s view of himself influences his perception of Desdemona’s love. However, Shakespeare presents the reader with an educated soliloquy that shows that Othello is anything but uneducated.
Everyone makes decisions that cause harm or death to others, but this serves as a part of the evil that exists in the world. In fact, to every action, there is a reaction. Iago’s actions causes Othello’s react with murder. Othello allows Iago to feed him false information emphasizes his gullibility. He does not trust Desdemonia enough to believe in her and his vows. Although the readers sympathize with Othello actions, he bears the responsibility for his actions against Desdemona as he commits the murderous act. Nonetheless, the reasons and events that lead to the act stems from Iago’s manipulations. Iago’s actions allow the common human qualities to surface, and add to the events that lead to murder. Clearly, Othello’s virtues and faults make him human. However, Desdemona’s and Othello’s demise could only surface through Iago, but ultimately Othello makes his through free will.
In concluding, Othello is jealous, and this jealously creates in Othello a self-centered emotion as he spends much of the play obsessing over how Desdemona hurts him. He makes every effort to take revenge. One could say that Othello becomes obsessed by his jealousy as he reflects on her cheating. In fact, Othello compares his personal life with his professional life. He cannot separate his lives and this becomes a serious problem as it eventually destroys his life. He convinces himself and the Senate that his marriage would not influence his career, but Iago changes this view as his first reaction to Desdemona’s infidelity is to announce, ” Farewell the pluméd troops and the big warsOthello’s occupation’s gone,” (“ Othello,” III. iii. line 49). Conversely, Othello’s perfectionism results from the fact that he is a black outsider in white Venetian world. Othello rise to his this powerful position stems from an incredible self-discipline that he loses to his tragic flaw as the perfect tragic hero.
Criniti, Steve, (2004, January 1) ” Othello: A Hawk among Birds” Literature/Film Quarterly,
Vol. 32, No. 2 , January 1, 2004. Viewed at
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Mays, Kelly J. (2012) “ The Norton Introduction to Literature – Shorter Eleventh Edition” W. W.
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Metzger, Sheri. ” Othello: Presented by the Adobe Theatre and the American Shakespeare
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