Othello as a Tragic Hero
Othello is character created by Shakespeare that “fulfils the conditions and requirements of a tragic hero (Bhattacharyya 123). ” This is for the reason that Othello’s character exhibits what Aristotle refers to as the tragic flaw that ultimately caused his downfall. Just like any other classic tragic hero, he has innate flaws despite being a seemingly virtuous character in the eyes of his fellows.
Somehow, despite the perfection that the character displays, he possesses a weakness that is so inevitable that eventually consumes him and causes evil to others and the character himself.
In Shakespeare’s plays, “the strengths that raise the characters to the noblest heights become the points of vulnerability that lower them to the most profound depths (Cahn 325). ” Background of Othello Othello is a tragedy that is written by Shakespeare right after Hamlet. While there are palpable similarities that are noticed of the two plays such as resemblances in style, diction, and versification, Othello can stand on its own as one of the best tragic plays that Shakespeare has been known for despite the fact that Hamlet remains the most famous.
The heroes of the play are so unlike but still exhibit characteristics that would qualify them into Aristotle’s definition of the tragic hero. The general character of a man that is “exceptionally noble and trustful” but has to “endure the shock of disillusionment” is employed by Shakespeare first in Hamlet and then to Othello. This is what makes these dramas along with King Lear and Timon regrouped together as having distinctions to the rest of the tragedies of Shakespeare.
However, despite these similarities, Othello is the first tragic hero created by Shakespeare that is not only an exceptional man but also a huge man living a small world that made him tower over his fellows. More than this, the peculiarity of Othello is that it leaves the most painful and the most terrible impression of all the plays of Shakespeare (Bradley 175-176. ) It is a story of death and of betrayal that originally sprung from jealousy and false beliefs. Othello is a Moor that has secretly married Desdemona, the daughter of Senator Brabantio.
He is described as a benevolent and noble military man while her wife is one the most pure and innocent characters in Shakespeare’s plays. Moreover, Othello is also known to be having a strong belief in religion and a man of good judgment. However, despite these positive attributes imbued upon him by Shakespeare, he also created a character that will surely uncover the tragic flaw that is within Othello. Iago has always displayed tendencies of being a villain but Othello remained to be trustful of him. His naiveté and innocence triggered Iago to plot evil plans against him.
Upon the evil plans of Iago, he was persuaded to kill his own wife for the belief that she was being disloyal to their marriage. These evil plans of Iago commenced when he got jealous of Michael Cassio’s appointment as a Lieutenant instead of himself. Because Othello was the one who appointed him, he started feeling a deep grudge against him. He then plotted on making Othello’s life miserable with regards his marriage and his status as a Moor. He succeeded in making Othello believed that Desdemona is having intimate relationship with Cassio.
Iago took advantage of Othello’s trusting nature for him to accomplish his plans. Othello mercilessly killed his wife in the bedchamber despite her pleadings and claims of innocence and purity. He has been blinded by jealousy and false belief that Iago has implanted in his mind. In the end, he has learned that his actions were nothing but surges of anger, jealousy, impulsiveness, and false judgment. In the end, he was convinced of his wife’s innocence through the testimonials of Emilia, Lodovico, and Roderigo. He then admitted his sins and decided to take away his life.
Before he killed himself, he beseeched the remaining people to listen to him speak. His last speech reminisces his heroism in the state. He also desires to be remembered as someone who loves not wisely but someone who loves too well (Bhattacharyya 31). Aristotle’s Tragic Hero and Tragic Flaw in Othello Poetics by Aristotle is the best source with regards the structure, purpose, and effect of the Greek tragedy. In the words of Aristotle, a tragic hero is: [O]ne should not show worthy men passing from good fortune from good fortune to bad…. Nor again wicked people [mochtherous] passing from bad fortune to good ….
Nor again the passing of a thoroughly bad man [poneron] from good fortune to bad fortune …. There remains then the mean between these [ho metaxy]. This is the sort of man who is not pre-eminently virtuous and just [ho mete arête diapheron kasi dikaiosyne], and yet it is through no badness or villainy of his own that he falls into the misfortune, but rather through some flaw in him (qtd in Goodkin 39). According to him, a tragic hero is primarily a character of noble stature and greatness. This means that the character occupies a high position in the society he is living in.
Moreover, he should also exhibit nobility and virtue (Defining Tragedy). In the case of Othello, his character is that of a high ranking official in the military. Apart from this, he is also highly respected by the people of the state. He has gone to many wars and came back victorious. He is an epitome of a benevolent soldier that deserved his position as a Moor in the Venetian State. Aside from being blessed with a noble stature in the society, he is also happily married to Desdemona, the daughter of the Senator which has also an equal high standing in the society.
Second, though a tragic hero is portrayed as great, he can never be perfect. Just like any other living being, he has his own flaws despite having an elevated position in the society that mere mortals can never identify (Defining Tragedy). In the case of Othello, his naivety and his trusting nature are recognized to be his flaws that bring about the tragic flaw in his character that ultimately lead to his downfall. These particular characteristics that Othello possesses were the ones taken advantage by Iago to make his plans prosper. Iago has always been consistently portrayed as a villain.
As a matter of fact, there are several instances that would hint Othello of his evil intents and backstabbing such as in the case where he conspired with Roderigo in his pursuit for the love of Desdemona. Even when he displayed character of dishonesty, Othello was too innocent and naïve to distrust everything that he says, recommends, or suggests. Until it came to a point that he was too blinded to think and decide for himself and was already persuaded by Iago’s evil intentions. Furthermore, because of his inability to discern the truth from fallacy, he murdered his wife without having any appropriate reason to do it.
Because of him being overtly consumed by jealousy and false belief that his wife cheated on him, he committed the worse sin he ever had. This murder furthermore leads to his suicide, his final downfall. Third, the tragic hero’s downfall is attributed to his own actions and intentions. It can never be ascribed to accident, fate, or in any other external reasons. Furthermore, the tragedy that will happen to the character will be triggered by his own personal error, whether it is in judgment, in action, or in his inaction. This is now what Aristotle calls the tragic flaw which is the very reason of his fall (Defining Tragedy).
According to Cahn, a tragic flaw is a “fatal weakness or error in judgment that propels a character to a tragic end (325). ” In the case of Othello, his fatal weakness causes his error in judgment. We will notice that these would form a series of events that will lead to the character’s downfall. At the onset, his naivety and innocence as discussed in the earlier paragraph made him so gullible. This gullibility and vulnerability then made it easy for Iago to deceive him of believing that Desdemona has adulterous relationship with Cassio. This deception is followed by jealousy that blinded Othello.
He then was too consumed with jealousy that he was unable to neither investigate nor evaluate the facts of the events. Once he had decided to revenge his honor and his bruised ego, he then committed a crime that will also cause him his life. The death of Desdemona woke his senses. With the realization that he has committed such a fatal sin, his regret once again consumed him that lead to him taking his life Fourth, the hero’s fall would not be “wholly deserved. ” Somehow, the punishment that the character has is excessive of what should he have as a consequence of his tragic flaw (Defining Tragedy).
In the case of Othello, the death of Desdemona is more than a punishment for his gullibility and naivety. More so, his death is an excessive penalty for his fatal weakness. Fifth, the fall leaves the tragic hero some awareness and self-knowledge (Defining Tragedy). In the case of Othello, the death of Desdemona not only made him regret but also to get back to his senses. He decided to find out the truth by extracting testimonials from Imilia and Lodovico. Most importantly, he recognized the innocence of Desdemona.
He died knowing that up to her death she remained faithful to him. Lastly, while the tragedy would arouse pity, fear, and other unhealthy emotions, it does not leave its audience depressed. Especially in a Shakespearean tragedy, the audience wouldn’t feel that the hero is a “poor mean creature. ” Even when the character leads a tragic and wretched end such as death, he still remains to be hero to the eyes of the audience. This is for the reason that the phase that he underwent is a fact that is pardonable for a hero to commit. His greatness remains even with his downfall.