Essay, Research Paper: Othello And Aristotelian Poetics

Shakespeare: Othello

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Tragedies frequently focus on a tragic hero that has a flaw that ultimately
leads to his downfall. That flaw is commonly referred to as a tragic flaw that
is inborn to the person and can reflect his background. In Aristotle's Poetics,
he discusses the theory of tragedy and what criteria is essential in an ideal
tragedy. According to Aristotle, the tragic flaw is the most important part of
the hero and the events that occur in the work is a reflection of that flaw. A
tragic flaw is essential in a true tragedy. In William Shakespeare's Othello,
Othello is a prime example of an Aristotelian tragic hero. His gullibility and
jealousy are the main reason of his downfall. Othello deals with love lost
because of gullibility and jealousy. Aristotle's theory of tragedy, found in the
Poetics, deals with the characteristics of plays that make them a true tragedy.
Those characteristics are essential in giving a play its true definition.
According to Aristotle, the life and soul of tragedy is plot. Incidents in the
plot have the best effect if they occur unexpectedly, and in consequence of one
another. A great tragedy grips the audience with the plot. Aristotle also states
that the sense of the inevitable must be present in tragedy. The tragic hero is
also another important factor in an Aristotelian tragedy. The central character
must be noble and have a higher stature than most men. The tragic hero must also
have better qualities than secondary characters but must also exhibit flaws. The
most important part of an Aristotelian tragic hero is the tragic flaw. The flaw
is inborn to the person. He must have that flaw throughout his life and it will
play the primary role in his downfall. The flaw can also reflect the tragic
hero's background. Another part of the central character is that he is destroyed
by himself, not by others, bad luck, or depravity. These are the criteria
necessary to be classified as a ideal tragedy. Othello meets the criteria to be
called an Aristotelian tragedy. The main character of Othello is a classical
example of a tragic hero. His basic elements matches him up to a true hero as
defined by Aristotle. Othello was a soldier all his life. Due to his Moorish
descent, he experienced many things that a normal Venetian didn't experience.
His nobility and rank of a general made him of a higher stature than anyone
else. His nobility and background made him a greatly respected person. That
nobility also what attracted Desdemona, his wife. Othello also exhibited great
leadership qualities that he earned in the field of battle and by being a leader
in Venice. Othello's background also was of a unsophisticated one. He came from
a land of bartering and barbarians. His background affected his attitude.
Othello was a person that was innocent and base in nature. He was influenced by
the way his life was going on. Othello's statement, "Perdition catch my
soul but I do love thee. And when I love thee not, chaos is come
again."(act 3, sc. 3, line 100), showed that he felt his life was only in
order if he is loved. His innocence and lack of sophistication is revealed in
this statement. The people around him also knew of Othello's attitude. Iago was
very quick to see this. In his first soliloquy, Iago said "the moor is of a
free and open nature that thinks men honest that but seem to be so."
(1,3,442) Iago knew of Othello's weakness. Othello's innocence and baseness made
him susceptible to being undermined by people. Iago also reveals his plan to use
the moor's gullibility against him. Othello was clearly a person who believed
appearances versus reality. When Othello was told about an affair between
Desdemona and Cassio, he started to become jealous. Being that person who
believes appearances, he wanted ocular proof of Desdemona's infidelity. Even a
superficial piece of evidence would have been sufficient. In his statement,
"Give me a living reason she is disloyal."(3,3,446), Othello revealed
that he would believe in anything he saw. This is a clear example of his
gullibility and that appearances could fool him. Othello's words is the
underlying statement that determined his feelings. The tragic flaw of
gullibility would lead his feelings to make bad judgments. All of his
characteristics made him a clear Aristotelian tragic hero as discussed in the
Poetics. Othello's tragic flaw of gullibility is exposed throughout the course
of the play. He also developed a jealousy that was caused by his credulousness.
Iago is the catalyst of Othello's acquired jealousy. "Our attention remains
sustained on the arch villainy of Iago and his plot to plant in Othello's mind a
corroding belief in his wife's unfaithfulness."(Wright, 127) Wright
comments on the role of Iago as the main point in the play in the first three
acts. His scheming was inflicted upon the unsuspecting Othello throughout the
play. Iago's evil was structured on using falsities and insinuations to play on
Othello's gullibility. Iago appeared as an honest but in reality he was an evil
person. Iago created a trap that was easily bought in to by Othello. Iago knew
of Othello's flaws and exploited them. "Iago came to trap Othello as he
plays against him with his game of an honest and loving friend."(Heilman,
334) Heilman quotes on Iago's loving appearance. This also relates to the
statement quoted throughout the play, "honest Iago." Iago acts as a
friend to everyone he wants to manipulate. His friendly, supportive nature is
easy to trust, and when Iago has that trust, he exploits you to his benefits.
"Aware that Othello trusts him, Iago will convince the moor that Cassio is
too familiar with Desdemona. Othello he says is of a free and open
nature."(Carey, 26) Othello's gullibility is very evident to Iago and to
the audience. Othello's free and open nature makes him vulnerable to being
tricked by Iago. Iago's intelligence read Othello's baseness. When the initial
rumor of an affair between Desdemona and Cassio was implanted in Othello's head,
Iago built up his trust with the moor by saying, "O, beware, my lord of
jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds
on."(3,3,195) Iago, being a man of skills and tricks, bewares Othello of
the dangers of jealousy... the same jealousy being instilled in Othello by Iago.
He relentlessly plays off Othello's gullibility throughout the play. Othello's
gullibility led him to believe lies and insinuations by Iago. "What Iago
injects into Othello's mind, the poison which he changes him, is either false
deductions, dubious generalizations, or flat lies."(Gardner, 142) Othello
was succumbed by all of the insinuations and lies. The lies in the play are
stressed in critical essays. Othello's gullibility, his tragic flaw, was the
underlying reason of his downfall. Othello eventually became overtaken with all
of the jealousy that was in his mind. The battle between love and hate going on
in Othello's mind was clearly evinced in the statement, "Farewell the
tranquil mind! Farewell content! Farewell the plumed troops and the big wars
that makes ambition virtue! O Farewell!"(3,3,400) Othello was enraged at
all the "evidence" of an affair given to him by Iago. The proof that
he had received was sufficient. Othello then plans to murder Desdemona and
Cassio. Othello's statement also relates to his statement that his life is good
with love. When Othello lost his love, his life turned to chaos. At that point,
Iago realized that his plan worked perfectly and that he had Othello in his
grips. Iago's statement, "Work on, my medicine work! Thy credulous fools
are caught, and many worthy and chaste danes even thus, All guiltless, met
reproach."(4,1,53) shows that Othello was gullible. He clearly called
Othello a "credulous fool." Iago comments on the people he caught and
the ease of trickery. Othello was clearly manipulated by a person that
recognized his natural flaws and used them to his advantage. Othello was made
into a fool by Iago, a person that had drive and mental capacity to use
someone's psyche to his benefit. Shakespeare portrayed Othello as one of the
most loving persons. He lived for the love and care of a person. The way that he
was turned to hatred was ironic. "Even though Othello was Shakespeare's
most loving man, he was subjected and succumbed by the pull of Iago."(Stoll,
323) Iago's scheming inevitably caused Othello's turn for the worse.
'"Othello had suffered an overpowering delusion."(Stoll, 325) The
overpowering delusion that he suffers was due to his beliefs of an affair. His
primal qualities led him to easily believe anything that was presented to him.
Othello's false beliefs drove him into extreme anger and made him plot to kill
his wife and lieutenant. The final stages of the play reveal the true
gullibility of Othello to the other characters. Iago agreed to help kill
Desdemona and Cassio. With Othello, they made a vow of brotherhood to kill his
wife and his former lieutenant. When Othello finally did go through with his
plan, the dying Desdemona reassured her faith to him. Othello believed Iago and
his own false deductions instead of his own wife. Desdemona didn't realize
Othello's flaws. In her statement, "And but my noble moor is true of mind
and made of no such baseness as jealous ones are, it were enough to put them to
ill thinking."(3,4,25) she judged Othello opposite to what he really was.
She didn't suspect that Othello would suspect her for an affair. In reality,
Othello was a gullible person drawn into jealousy and falseness by Iago. Othello
had accomplished his plan of killing his wife and destroying a marriage that no
reason to be torn apart. Desdemona was the victim of a plot by a gullible man
drove into rage because of lies. When Emilia confronted Othello, he admitted to
killing his wife but said that she was untrue to him. Emilia repeatedly told
Othello that it wasn't true. He responded to Emilia by saying, "Ay, 'twas
he that told me on her first. An honest man he is, and hates the slime that
sticks on filthy deeds."(5,2,179) Othello's gullibility is also exhibited
in this statement. He believed Iago and his lies because he thought that Iago
was honest. Othello was drawn in by the appearance of Iago that was given to
him. Iago's scheming was so powerful that Othello praised him for his
"honesty." Othello and Iago were finally caught and their plot was
revealed. Iago didn't go through with his vow to kill Cassio. Othello told the
officials his reasons for committing murder and that Iago told him of an affair.
Iago's response was, "Demand me nothing. What you know, you know. From this
time forth, I never will speak a word."(5,2,335) Iago told Othello and the
others that he didn't tell Othello about an afar. He just made insinuations and
suggestions about one. Othello really didn't know of an affair between Desdemona
and Cassio. His gullibility led him to be overtaken with appearances. Othello
didn't make any real attempt to find out the truth. He relied on Iago to provide
a picture of what he thought happened. Because of Othello's mistake to seek the
truth, his inevitable downfall became realized when he killed himself. Othello's
tragic flaw was being gullible. His background of baseness made him a weak
minded person. Iago was an evil man who wanted to see the downfall of Othello.
He recognized Othello's flaw and used it to his benefit. Iago's scheme consisted
of images and appearances of an affair, but not evidence of one. Othello's
stature, and downfall make him a true tragic hero. His tragic flaw, gullibility,
the defining criteria of a tragic hero, made Othello a man that he never thought
he would be. Othello became a person filled with rage and hatred who wanted to
resolve the chaos in his life by putting an end to the affair that he believed
was going on. All the structure's of Othello's character makes him a prime
example for a Aristotelian tragic hero.
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