Essay, Research Paper: Othello As Leader

Shakespeare: Othello

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William Shakespeare presents an excellent leader but a poor reasoner in Othello.
The eponymous hero has strength, charisma, and eloquence. Yet these ideals of
leadership do not bode well in real world situations. The battlefield and Senate
are, at least in Othello, depicted as places of honor, where men speak truly. In
addition, the matters of war and state are relatively simple; no one lies to
Othello, all seem to respect him. He never even has to fight in the play, with
the enemy disappearing by themselves. This simplistic view does not help him in
matters of the heart. His marriage is based on tall tales and pity and his
friendships are never examined; he thinks that anyone who knows him love him.
Thus the ultimate evaluation of Othello must be that, although he leads well and
means well, he lacks good judgement and common sense. This becomes most plainly
obvious in his final two speeches, where even though the play ends properly, and
in a dignified way, Othello never fully realizes or takes responsibility for
what has happened. These two last orations of Othello are noble in speech and
purpose, but lack comprehension. He uses the first to attack himself for his
horrible deed; certainly this is the first reaction of anyone who has wrongly
killed his beloved. He delivers condemnation upon himself with eloquence and
anguish. The latter speech he gives in his final role as a leader, directing the
men who remain about how to deal with what has happened and showing them he has
purged the evil. In his initial self-loathing and remorse at realizing the truth
of Desdemona's innocence, Othello is genuinely anguished. "This look of
thine will hurl my soul from heaven, / And fiends will snatch at it."
(V.2.325-326) It is clear that he is in torment because of her death, and
because he himself did the deed. For the first time, it appears that Othello is
at a loss with what to do with his power: "Do you go back dismayed? / Man
but a rush against Othello's breast / And he retires." (V.2.320-322) Giving
up is hardly Othello's style, but this is how a noble and true man should react
when he has mistakenly killed his wife. However, Othello's words give a deeper
insight into how he still misunderstands the situation. "Who can control
his fate?" he asks, which gives pause to a theory of pure nobility. Placing
responsibility in the stars - he calls Desdemona an "ill-starred
wench" - is hardly a gallant course of action. (V.2.316, 323) It is beyond
a doubt Othello's fault that all of this wreckage befalls him, and his still has
not had a moment of recognition of his failures at reasoning and understanding.
Indeed, it is Othello's final soliloquy that ultimately seals his fate as a man
who lacks critical thinking skills. This is because these are his final words,
and they deal with fact, not emotion. He addresses the reasons behind his
downfall, and decides how he wants others to see him, in terms of the story and
how he takes responsibility for it. It is a noble speech, and a dubiously noble
ending, but still, like Othello, flawed. The setting for Othello's final moments
onstage is critical to how it is perceived by Othello, the other players
onstage, and the audience. It lends credence to the nobility of the situation,
and adds to Othello's misguided self-perception. The experience, in itself, is
perfect. The day is slowly breaking as the first strands of light are filtering
through the shutters on Othello's bedroom windows. Othello has moved out of the
darkness he was sitting in when he began his first speech, and while standing in
light, speaks of how he has been enlightened of what occurred. He holds back the
company of men who seek to take him to prison or worse with a hand and
"Soft, you." With this he also silences the sounds around him, and
delivers a noble address, in the light, standing tall. It is an ending suitable
for the most dignified of men. And yet, for all the splendor, glory, and
excellence of tongue, his final words show that he does not quite understand
himself or what he has done. His goal is to tell the emissaries from Venice what
has happened, but he lacks insight in his articulation. Every step of his short
recitation reveals an inaccuracy or a blinding of a personal problem. Othello
says he "loved not wisely, but too well." (V.2.404) It is true that he
did not love wisely, but neither did he love too well. His marriage is based on
storytelling and pity; he objectifies his wife at every point, and does not
trust her in the least. And while it might be debatable whether Othello is
"easily jealous" or just gullible, he does buy Iago's tale of deceit
based on a handkerchief and words. (V.2.405) This is all Othello says in
relation, besides a description of his tears - which, no doubt, are real and
genuine - and begins to set up his suicide. Othello blames not his rashness or
judgmental faults, but rather condemns his hand for the sin he commits ("of
one whose hand, / ... threw a pearl away"). (V.2.404) This idea that his
body is somehow possessed with evil, but not his mind, is perpetuated in his
last words: And say besides, that in Aleppo once, Where a malignant and a
turbanned Turk Beat a Venetian and traduced the state, I took by th' throat the
circumcised dog, And smote him, thus. Othello truly believes that a malignant
Turk has taken over the good Venetian within him. He still does not see that his
faults are exploited by Iago and used against him. Although he kills himself in
such a dignified fashion, Othello is really thinking that he was forced to do
this by some unseen evil power. He never has any complete sense of tragic
recognition. Shakespeare sets up Othello as his perfect leader: no one ever
questions his ability to conduct an army (because he does not engage in combat
during the play, this opinion must be drawn from the lack of negative sentiment
from anyone in the play). He speaks well, and is widely respected. But the
skills that make a good general are only applied with problem in his civilian
life. Othello never asks questions of those who might be against him; instead,
he believes only what is told him by those who come to him first. He believes
men over women, and never thinks too deeply or critically about anything. He
must be decisive, and therefore he refuses to question. It is possible to see
Othello as a good man who never is betrayed until Iago, as a noble and strong
soldier who falls only because Iago is so cunning and evil. One might say,
because of this, Othello dies not as a tragic hero, but as someone destroyed by
circumstance and evil. But the superficiality of his marriage and the fact that
if he had only been honest to his wife and lieutenant he would have found out
the truth point in another direction. Othello could lead, but he could not
reason.
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