Essay, Research Paper: Othello Hero

Shakespeare: Othello

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Othello as a Tragic Hero William Shakespeare's famous tragedy "Othello, the
Moor of Venice" (c.1604, as reprinted in Laurence Perrine and Thomas R. Arp,
Literature: Structure Sound and Sense, 6th ed. [Fort Worth: Harcourt,
1993]1060-1148) is arguably one of the finest, if not the finest, tragedies in
the literary history of Western civilization. This paper discusses Othello as a
"tragic hero" and compares him to the great Aristotle's concept of
what a "tragic hero" actually is. First, we need to understand the
characteristics of a so-called "tragic hero" as defined by the Greek
critic, Aristotle. He indicates that a tragic hero must have these
characteristics: (1) Be a nobleman, prince, or person of high estate; (2) Have a
tragic flaw, and a weakness in judgment; and (3) Fall from high to low estate. (Hubele).
Using the Aristotle criteria, we can easily classify Othello, the Moor, as a
tragic hero. At the time, it was common practice for the Italian city-states to
have a foreigner, with proven military capabilities, serving as the head of
their Army. Othello, an African Moor of noble birth, is just such a character
and held the highest ranking military position as Governor-General of Cyprus.
The city of Cyprus was a city-state in the great state of Venice. His title
alone, Governor-General, exudes an air of nobility, confidence, and strength. It
defines someone who is held in tremendously high esteem by the people of Venice.
During Act 1, Scene 3, the Duke and a few Senators are discussing issues around
a table when Othello enters the room. It's clear that Othello is held in high
esteem when, as he enters, one of the senators states “Here comes Barbantio
and the valiant Moor”(47). Othello's confidence in himself, another of his
positive attributes, is clearly portrayed as he defends himself and his recent
marriage to Desdemona, the daughter of the Venetian Senator Barbantio. In his
defense, he associates himself with one of the “great ones” of the world. He
also demonstrates confidence in himself and his actions when Barbantio,
Desdemona's outraged father, accuses the Moor of witchcraft. His stature, that
of a tall, dark, African Moor, combined with his personal magnetism, assist him
in gaining the respect and allegiance of the Venetian people and its senators.
The respect of the people is brought forth in Act 1, Scene 2, when Montano, the
Governor of Cyprus, is awaiting the arrival of Othello's ship, following a
strong storm at sea, and remarks he has "served him' and the man [Othello]
commands/ Like a full soldier" (35-36). He also refers to him as the
"brave Othello" (38). Othello is also held in awe by his men, the
soldiers, and throughout the play is referred to as a "captain", a
term carried over from Roman times which depicts a commander of a company of
men, or a so called "soldiers’ soldier". He is a proven leader of
men and known for his military knowledge and skills. His soldierly ways are a
result of serving in some form of military capacity since the early age of
seven. Dignity, courage, a strong belief in religion, self control and sound
jud~ment are a few of Othello's other positive attributes portrayed in the play.
The writer, A.C. Bradley characterizes him as a "truly admirable character,
of heroic stature, exemplary self control, and wonderfiil imagination..." (Mehl,
Dieter, Shakespeare's Tragedies: An Introduction, [New York, Cambridge
University Press, 1986] page 66). His confidence in himself and his courage are
clearly evident when Othello makes a stand before Barbantio, Roderigo and Iago,
when following the drawing of their swords, Othello, as opposed to withdrawing
in the face of danger taunts "Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will
rust them" (59-60). Shakespeare continues to portray Othello as a well
respected nobleman throughout his play, from beginning to end. Shakespeare also
shows a soft side when he displays Othello's love and confidence in his wife
Desdemona. In Act 1 Scene 3, Othello entrusts his wife to the care of another
gentleman and his wife as he must go off to war in Cyprus. The entrusted man and
his wife happen to be his good friend lago and his wife Emila. Othello displays
his trust and confidence in both his wife and his ensign [Iago] when he remarks
to Iago "to his [Iago] conveyance I assign my wife" (286). As you move
through the play, Shakespeare intriguingly begins to show Othello's faults and
negative character traits, which eventually lead to his destruction. His
position as Governor-General, the allegiance from both the people of Venice and
his soldiers and his confidence in himself can all be considered major
contributors to his overall negative character flaws. In other words his
positive aspects are responsible for bringing out his negative side, his flaws
in character. His flaws include his all too trusting nature and his eventual
insecurities in himself that arise in the form of jealousy for his wife
Desdemonia. These flaws begin to surface following his decision to select Cassio,
as opposed to Iago, as his lieutenant, his second in command. He did so because
he felt Cassio was well versed in the military sciences and Iago had merely
proven himself on the battlefield as a warrior, not necessarily a leader.
Surprising, Othello later releases Cassio from his position as lieutenant
following his [Cassio] fight with Roderigo in which Montago is wounded after
trying to stop the fight. All of this serves as merely one of the results of
Iago's revenge and his ploy to destroy Othello and all those associated with
him. Iago is actually consumed with the anger, vengeance and will to destroy
Othello. On a good note Cassio is again placed in the graces of good and is
appointed as the honorable Governor of Cyprus. Othello's decision to choose
Cassio fosters a deep resentment in the eyes of Iago, his one time good friend
and confidant. Iago convinces Roderigo, a well respected Venetian who is
infatuated with Brabantio's daughter Desdemona, that if paid enough he will
eventually topple the new husband Othello, and in turn make Desdemona available
to the love of Roderigo. Both of these character flaws eventually lead to the
downfall of Othello, this outwardly noble, confident and strong hero. It's in
Act 3, Scene 3, the "temptation scene", that the turning point in this
romantic tragedy appears. It is actually on the beach, following the storm at
sea, while all are awaiting the great Othello's return by ship, Iago notices a
strong relationship between Cassio and Desdemona as they are holding a
conversation. Iago's plot to destroy Othello unfolds and he plans to portray
Desdemona as an unfaithful wife, a wife having an affair with Cassio. Iago's
plan evolves further and he gets his first opening following the part when
Desdemona pleads for Cassio's return to the position of lieutenant in Othello's
Army. Iago implants the seed about Cassio's and Desdemona's relationship.
Othello demands proof of the supposed torrid affair out of his tremendous love
for his wife Iago lies and schemes his way out the conversation and continues on
his ploy of destruction. Othello's trusting nature, his greatest character
fault, appears throughout the play but nowhere is it more evident than in the
"temptation scene", Act 3 Scene 3, when addressing Iago he states
"I know thou'rt full of love and honesty, and weigh'st thy words before
thou giv'st them breath .." (118-119). His faith in Iago is again
ironically depicted in Act 5, Scene 1 when he [Othello] states "O brave
Iago, honest and just, that hast such noble sense of thy friend's wrong [Cassio's
alleged seduction of Desdemona)! Thou teachest me" (31-33). This statement
follows Othello's murder of this wife Desdemona, and goes to show that Othello
had faith in the cynical Iago even after lago's plan had been successfully
executed by the unknowingly naive Othello. Othello's second most noticeable
character flaw is that of jealousy. His jealousy evolves from Iago's deceitful
plans. "One reason why some readers think Othello is "easily
jealous" is that they completely misinterpret him in the early part of this
scene [Act 3, Scene 3]. They fancy that he is alarmed and suspicious the moment
he hears Iago mutter "Ha! I like not that", as he sees Cassio leaving
with Desdemona" (35). But, in fact, it takes a long time for Iago to excite
surprise, curiosity, and them grave concern - by no means yet jealous - even
about Cassio, and it is still longer before Othello understands that Iago is
suggesting doubts about Desdemona too. (Wronged in 143 certainly does not refer
to her, as 154 and 162 show)” Bradley, A.C., Shakespearean Tragedy, 3rd
edition, New York, St. Martin Press, 1992], page 397). It's plain to see his
love for Desdemona is very strong and he doesn't lose faith in himself and his
love so easily. However, later so strong becomes his jealousy that it leads him
astray from his previous positive traits of confidence in himself, calm demeanor
in stressfbl times and his abilities to make sound judgements. In one of his
last speeches to Desdemona in Act 3, Scene 3, Othello chides himself for
becoming angry with his wife and following her departure remarks to himself
"Excellent wretch! Perdition catch my soul / but I do love thee! And whom I
love thee not, / Chaos is come again" (90-91). His statement proves Iago's
plan is working and Othello's' trust in him [Iago] will not falter. Othello is
clearly emanating pangs of jealousy here, he is hurt and his suffering is
evident. He once held himself among the "great ones" (273) yet now his
love is destroyed and is cursed by a "destiny unshunnable" (275). The
turning point in the play is here and the end will proceed swiftly from this
point. The end nears as Othello's portrait of himself is weakened. "...the
final Othello is not a pretty sight to watch... Consider his whimpering, his
refusal to be himself, his uncontrolled screaming." (Kirschbaum, Leo,
"The Modern Othello", (reprinted in English Literary History II, ([Dec
1994] pages 283-296). He now sees himself as a man deceived, by both Desdemona
and Cassio, a man full of jealousy, and a man whose honor is now in question.
Even as the final climatic murder takes place Othello deceives himself by
telling himself it is his duty to kill her, it is not an act of revenge. His
mythology in killing her is "...she must die, else she'll betray more
men" (Act 5, Scene 2, line 6). "The murder of Desdemona acts out the
final destruction in Othello himself of all the ordering powers of love, of
trust, of the bond between human beings". (Bloom, Harold, Modern Critical
Views, William Shakespeare The Tragedies, New York, Chelsea House Publishers,
c1985], page 85). Obviously Othello portrays the characteristics of a “hero”
as defined by Aristotle. He clearly was a man of nobility, of noble character
and held in a very high estate. He began in this illustrious play by displaying
all those positive traits which man continues to search for in order to fulfill
a long and happy life. They included the ability to sincerely love and trust his
fellow man/woman, his innocence, his religious background, his self control,
sound judgment and confidence in his inner self as a human being. All these
traits quickly came crashing down because of character flaws in other people
such as deceit, fraud, seffishness, hatred and a deep desire for revenge.
Following Othello's trust for his good friend Iago he clearly demonstrated flaws
in the forms of bad judgments, jealousy, loss of self control and his lack of
self confidence in himself All this eventually led to the murder of the wife he
continued to love through the end and his own eventual self inflicted death. His
fllll from high to low estate is clearly visible. Shakespeare depicted all these
events in a rather short, deep, highly emotional, passionate, intense play.
Sheakspeare's ability to develop such deep emotional characterizations remains
unparalleled in modern world.

BibliographyShakespeare, William, "Othello, the Moor of Venice" (reprinted in
Lawrence Perrine and Thomas R. Arp, Literature: Structure Sound and Sense, 6th
edition Fort Worth: Harcourt, 1993]. Hubele, Donald, M.A., (c1989, revised
1992). Student Videotape Course Worktext for Composition and Literature. School
of Lifelong Learning, Liberty University, Publications Division. Mehl, Dieter,
Shakespeare's Tragedies: An Introduction, New York, Cambridge University Press,
1986 Bradley, A.C., Shakespearean Tragedy, 3rd edition, ([New York, St. Martin
Press, 1992], page 397). Kirschbaum, Leo, “The Modern Othello”, (reprinted
in English Literary History II, ([Dec 1994] pages 283-296) Bradley, A.C.,
Shakespearean Tragedy, 3rd edition, New York, St. Martin Press, 1992.
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