The story of Othello consists of the themes betrayal, love and dishonesty. At the centre of this play is the tragic downfall of Othello at the hands of his so called friend Iago. The play is set in Venice, which at the height of the renaissance was referred to as The Sovereign City, a wealthy and powerful city. In the time of Othello, the value of money was of high importance within the Venetian Society.
The philosopher Aristotles (384-322BC) stated that a tragic hero must go through four stages. These are Peripateia, which is a complete downfall from a very high status such as a King or General to catastrophe and misery. Hamartia, which is a fatal or tragic flaw in the hero. Anagnorisis, which is recognition of the heros mistakes, and Catharsis, which is when the audience is purged of all negative emotions towards the hero.
I believe that despite his traits Othello is a tragic hero. Although he doesnt meet all of the requirements for a tragic hero, he does achieve most of them to a certain extent and is without a doubt a hero who falls victim to a great tragedy, leading to both his own death and the death of his wife. His downfall was meticulously planned from the very start of the story. Othellos good and honest nature is used against him by Iago, his trusted ensign, to extract his revenge. This is apparent from his observation of Othellos weaknesses in Act 1 where he says The Moor is of a free and open nature and thinks men honest that but seem to be so (401-402)
In this essay I will be discussing the reasons for and against Othello being responsible for his downfall through looking at critical interpretations of his character and actions.
From the start of the play Othello is referred to as the Valiant Othello and is regarded with high importance amongst the Venetian Army. They recognize him as their esteemed general and rely on him for his service to fight the advancing Turks. Othellos warrior nature is apparent from the first act as he takes command of the situation when urged to lead the battle at a time when he ought to have been enjoying the domestic tranquility of his honeymoon with Desdemona.
When initially reading the play, Shakespeare creates an expectation that the character of Othello will be shown from a military perspective. However, the play provides more depth to the character by using a more domestic perspective, showing his personal strengths and weaknesses. In fact it is Othellos flaws that contribute significantly to his own downfall, as he was a gullible character who allowed himself to be easily manipulated by Iago.
A key theme to the play is the idea of appearance; what really is, is not always what is initially perceived to be. Throughout the play there are many examples of how easily people can be manipulated by appearances. Some characters that present themselves as one persona are inwardly something different. An example of this was Brabantios anger towards Desdemona for marrying Othello without his consent. He warned Othello to be aware of the deceitful nature of women, reinforcing what was a critical theme of the play.
At the time of Shakespeare writing Othello, Moors had been expelled from England by order of Queen Elizabeth I. Therefore the character of Othello was a radical choice for Shakespeare to use. Critics argue that because of cultural stigmas of his day Shakespeare may not have intended for a black man to be the storys protagonist and may have wanted it to be viewed as a play primarily about Iago.
In the play Roderigo emphasizes the fact that Othello is an outsider in his speech, using remarks like her duty, beauty, wit and fortunesin an extravagant and wheeling strangerof here and everywhere (pg 121-140) to draw attention to the fact that he is different. Iago also uses Othellos race in a negative manner describing him as a dark skinned man, darker yet in his intentions.
Regardless of such comments made by the other characters, Othello recognized that he had achieved an elevated military position and was a prominent person within the workings of Venetian society. He would not have seen himself as an outsider as he had earned this respect.
People who have fallen victim to self-doubt and/or have been deceived or misled by another person who appears to be a friend, may feel they can relate to character of Othellos. Therefore I dont think that race is a crucial factor in Othellos fall. I believe his troubles are more exclusive to his humanity than his race.
In contrast to Othello, Iagos unrelenting desire to inflict pain upon others earns him the reputation for one of Shakespeares finest Machiavellian characters. He displays a complete lack of conscience by having no consideration for the damaging effects his behavior has on the innocent people surrounding him. His only concern is of how he will profit from his actions. Iagos true feelings of his hatred towards Othello are made clear very early on in the story when he states for my sport and profit. I hate the Moor page??????
Iago is a master of manipulation who succeeds in manipulating most of the characters of the play. This includes Roderigo; who was not very worldly but a wealthy, non-military character who serves Iago as a fool, Cassio; a noble and trusting Venetian Soldier, and then finally the deadly entrapment of the General, Othello. Shakespeare uses the characters wisely to enhance Iagos personality. Cassio acts as a contrast to Iago as he is praised for his intelligence and refined manner. Iago lacks in these qualities, but knows that once Cassio is out of favour with Othello, he will do anything to be readmitted to his good graces.
Iago has the ability to ingratiate himself with whom he pleases and they will in turn trust that he is honest. Such is his manipulation of others that he is often referred to throughout the play as honest Iago. His ability to sense the fears and desires of his victims shows that he possesses a keen intellect that he combines with his chameleon like character to silently and maliciously bring about their downfall.
Iagos observation of Cassios respectful, attentive approach toward Desdemona by taking her by the palm in Act 2, provides him with the ammunition he needs to begin to plan his enemies downfall. It is then he realizes that he can use Cassios innocent politeness against him to substantiate his rumor of their love for each other.
Iago closes in and entraps Othello, subtly suggesting his wifes infadelity by telling him Look to your wife. He further spins his decipt to Othello by stating observe her well with Cassio; ... Wear your eye thus, not jelous nor secure. Othello thinks back to Brabantios words Look to her Moor, if thou has eyes to see: ... she has deceived her father, and may thee.
By this point Othello completely trusts Iago and is distrustful of his wife, exclaiming "Why did I marry? This honest creature doubtless ... Sees and knows more, much more, than he unfolds" (3, 3, 243-4). Othello concludes that: "This fellow's of exceeding honesty ... And knows all qualities with a learned spirit ... Of human dealings" (3, 3, 260).
Othello demands proof of the affair and degrades both mentally and physically when Iago presents him with the scene providing the occula proof of the handkerchief in Cassios possession. He has severe disabling fits and the transition of his mental state can be observed in his usage of language. Othello is very eloquent and uses subtle imagery earlier in the play. Even when faced with challenging situations Othello speaks with an authorative and eloquent tone, an example of this is when he is confronted with Cassios drunken attack, he responds by saying "Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them" (1, 2, 59).
After the peripety his language degrades to the usage of diabolical and physical imagery. Following the confirmation of his absolute belief in what Iago has told him he remarks: "I had rather be a toad ... And live upon the vapour of a dungeon" (3, 3, 272).
It is true that Othello is egotistical, overly aware of his nobility, easily manipulated, and jealous to the extent that he murders his wife. He had reasoned his actions prior to killing Desdemona, it was not a snap judgement on his part. He believes that he was entirely blameless in what he was about to undertake prior to killing her by momentarily wavering, reasoning with himself that it is a just act by allowing her the opportunity to clear her soul. He believes his actions are justifiable because he will help Desdemonas soul to reach heaven. He asks her if she has said her prayers and speaks his intentions I would not kill thy unprepared spirit. ... I would not kill thy soul.