Othello-As-Tragedy

Othello As Tragedy

Othello As Tragedy Tragedy has always been regarded a great genre depicting dilemma of human existence; explaining from various angles that both greatness and humility come from within, proclaiming free will and touching upon the delicate matters such as fate.

Othello As Tragedy Study Detailed Question:

To A. C. Bradley Shakespearean tragedy is characterized by the “tragic flaw,” the internal imperfection in the hero. Combined with chance, this imperfection becomes the cause of his demise. As we see in classical tragedy, Shakespeare’s characters appear no longer slaves of their fate; their downfall is much because of their own actions, however, the role of chance and fate cannot be undermined. Mostly, Shakespeare employs his tragedies to depict a struggle between good and evil. A.C. Bradley has aptly described his tragedies as tale of suffering and calamity conducting to death.

Probably, it wouldn’t be wrong to state that in modern age tragedy has been redefined by several of the authors like Ernest Hemingway, Arthur Miller, and Samuel Becket etc. This, indeed, is the result of man’s complex and chaotic position as witnessed by those great authors. Since Shakespeare wrote in a time and place remote from today’s world, therefore, it may only be compared to classical standards. Though besides Aristotle, Hegel and Nietzsche as well as several others have given vent to their views over tragedy, yet Aristotle’s definition of tragedy is widely respected for its universal relevance and brevity. According to Aristotle:

Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament in the form of action, not of narrative; through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation of these emotions.

For Aristotle a tragedy is to be serious having dignity and a protagonist of high esteem that experiences a reversal of fortune. This reversal of fortune must be caused by the tragic hero’s hamartia, a mistake. We see a great character, Othello, rising up in life and eventually bringing about his own downfall expressed in his own words of dismay: Where should Othello go? According to Aristotle, “The change to bad fortune which he undergoes is not due to any moral defect or flaw, but a mistake of some kind like Othello’s killing of his wife is based upon error of judgment and plotting by Iago. This causes pity and fear within the spectators. Tragedy results in a catharsis, emotional cleansing or healing for the audience; this is achieved through their experience of pity and fear in response to the suffering of the character(s) in the drama.

A tragic hero has to be a virtuous and “a morally blameless man”. Othello is a moor, a black but honorable man, in Denmark. He is respected for his courageous and brave service to the army. Othello is appointed as a general in the army. We don’t find any moral flaw or defect in his character. Desdemona, the daughter of a senator, is in love with him despite the fact that he is black. They even elope and marry. It makes us appreciate his character. And his fall would cause a feeling of pity and fear among the audience. This merits him the standards of a tragic hero. The fall of Othello would be of high importance because it involves royal blood and may result in influencing the masses in general…

Iago is an ensign, denied promotion by Othello, is jealous of the promotion of his junior soldier. He wishes to avenge at Othello. He plots against Othello and his wife. In the Turk war, Othello takes his wife along. Iago, tricks Othello into believing that his wife is being unfaithful to him. On the other hand, Desdemona is truly in love with him; she even accompanies him in the war out of love saying “That I did love the Moor to live with him” and “my heart’s subdued even to the very quality of my lord….”. Othello, though a remarkable man indeed, begins to think that his wife does not love him in real because he is black. And no woman would love a blank man. With this state of mind and inner tormenting, he ends up killing his wife. But he later realizes that it was a plot hatched by Iago out of jealousy. Audience is shocked and there is a feeling of fear and pity for poor Othello.

The hero suffers from some tragic error or hamartia which is primarily responsible for his downfall. Iago planned to avenge his jealousy at Othello by misleading him; however, it is an “error of judgment” on the part of Othello. She is, indeed, Othello’s “fair warrior,” and he is happiest when he has her by his side in the midst of military conflict or business. He gets trapped. But that error is big enough to decipher his entire career and bring his downfall. It might have been his fate to slay his wife but it was brought about by his own actions and thoughts. It was his free will, though he does so in oblivion of the true state of things. Misunderstanding was his fault.

The audience is filled with catharsis when Othello, a splendid lover and a remarkable general, has come to know the truth only after his wife has been slayed by himself. The, he kills himself. This is the height of pity and awe. There is no option but to weep over the loss. Catharsis helps purging of excessive emotions from a person. By watching the tragedy and feeling the strong emotions of fear and pity on behalf of the characters on stage, the spectator experiences a kind of cleansing of the soul. Metaphorical catharsis from watching tragedy gave the spectators a shared experience that bound them closer together. In other works, Aristotle locates the essence of the self in perception; by sharing perception or perceiving the same things, the spectators develop a sort of common identity.

The plot of the play, Othello As Tragedy, is well structured with underlying irony and suspense that prevails till the last lines of the play. Desdemona wanted a loving and caring husband which she thought she eventually found. She remained true to him till her last breathe. But it is the irony of fate that he was misled by the jealousy prevailing in his surrounding and contented only at slaying his own wife. Othello chooses an immoral act of slaying his wife. And ironically, slaying his wife proves the worst error on his part. Though he later repents but it is of no use now. There is suspense whether the villain be successful in bringing about the downfall of the love couple. The use of language suits the theme of the play. The reader remains interested in the awful story till the very tragic fall of the hero.

We may conclude with the remarks in addition to it being a tragedy that Shakespeare did compose a great play based upon the themes of suspicion, loneliness and sight and blindness. The unfolding events do fulfill our hearts with pity and fear arousing catharsis. The protagonist is filled with suspicion over the fidelity of his wife. The characters are unable to see the clear and true meaning of thing: Othello accuses his wife although he never sees her infidelity, and Emilia, although she watches Othello erupt into a rage about the missing handkerchief, does not figuratively “see” what her husband has done. Similarly, Othello is unable to see the evil intentions and lies of Iago though it is very much evident through the course of the play. The problems begin to take ugly shape only when Othello, Desdemona, Iago, Emilia and Roderigo have come to Cyprus and they are isolated with nothing to do.

Read More to the Play Othello As Tragedy:

  1. Othello Study Notes
  2. Othello Short Summary
  3. Othello Character

Further Reading & References to the Play Othello As Tragedy:

  1. Othello As Tragedy, Moor of Venice (1604)
  2. Text / Script of Othello a play by William Shakespeare
  3. Biography of William Shakespeare
  4. Watch the Movie Othello as Tragedy

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