William Shakespeare’s “Othello” presents all of the elements of agreat tragedy, according to Aristotle’s definition: “A tragedy is theimitation in dramatic form of an action that is serious and complete, withincidents arousing pity and fear wherewith it effects a catharsis of suchemotions” (Poetics 14) He also adds, “The language used is pleasurableand throughout, appropriate to the situation in which it is used.” Thecentral features of the Aristotelian archetype are manifested in GeneralOthello’s character. Although Othello is great, he is not perfect. He has atragic flaw, hubris (excessive pride and passion), and hamartia (some error),which lead to his downfall. However, Othello’s misfortune is not whollydeserved.
His punishment exceeds the crime, keeping him admirable in thetheatergoer’s eyes. Before Othello’s tragic flaw results in his unfortunatedeath, he has increased awareness and gained self-knowledge or, as Aristotledescribes it “has experienced a discovery.” (Poetics 15) All of thisproduces a catharsis or emotional release at the end of the play. A tragedy,when well performed, does not leave an audience in a state of depression butcreates a shared, common experience. What causes Othello’s downfall? Somecritics claim that Othello’s tragic flaw is his jealousy while others insistthat jealousy is not part of his character, that the emotion takes over onlywhen Iago pushes him to the brink of insanity.
Evidence in the play supports thenotion of insanity. Othello doesn’t show himself to be jealous early in theplay. It is not until Othello is manipulated by Iago’s skillful lies that he isforced to confront his jealousy and mistrust. His love and trust of Iago serveto prove his gullibility, Jealousy and self-doubt poison his sensibilities andinnocence, and the realization of his blind trust leads to his sorrowful end. Aswith most of Shakespeare’s tragic heroes, Othello possesses all the virtuesprescribed for the character type.
He is of noble birth; he is self-controlled;he is religious; he has the respect of his men; and he demonstrates excellentleadership. His magnetism is what draws Venetian senators and soldiers alike andwhat captivates Desdemona. All of this supports the idea that he is not (at theplay’s opening) a jealous, enraged, or mad man. He has convincing self-esteemwhich he later loses to the deception of Iago’s evil ploy.
It can be noted thatOthello’s character flaw is his blind trust and naivet. These character traitscontribute to his misled downfall. It would be neglectful, if not irresponsible,to overlook Iago’s role in the play. His hate for Othello and Cassio drives hisevil motive through a string of lies affecting the entire cast. From the firstact, the antagonist is troubled: I know my price, I am worth no worse a place.But he (as loving his own pride and purposes) Evades them with a bumbastcircumstance Horribly stuff’d epithites of war, And in conclusion, Nonsuits mymediators; for, “Certes,” says he, “I have already chose myofficer.
” And what was he? Forsooth, a great arithmetician, One MichaelCassio, a Florentine (A fellow almost damn’d in a fair wife), That never set asquadron in the field, Nor the division of a battle knows (Othello. I.i.11-23)Iago never reveals his dissatisfaction with the military arrangement to Othello.
Instead, he makes use of Othello’s innocence and trust to satisfy his wickedend. He constantly boasts of his love for Othello and patronizes him regularlythroughout the play. At Iago’s first attempt to instill jealousy in the trustingOthello, he is successful. Othello’s concern at Iago’s implications entices himto learn more. Iago plays a verbal game with Othello to arouse suspicion.
Thispiques Othello’s interest and starts his mind to wonder. Iago is successful atthe point he proclaims, O, beware, my lord, of jealousy! It is the green-ey’dmonster which doth mock The meat it feeds on. That cuckold lives in bliss Who,certain of his fate, loves not his wronger; But O, what damned minutes tells heo’er Who dotes, yet doubts; suspects, yet strongly loves! (Othello.III.iii.
163-168) One of the major qualities that comes to mind when assessingOthello is his trustfulness. He claims that Iago is a man of honesty and trust;”To his conveyance I assign my wife” (I.iii.286). Othello has noreason to distrust Iago at this point. Time after time, Othello fails to seethrough Iago’s deceptions. Iago is a military man; Othello is familiar dealingwith soldiers and men he trusts and, moreover, Iago has a widespread reputationfor honesty. Othello