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The Foundations of Othello

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Aristotle defined the medium of tragedy in 250BC and since then, it has been a prominent feature in the classical literature and it comes out as a traditional hallmark of some of the most outstanding works that have been produced ever since. Tragedy is a plot in which the protagonist or the main character dies. In such a plot, the main character or “tragic hero” as commonly referred is usually of high standards but facing some opposing forces both from within and without. In this regard the Shakespeare’s work Othello is based on this concept.

Othello is the protagonist in this plot and can be seen as a typical tragic hero who faces many challenges of his inborn naiveté as well as over trust as imperfections in his character that could otherwise be seen as virtuous. Despite the fact that as the play develops, the character of Othello seems to disintegrate due to the fact that he becomes jealous and at the end he gets stricken by a very prevailing catharsis that he attracts the readers pity for the misfortunes that befalls him in spite of his wrongdoing. In such a tragedy befalling a character, the well-known death and shock can be clearly accredited to the predictable blemish in Othello’s persona, and hence bringing him out as a tragic hero (Pechter 17).

As the story begins, Shakespeare gives an illustration of Othello as a compassionate member of military sharing a rational love with Desdemona, his youthful wife, which is of utmost clarity and ingenuousness. An evil character, Iago, is introduced in the play and this is how the tragic flaw of the hero is revealed as ultimate naiveté. Though Othello portrays an even-temper, as evident in the scene where he declines the agree with Iago when he persuades him to be furious at Roderigo. In this case, Iago can be seen as the external opposing force perpetuating the Play’s tragedy and thus provokes the internal force lying within the protagonist. As the play begins, Shakespeare brings out the dramatic irony in a very spectacular manner that makes the reader to realize the tragic flaw of Othello in the sense that he is ready to hand all his trust to a man who has demonstrated some dishonesty and is “Janus-faced” (Pechter 94).

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Much Irony can be seen in the words, “….a man he is of honesty and trust. To this transference I dole out my wife” (Shakespeare 18).  The misconception of Othello’s pennant, Iago, who has previously demonstrated going against him for personal gains brings out the irony in this particular line. After the reader witnesses the conspiracy in the previous act of Iago with Roderigo towards ruining Othello, villainess of Iago is also evident in innocence based on the fact that Othello gets blinded by it and to it. As the play progresses, the flaw of the tragic hero is seen in a good number of tragedies as a surplus of a virtue rather than a defect as it seems to be. This dangerous virtue in the case of Othello comes out in his charitable trust, which turns to be dangerous when combined with Iago’s wickedness (Pechter 43).

There exists a number of speculations in regard to the probability and realism that is expressed by Othello suggesting that due to the fact that some of the events in the play seems unlikely to occur, Othello cannot be considered a tragic hero because there seems to be a disconnect between him and the tragedy. This remark possibly is brought about by the considerable haste that has been applied in the development of the plot and actually the deficiency of Othello’s  impending character. Despite the fact that this may appear as a weakness of the work to some people, Shakespeare’s legendary genius is clearly demonstrated in this play and in operational an additional aspect of  the definition given by Aristotles concerning a tragic hero. Shakespeare knew that one did not heed to complicate his or her work with information that did not have any use and that was unusual in regard to the kind of tragedy in the play (Modugno 93).

Although Shakespeare does not relent in carrying out the transformation of the righteous character (protagonist) unbelievably into a wild murderer that does not hesitate to murder even the wife, it is worth noting that the playwright is quite convincingly, up against, and very inventive when it comes to literature. As a result of the malicious character that he has, Iago ensures that he concentrates in heightening the upshots of the tragic flaws of the hero and manipulate it in a way that it works against Othello.

The manipulative aspect of the plots of  Iago are quite evident in the entire play, he cleverly attempts to make his own image better at the expense of destroying that of the other people. A good example is in act II of scene II in the play, when Othello makes an attempt to question Iago in regard to the reason behind the  “barbarous brawl.” Iago uses words that are so deceiving that he cannot speak ill of a friend though it is clear that he had planned all the way to set Cassino up for him to lose his position. He says, “Touch me not so near…. I had rather have my tongue cut from the mouth than offend Michael Cassio; nevertheless I plead with myself to tell the truth...” (Shakespeare 24).  He puts this in a very simple manner but manages to fools Montano, Roderigo and the impressive Othello (Modugno 176).

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The playwright develops Othello based on the antagonist’s jealousy as the driving force that perpetuates his downfall in the long run. This is the main issue that brings out the irony and the issue of tragic hero as a result of the deception. Othello is deceived by Iago that his wife has been conducting a secret affair behind his back and without even getting to the bottom of the matter, he acts in a very uninformed manner. As the play continues, Iago keeps on tainting Othello’s mind in a more effective way that Othello turns into a person who is easily stricken by abnormal misgiving and injurious emotion that make him lash out as well as weakening him in all aspects. This is exactly what Iago had plotted and hence the response that Othello was giving confirmed that all was going well as planned by Iago (Modugno 76).

Because of the trusting nature of Othello, heinous ideas of Iago are planned to make a way into his normal mind that rarely holds suspicions and in that distort his thoughts as well as his actions in the entire play. Because of the transparency and truth in which the love of Othello and Desdemona is based on, it is much to bear for Othello when it is brought to his attention that his beloved wife Desdemona  was unfaithful to him for a long time. He finds it hard to believe and gets into more trouble and deception when he decides to assign the dishonest and  deceitful Iago to conduct a thorough investigation into the matter for him to have enough evidence before confronting Desdemona. At what is concerned to be the turning point in the entire play, Othello who in his normal self is a brave and a composed gentleman is seen as withering and physically depressed by the thoughts and images of disbelief and betrayal. He appears depressed both emotionally and physically and Iago fakes some sympathy at him which Othello  cannot see too. 

In Act IV of the First Scene, Othello is seen falling into a trance soon after Iago tells him yet another of his usual malicious lies in regard to the imaginary love affair that his wife Desdemona is conducting with Cassio behind his back. He is seen on stage uttering some words that shows a lot of disbelief, pain and a feeling of being betrayed by his dear will and based on the fact that this is too much for him, the poor guy collapses, he says “…Lie on her? ...Noses, ears, and lips? Is’t possible?......” (Shakespeare 69). The obvious weariness out of character of mild-mannered Othello that is pursued closely a physical collapse indicates his very final confinement by Iago and this particular point, Othello can be considered as  irreversibly thrown into a commotion of sin. This in a way brings some irony in regard to the marriage of Desdemona and Othello based on the fact that if the story was built on a pure love and trust, the manner in which Othello reacted cannot be justified. This only shows that theirs was not a pure and true relationship and it was just like the marriage of Iago and his wife Emilia. It is not justifiable why he becomes so enraged to the point of Killing Desdemona and eventually killing himself at the end.

The goodness of Othello as it was portrayed in the manner in which he treasured and demonstrated love to his wife makes him a tragic hero in the sense that despite his good intentions, he is weak and cannot withstand the pressure of persuasion to the point of wiping out of existence what seemed to be most dear to him (Cooper 29). This is indeed reveals much irony based on the fact that one would expect that he would have considered to listen to Desdemona’s side of the story. He would have realized that he had been lied to by Iago. On the other hand, even if Desdemona, his wife, was guilty and that he loved her that much, he would have considered forgiving her or if not to let her go without having to kill her. This proves that the marriage was not based on truth and trust as many would have thought.

Despite the character that comes out in the play regarding Othello, it is worth to note that he is just like the other members of the humanity and this is how Shakespeare plans to justify the actions of the protagonists as the tragic hero in the play. Right before Iago had poised his mind with the vicious lies that are purely castigated to ruin him, Othello’s character was admirable to most of the audience (Cooper 39). It is only after interacting with Iago as the play proceeds that Othello becomes defenseless and very jealous that he gets provoked into violence and it is at this point that the readers and audience develop some hatred in him out of his acts.

This is mystified when he strikes Desdemona in public without knowing that the only reason he had for doing that was a total misconception. It is only at the time when the antagonist comes back to his senses, realized what he has done was baseless and he is full of guilt, and regrets that audience’s experiences catharsis, where they are stricken by a feeling of admiration and pity for Othello. He condemns himself to hell due to his actions from the words in utters on stage and this brings some horrific images on the audiences (Cooper 69).

His lamentations, “O cursed, cursed slave …Desdemona Dead!.. O! O!” (Shakespeare 32). The images brought out by the lamentations prove that Othello has met his doom and has been overtaken by the impacts of his hamartia. The reader comes across consolation, nonetheless, in getting to know that the protagonist eventually conquers his contribution in the tragedy but a little bit too late. His last speech looks very detached from the flaw that has made him plunge into the very many misfortunes and in fact, it appears as if he has managed to kill this flaw completely. The Ironic speech right before he commits suicide is especially very stricking to the readers. He puts it this way, “…. one that loved not wisely, but too well, of one not easily jealous but, being wrought...” (Shakespeare 45).

At this instant, Othello realizes the tragic flaw resulting from the naiveté he has and his deficiency of wisdom leading to the awful situation. Nonetheless, as it is expected in a tragedy, the hero realizes this when it is too late and he meets his death in form of a suicide leaving a sad feeling on the reader as a result of the sphere of events that forms the tragedy (Cooper 79). Shakespeare has written this book with a lot of expertise in the way he has developed Othello as the tragic hero. The irony surrounding the deception and the issue of jealousy are some of the tools he uses to bring out the basis of this paper.

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