Othello’s Stature As A Tragic Hero

Othello’s Stature As A Tragic Hero

Othello’s stature as a tragic hero is severely compromised by the speed and ease with which he turns against his wife, and by his failure to achieve any real self knowledge. In the Shakespearian tragedy of Othello, we witness the character of Othello fall from a position of control in Venetian society due to a combination of different reasons. Othello has a deep self-love for himself, and it is because of this he turns against his wife Desdemona with a great speed and ease.

A traditional tragic hero’ portrays four major characteristics: firstly, the tragic hero is a figure of high standing/esteem in the community; secondly, there is an agency that leads to the fall of the hero whether within the hero himself or from an outside figure/source; the third characteristic is a moment of self-realisation or self-awareness and the last characteristic is that the fall of the hero results in death. Othello is portrayed as a well-respected citizen within the Venetian society. He can be seen as an intelligent and heroic military leader whose skill is indeed very valuable and necessary to the state and he knows this.

His military success has promoted his position within Venetian society, and as a Moor’ within the white dominated society, he has a strong desire to maintain his social standing, and is prepared to sacrifice anything which threatens his reputation, which leads to the eventual death of Desdemona. Othello is trusted by everyone in Venice being called, “valiant Othello” and “brave Othello” and described as “… more fair than black” (I, iii, 286). He has been given full martial and political command of Cyprus and is a figure of high standing and esteem within the Venetian community.

Othello’s flaw or weakness lies in his hubris, or exaggerated pride in himself, and he continually refers to it saying “Let [Brabantio] do his spite, my services which I have done the signiory / Shall out-tongue his complaints… ” (I, ii, 17-19) and that “… [his] parts, [his] title, and [his] perfect soul / Shall manifest [him] rightly… ” (I, ii, 31-32). It is due to his obsession with his pride, his self-esteem and his self image which leads to his loss of self control and his fall from a position of control.

When Othello marries Desdemona, he as a Moor’ has to prove himself worthy of her hand in marriage and says his won social status is worthy of her. In the stories he tells her and he father Brabantio, he tries to “shape an image of himself [that is] acceptable in Venice”. He has an anxiety about his blackness, and is alienated within Venice (and always will be), very rarely being referred to as Othello, but more commonly given the title of “the Moor”, “thick-lips”, “the devil”, “an old black ram” and “the beast with two backs”.

He is unable to see himself as a member of the community, and is defined by his “Otherness”, that is, he can never be who he truly is, he is either a Venetian or the Moor’. It is because of Othello’s flaws, that is his egocentric nature and his alienation in society, which leads to his manipulation by Iago. Everyone within the Venetian society, including Othello himself, portray a great trust for Iago who is oft times referred to as “honest Iago”.

This can be seen when Cassio says, “I never knew a Florentine more kind and honest [than Iago]” (III, I, 38) and Othello refers to Iago’s “… nesty and love… ” (II, iii, 28). Through Iago’s use of words, he pours “pestilence” into the mind of Othello, creating ideas and images within his mind that his wife Desdemona is unfaithful towards him. Iago tells Othello that he knows the “… country disposition well: / In Venice they (women) do let God see the pranks / They dare not show their husbands. ” (III, iii, 203-205), using Othello’s tragic flaw. Othello’s mind does not need arguing, and he spends no time on deciding whether or not he should murder Desdemona.

His mind does not argue yes or no, once she “be false” she must be killed, which in turn diminishes his character in the audience’s eyes. Othello could not stand if his wife was unfaithful due to his enlarged sense of importance, and the fact he had worked so hard and achieved so much as a Moor’ in white-dominated Venetian society. Any thought or idea of Desdemona’s betrayal would mean he would turn against his wife with a much greater alacrity, even before any ocular’ proof has been provided, as a need for the preservation of his social status therefore compromising his stature as a tragic hero.

Towards the end of Shakespeare’s tragedy, Othello’s stature as a tragic hero is also compromised by his failure to achieve any real self-knowledge before he takes his life. He realises the treachery and deception he has been subject to by Iago, but he never fully realises or accepts responsibility for what he has done to Desdemona. In his mind, he was doing justice for mankind and would rather kill her than “… keep [her] as a cistern for foul toads / To knot and gender in… ” (IV, ii, 60-61).

He tries to convince himself, even after Emilia has told Othello he “hast killed the sweetest innocent / That did e’er did lift up eye” (V, ii, 197-198), that she was false, and rather than realising his weaknesses and flaws, he takes the blame away from himself saying the murder was planned by fate: “… O ill-stared wench!.. ” After he has committed the crime, Othello makes sure that he is remembered as the hero he believed himself to be, once again his hubris encompassing him, saying: “… I have done the state some service and they know’t: … Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate, Nor set down aught in malice… speak

Of one that loved not wisely, but too well; Of one not easily jealous but, being wrought, Perplexed in the extreme… ” (V, ii, 335-342). Othello’s never accepts his tragic flaw as self-knowledge, nor does he accept responsibility for the death of his innocent wife Desdemona. Othello is unable to see himself as a member of the Venetian society, and “it is the tension between Othello’s victimisation at the hands of a foreign culture and his own willingness to torment himself” along with the alacrity with which he turns against his wife and his failure to achieve self-knowledge which severely compromise Othello’s stature as a tragic hero.

Cite this page

Choose citation format:
Othello's Stature As A Tragic Hero. (2019, Mar 04). Retrieved February 24, 2020, from https://essaysonline.net/othellos-stature-as-a-tragic-hero/