Othello Tragic Hero
William Shakespeare left prodigious literary heritage of always timely tragedies and comedies. One tragedy that stands out among others is Othello, a tragic story of love, trust, passion and jealousy. The main hero, Othello, is depicted in bright detail in accordance with the most principal “laws” of composing a tragic character. Ideas about tragedies were brilliantly illustrated in Aristotle’s book “Poetics” where he proposed a thorough description of the purpose, intended effect on the audience, structure, characters of a tragedy. This essay is aimed to analyze the tragic hero of Othello according to Aristotle’s ideas.
Aristotle indicates main characteristics to be peculiar to a tragic hero. First, a tragic hero has to be a good person – a man of a noble stature, well-respected and honored, obtaining a high social position, but what is more important, of high moral at his heart. At the same time, a tragic hero should not appear perfect, i.e. stay human with minor flaws. Othello is a story about a person strikingly different from the rest not only by the color of his skin, but also by his psychic characteristics: honesty, sincerity, puerile credulity. The play starts illustrating numerous situations which reveal certain sides of Othello’s personality. The author leaves it to the reader to notice and label the characteristics of the main hero not naming them. But from the beginning the reader is confident that Othello is a contradictory character – comparing Brabantio’s “foul thief” (1.2.282) with the Duke’s "Valiant Othello" (1.3.382) gives sufficient food for thought and leads to a conclusion that this persuasive and passionate Moor is decent and trustworthy. Second treaty of a tragic hero according to Aristotle is propriety. In other words, all treaties and features of a character should be correspondent to it, e.g. a man can be valor while a woman cannot. Aristotle also mentions that a tragic hero should be depicted true to life and consistent. Shakespeare’s Othello is artistically represented in rich detail as a sincere and brave warrior, though still having certain issues with self-esteem due to his color putting him so apart from others.
Then, Aristotle states the downfall of a tragic hero is not his fatal destiny, but a result of his conscious choice, free will. Othello’s “fatal flaw” is his lack of self-esteem in combination with large ego which leads him to being manipulated by Iago and disbelieve in his wife’s fealty. He decides to kill Desdemona without listening to her explanations. This is his real fatal flaw which leads him to the end, both moral and physical.
On the other hand, Aristotle declares that in a tragedy the fruitage should outweigh the factum. He also mentions that a tragic hero’s fall should not be total. There must be a place for new knowledge of the self, gain in awareness. Othello kills Desdemona and learns about her innocence from Emilia. He realizes his beautiful wife was innocent, but it is too late. Not only is Othello destroyed morally for killing his loved innocent wife, but he also kills himself. He punishes himself as life does not have any more important meaning to him than always remembering his wife and her death. Although the readers may argue the extent to which Othello deserves death as he was led to the tragedy by deceit, his suicide asserts his reputation of a straightforward, honest and decisive person.
Othello goes a long way from a brave leader and respected citizen to an irrational passionate person. This emphasized by a change in his speech – in the scene of killing Desdemona Othello speaks prose. When he decided to kill himself he is again able to speak rationally and his last tragic wish is to be remembered for his good deeds, but not faults:
“I pray you, in your letters,
When you shall these unlucky deeds relate,
Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate,
Nor set down aught in malice.” (5.2.3707-3710).
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