What is the tragedy of Othello










What is the
tragedy of Othello?

 

Othello is Shakespeare’s most complete tragedy.  It is filled, in my opinion, with some of
the strongest characters in all of Shakespeare’s plays.  Othello, the play’s main character, is a
cultured Moor, nevertheless insecure and hiding behind a facade of Venetian
values and customs.  He manages to
assimilate into Western European society by denying his background and winning
the hearts of the masses (and their daughters) with his tales of victory and
strife.  He is even appointed as General
of the army, the pinnacle of respectability, as he is a skilled soldier and the
Venetians are in dire need of his assistance.

According to the tradition of tragedy
as stated by Aristotle in his Poetics, the tragic hero must not be an entirely
good man, or one who is completely evil, but, rather, a man who on the whole is
good but contributes to his own destruction by some moral weakness (the
"fatal flaw"). The reason for this, as Aristotle sees it, lies in the
emotions that tragedy is meant to excite in the audience.

They are "pity" and
"fear." If an entirely good man is destroyed, we do not feel pity but
indignation with the universe. If an evil man comes to an evil end, we have no
feelings in the matter whatever. We think that he got his "just
deserts." But we pity the man who, having contributed in some way to his
disaster, meets with a punishment out of all proportion to what he has done.
"Fear" arises from our anxiety for the character as the play unfolds.
We hope against hope that he will succeed in getting out of his difficulty.

And, after the disaster is final, we
fear for ourselves. For if an Othello, with all his great qualities and
achievements, receives such a blow, what might the rest of us expect from life?
Critics have searched for a tragic flaw in Othello, something to justify his
miserable end, on the theory that to present the fall of an innocent man is, as
Aristotle holds, incapable of arousing and purifying the emotions of pity and
fear. Pity is uppermost in this tragedy, all the more because, humanly
speaking, Othello is blameless. He is, in his first appearances, as noble and
calm. In his dying speech he describes himself as \'one not easily jealous,\' and
that is clearly the expression that Shakespeare wishes to leave. Othello is a
normal man, and the play is not a study of the passion of jealousy. Why, then,
does the hero fail so wretchedly?

This critics takes the view that it is
Othello\'s business in this play to be deceived, and leaves it more or less at
that. Consequently, he finds the play more pathetic than tragic. Othello
extends the concept of tragic flaw much more widely than does Aristotle. In
effect, the concept becomes to be human is to have a tragic flaw. Othello is
one of the finest, one of the noblest of men. But his tragic flaw is that he
has human failings.

Othello
is a tense, play, with an increasing emotional sweep. Othello, emphasizes a
noble but relatively uncomplicated personality who is yet, an eccentric even in
his own time.

One
critic states that "a great tragedy depends upon the artist\'s ability to
express the moral sense representing the universal experience of man." To
quote G. B. Harrison in Shakespeare\'s Tragedies, "True tragedy exists only
when it produces in the spectator a definite emotional reaction. . . . The
first gift essential to the tragic dramatist is a profound moral sense, for
unless he has his own instinctive sense of joy and sorrow, of pity and terror,
of right and wrong, good and evil, he is incapable of being moved and moving."

Othello,
more than any other of Shakespeare\'s plays, produces that tragic pity which the
Greeks thought essential to tragedy. A. C. Bradley declares, "Of all
Shakespeare\'s tragedies, not even excepting King Lear, Othello is the most
painfully exciting and the most terrible. From the moment when the temptation
begins, the reader\'s heart and mind are held in a vice, experiencing the
extremes of pity and fear, sympathy and repulsion, sickening hope and dreadful
expectation."

A
“predominant” hero normally characterizes Shakespeare’s tragedies. The
dominance of Othello is somewhat obscured at first, because it is Iago who
initiates the course of tragic action, but, in terms of moral stature, ultimate
decision, and emotional crisis, Othello himself is at the center of the
picture. Othello is the chief person in such a sense that the tragedy may be
said to be Othello\'s character in action. The