Othello Hero Othello as a Tragic Hero William Shakespeare’s famous tragedy “Othello, the Moor of Venice” (c.1604, as reprinted in Laurence Perrine and Thomas R. Arp, Literature: Structure Sound and Sense, 6th ed. [Fort Worth: Harcourt, 1993]1060-1148) is arguably one of the finest, if not the finest, tragedies in the literary history of Western civilization. This paper discusses Othello as a “tragic hero” and compares him to the great Aristotle’s concept of what a “tragic hero” actually is. First, we need to understand the characteristics of a so-called “tragic hero” as defined by the Greek critic, Aristotle.
He indicates that a tragic hero must have these characteristics: (1) Be a nobleman, prince, or person of high estate; (2) Have a tragic flaw, and a weakness in judgment; and (3) Fall from high to low estate. (Hubele). Using the Aristotle criteria, we can easily classify Othello, the Moor, as a tragic hero. At the time, it was common practice for the Italian city-states to have a foreigner, with proven military capabilities, serving as the head of their Army. Othello, an African Moor of noble birth, is just such a character and held the highest ranking military position as Governor-General of Cyprus.
The city of Cyprus was a city-state in the great state of Venice. His title alone, Governor-General, exudes an air of nobility, confidence, and strength. It defines someone who is held in tremendously high esteem by the people of Venice. During Act 1, Scene 3, the Duke and a few Senators are discussing issues around a table when Othello enters the room. It’s clear that Othello is held in high esteem when, as he enters, one of the senators states “Here comes Barbantio and the valiant Moor”(47).
Othello’s confidence in himself, another of his positive attributes, is clearly portrayed as he defends himself and his recent marriage to Desdemona, the daughter of the Venetian Senator Barbantio. In his defense, he associates himself with one of the “great ones” of the world. He also demonstrates confidence in himself and his actions when Barbantio, Desdemona’s outraged father, accuses the Moor of witchcraft. His stature, that of a tall, dark, African Moor, combined with his personal magnetism, assist him in gaining the respect and allegiance of the Venetian people and its senators. The respect of the people is brought forth in Act 1, Scene 2, when Montano, the Governor of Cyprus, is awaiting the arrival of Othello’s ship, following a strong storm at sea, and remarks he has “served him’ and the man [Othello] commands/ Like a full soldier” (35-36). He also refers to him as the “brave Othello” (38). Othello is also held in awe by his men, the soldiers, and throughout the play is referred to as a “captain”, a term carried over from Roman times which depicts a commander of a company of men, or a so called “soldiers soldier”.
He is a proven leader of men and known for his military knowledge and skills. His soldierly ways are a result of serving in some form of military capacity since the early age of seven. Dignity, courage, a strong belief in religion, self control and sound jud~ment are a few of Othello’s other positive attributes portrayed in the play. The writer, A.C. Bradley characterizes him as a “truly admirable character, of heroic stature, exemplary self control, and wonderfiil imagination..” (Mehl, Dieter, Shakespeare’s Tragedies: An Introduction, [New York, Cambridge University Press, 1986] page 66).
His confidence in himself and his courage are clearly evident when Othello makes a stand before Barbantio, Roderigo and Iago, when following the drawing of their swords, Othello, as opposed to withdrawing in the face of danger taunts “Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them” (59-60). Shakespeare continues to portray Othello as a well respected nobleman throughout his play, from beginning to end. Shakespeare also shows a soft side when he displays Othello’s love and confidence in his wife Desdemona. In Act 1 Scene 3, Othello entrusts his wife to the care of another gentleman and his wife as he must go off to war in Cyprus. The entrusted man and his wife happen to be his good friend lago and his wife Emila. Othello displays his trust and confidence in both his wife and his ensign [Iago] when he remarks to Iago “to his [Iago] conveyance I assign my wife” (286).
As you move through the play, Shakespeare intriguingly begins to show Othello’s faults and negative character traits, which eventually lead to his destruction. His position as Governor-General, the allegiance from both the people of Venice and his soldiers and his confidence in himself can all be considered major contributors to his overall negative character flaws. In other words his positive aspects are responsible for bringing out his negative side, his flaws in character. His flaws include his all too trusting nature and his eventual insecurities in himself that arise in the form of jealousy for his wife Desdemonia. These flaws begin to surface following his decision to select Cassio, as opposed to Iago, as his lieutenant, his second in command.
He did so because he felt Cassio was well versed in the military sciences and Iago had merely proven himself on the battlefield as a warrior, not necessarily a leader. Surprising, Othello later releases Cassio from his position as lieutenant following his [Cassio] fight with Roderigo in which Montago is wounded after trying to stop the fight. All of this serves as merely one of the results of Iago’s revenge and his ploy to destroy Othello and all those associated with him. Iago is actually consumed with the anger, vengeance and will to destroy Othello. On a good note Cassio is again placed in the graces of good and is appointed as the honorable Governor of Cyprus.
Othello’s decision to choose Cassio fosters a deep resentment in the eyes of Iago, his one time good friend and confidant. Iago convinces Roderigo, a well respected Venetian who is infatuated with Brabantio’s daughter Desdemona, that if paid enough he will eventually topple the new husband Othello, and in turn make Desdemona available to the love of Roderigo. Both of these character flaws eventually lead to the downfall of Othello, this outwardly noble, confident and strong hero. It’s in Act 3, Scene 3, the “temptation scene”, that the turning point in this romantic tragedy appears. It is actual …