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Othello And His Tragic Flaw Essay Research

Othello And His Tragic Flaw Essay, Research Paper

Tragedies often focus on a tragic hero who has a flaw that ultimately leads

to his downfall. That flaw is commonly referred to as a tragic flaw that is

inborn to the person and can mirror his background. In Aristotle’s Poetics,

he discusses the theory of tragedy and what criteria is essential in an

ideal tragedy. According to Aristotle, the tragic flaw is the most

important part of the hero and the events that occur in the work is a

reflection of that flaw. In William Shakespeare’s Othello, Othello is an

excellent example of an Aristotelian tragic hero. His gullibility and

jealousy are the main reason of his downfall. Othello deals with love lost

because of gullibility and jealousy. Aristotle’s theory of tragedy, found

in the Poetics, deals with the characteristics of plays that make them a

true tragedy, and characteristics are also essential in giving plays their

true definition of a tragedy. According to Aristotle, the life and soul of

tragedy is plot. Incidents in the plot have the best effect if they occur

unexpectedly, and in consequence of one another. A great tragedy grips the

audience with the plot. Aristotle also states that the sense of the

inevitable must be present in tragedy. The tragic hero is also another

important factor in an Aristotelian tragedy. The main character must be

noble, have a higher stature than most men, and have better qualities than

secondary characters. However, the main character must also exhibit his

flaws. The most important part of an Aristotelian tragic hero is the tragic

flaw. He must have that flaw throughout his life and it will play the

primary role in his downfall, while reflecting his background. Another

part of the main character is that he is destroyed by himself, not by

others, bad luck, or depravity. These are the criteria necessary to be

classified as a ideal tragedy and Othello meets that criteria. The main

character, Othello, is a classical example of a tragic hero, and he has the

basic elements that match him up to be a true hero defined by Aristotle.

Othello, being a soldier all his life, is seen as a very honorable

man.. His title alone, governor-general, presents an air of nobility,

confidence, and strength. The title 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 Brabantio 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 Brabantio, 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 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 respect by his men, the soldiers, and throughout the play is

referred to as a “captain,” a term

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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 a military capacity since the early age of seven.

Dignity, courage, a strong belief in religion, self control and sound

judgment are a few of Othello’s other positive attributes portrayed in the

play. His confidence in himself and his courage are clearly evident when

Othello makes a stand before Brabantio, 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 Iago and his wife

Emilia. Othello displays his trust and confidence in both his wife and his

officer [Iago] when he remarks to Iago “to his [Iago's] conveyance I assign

my wife” (286). His trustworthiness make him a greatly respected person.

Through nobility, respect, love, and trust, Othello is considered to be an

honorable and commendable man.

However, Othello’s background was unsophisticated, and would often

affect his attitude. Othello is a person who is innocent and base in

nature. He was influenced by the way his life was going on. Othello’s

statement, His innocence and lack of sophistication is revealed in this

statement. “Perdition catch my soul but I do love thee. And when I love

thee not, chaos is come again.”(act 3, sc. 3, line 100), showed that he

felt his life was only in order if he is loved. The people around Othello

also knew of his attitude. Iago was very quick to see this. In his first

soliloquy, Iago said “the Moor is of a free and open nature that thinks men

honest that but seem to be so.” (1,3,442) Iago knew of Othello’s weakness.

Othello’s innocence and baseness makes him susceptible to being undermined

by people. Iago also reveals his plan to use the Moor’s gullibility against

him. Othello is clearly a person who believes appearances versus reality.

When Othello was told about an affair between Desdemona and Cassio, he

started to become jealous. Being that person who believes appearances, he

wanted ocular proof of Desdemona’s unfaithfulness. Even a superficial piece

of evidence would have been sufficient. In his statement, “Give me a living

reason she is disloyal.”(3,3,446), Othello revealed that he would believe

in anything he saw. This is a clear example of his gullibility and that

appearances can fool him. Othello’s words is the underlying statement that

determined his feelings. The tragic flaw of gullibility would lead his

feelings to make bad judgments. All of his characteristics made him a clear

Aristotelian tragic hero.

Othello’s tragic flaw of gullibility is exposed throughout the course

of the play. He also developed a jealousy that was caused by his

credulousness. Iago is the catalyst of Othello’s acquired jealousy. His

scheming was inflicted upon the unsuspecting Othello throughout the play.

Iago’s evil was structured on using falsities and insinuations to play on

Othello’s gullibility. Iago appeared as an honest human being,

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but in reality he was an evil person. Iago created a trap that was easily

bought in to by Othello. Iago knows Othello’s flaws and takes advantage of

them. Othello’s gullibility is very evident to Iago, and his free and open

nature makes him vulnerable to being tricked by Iago. Iago’s intelligence

read Othello’s baseness. When the initial rumor of an affair between

Desdemona and Cassio was implanted in Othello’s head, Iago built up his

trust with the moor by saying, “O, beware, my lord of jealousy! It is the

green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.”(3,3,195) Iago,

being a man of skills and tricks, bewares Othello of the dangers of

jealousy… the same jealousy being instilled in Othello by Iago. He

deliberately plays off of Othello’s gullibility throughout the play.

Othello’s gullibility led him to believe lies and insinuations by Iago.

Othello is overwhelmed by all of the insinuations and lies. Othello’s

gullibility, his tragic flaw, is the underlying reason of his downfall.

Othello eventually becomes overtaken with all of the jealousy that is in

his mind. The battle between love and hate going on in Othello’s mind is

clearly seen in the statement, “Farewell the tranquil mind! Farewell

content! Farewell the plumed troops and the big wars that makes ambition

virtue! O Farewell!”(3,3,400) Othello’s statement also relates to his

statement that his life is good with love. When Othello lost his love, his

life turned to chaos. Othello is furious at all the “evidence” of

Desdemona’s affair, and considers the proof sufficient because it is from

Iago. Othello then plans to murder Desdemona and Cassio. At that point,

Iago realized that his plan worked perfectly and that he had Othello in his

grips. Iago’s statement, “Work on, my medicine work! Thy credulous fools

are caught, and many worthy and chaste danes even thus, All guiltless, met

reproach.”(4,1,53) shows that Othello is gullible. He clearly called

Othello a “credulous fool.”

Iago comments on the people he caught and the ease of trickery.

Othello is clearly manipulated by a person who recognized his natural flaws

and used them to his advantage. Othello is made into a fool by Iago because

Iago had the drive and mental capacity to use someone’s psyche to his

benefit. Shakespeare portrayed Othello as one of the most loving persons.

He lived for the love and care of a person. The way that Othello was turned

to hatred is ironic. The overpowering delusion that he suffers is due to

his beliefs of an affair. His primal qualities lead him to easily believe

anything that is presented to him. Othello’s false beliefs drives him into

extreme anger and makes him plot to kill his wife and lieutenant. The

final stages of the play reveals the true gullibility of Othello to the

other characters. Iago agrees to help kill Desdemona and Cassio. When

Othello finally went through with his plan, the dying Desdemona

reassures her faith to him. Othello believes Iago and his own false

deductions instead of his own wife. Desdemona did not realize Othello’s

flaws. In her statement, “And but my noble moor is true of mind and made of

no such baseness as jealous ones are, it were enough to put them to ill

thinking.”(3,4,25) she judged Othello opposite to what he really was. She

did not suspect that Othello would suspect her for an affair. In reality,

Othello is a gullible person who is drawn into jealousy and falseness by

Iago. Othello accomplished his plan of killing his wife and destroying a

marriage that had no reason to be torn apart. Desdemona was the victim of a

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plot by a gullible man driven into rage because of lies. When Emilia

confronted Othello, he admits to killing his wife but said that she was

untrue to him. Emilia repeatedly told Othello Desdemona’s unfaithfulness

was not true. He responds to Emilia by saying, “Ay, ’twas he that told me

on her first. An honest man he is, and hates the slime that sticks on

filthy deeds.”(5,2,179) Othello’s gullibility is also exhibited in this

statement. He believes Iago and his lies because he thinks that Iago is

honest. Othello is drawn in by the appearance of Iago, and Iago’s scheming

is so powerful that Othello praises him for his “honesty.” Othello and Iago

are finally caught and their plot is revealed. Othello then finds out that

Iago did not go through with his vow to kill Cassio. Othello told the

officials his reasons for committing murder and that Iago told him of an

affair. Iago’s response is, “Demand me nothing. What you know, you know.

From this time forth, I never will speak a word.”(5,2,335) Iago tells

Othello and the others that he didn’t tell Othello about an affair. He just

simply made insinuations and suggestions about one. Othello really does not

know of an affair between Desdemona and Cassio, but his gullibility leads

him to be overtaken with appearances.

Othello does not make any real attempt to find out the truth. He

relies on Iago to provide a picture of what he thought happened. Because of

Othello’s failure to seek the truth, his inevitable downfall becomes visual

when he kills himself. Othello’s tragic flaw is being gullible. His

background of baseness makes him a weak minded person. Iago is an evil man

who wanted to see the downfall of Othello. He recognizes Othello’s flaw and

uses it to his benefit. Iago’s scheme consists of images and appearances of

an affair, but not evidence of one. Othello’s stature, and downfall make

him a true tragic hero. His tragic flaw, gullibility, the defining criteria

of a tragic hero, makes Othello a man that he never thought he would be.

Othello realizes that he became a person filled with rage and hatred, and

only wants to resolve the chaos in his life by putting an end to the affair

that he believes is going on. All the structure’s of Othello’s character

makes him a prime example for a Aristotelian tragic hero.


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