’s Trag Essay, Research Paper
Othello, by William Shakespeare, is Othello s tragedy but Iago s play because Iago is the one who is constantly controlling the action. Iago manipulates situations in his favor by speaking directly to the audience. This allows Iago to show the audience his point of view on all matters concerning the play and twist their conception of him in his favor. Iago merely displays his manipulative character in convincing us that he is no villain and is justified in his actions against the other characters in the play. On the other hand, Othello almost never breaks the fourth wall and therefore cannot bend the audience in his favor as Iago does. Othello displays his character instead of trying to win us over in his speeches to the audience. Iago is also in almost every scene of the play at one point and interacts with the people in that scene. The interactions develop Iago s character even more. Othello remains out of the action in most scenes and lacks the character interaction that develops Iago s character. These two facts mean that the camera is centered much more around Iago than it is Othello, making it Iago s play.
Iago breaks the fourth wall to speak to the audience more than anyone in the play. Iago controls the play through his speeches to the audience. He manipulates situations to make himself seem less villainous. One such situation where he tries to manipulate the audience is when, after giving Cassio the advice to go to Desdemona to get back in Othello s good graces, he states, And what s he, then, that says…To win the Moor again? (p. 103, lines 356-359) Iago makes himself seem like a friend to Cassio in the speech. He says that this advice is free I give and honest . He hints to the audience that he does nothing wrong. The facts he states are true, but it is how the other people interpret them that causes the conflicts of the play. He is trying to get on the audience s good side with the speech and justify what he says to Cassio as good. Such manipulation makes the play lean towards being Iago s because he makes the audience think what he wants them to think.
This speech also allows us to get a real sense of Iago s character. Maybe he is just trying to save his own skin, but the fact that he tries to reason with the audience and supports his arguments with facts points more to the idea that he truly believes his actions are not evil. Othello never gives speeches trying convince the audience of anything. Iago s speeches to the audience manipulate us in his favor. This gives him domain over the play because he controls us.
When Iago opens up to the audience to explain his plot, he allows the audience into his head. These speeches also allow Iago to explain how his plans developed in the past scene. Such actions allow the audience to get an inside track on what is going to happen in the play because Iago foreshadows what happens later in the play during these speeches. Iago opens up his head for us when in Act Two, scene one he states, He takes her by the palm…Would they were clyster pipes for your sake. (page 71-73, lines 182-192) Iago informs the audience about what he is thinking about what is happening. He discusses his plan to ensnare as great a fly as Cassio . He mentions thine own courtship referring to the relationship between Desdemona and Cassio. IN saying this, he indicates that Cassio is courting Desdemona who is married to Othello. This hints us towards thinking that Iago will twist this situation around to bring Cassio down. This opens up Iago s mind to the audience and allows him to relate to us. Again, this gives him control over us and therefore the play.
Iago is in the majority of the scenes of Othello. Being in the scenes allows him to interact with other people in the play and develop his character directly through these interactions. On the other hand, the shaping of Othello s character happens through other people discussing his traits and character. In fact, we are first introduced to Othello in the first scene of the first act by Iago, Roderigo, and Barbantio talking about him. Throughout this scene, the audience learns about Othello without even seeing him yet. Iago s role in this scene gives the audience a good foundation for his character. He states, I am not what I am. (page 11, line 71) Iago is blatantly telling Roderigo that he is not a trustworthy person. In this interaction with Roderigo, Iago s character comes forth while Othello s true character is shadowed behind the biases that Iago, Roderigo, and Barbantio bear towards him. In the following scenes when Othello introduces himself, we get a sense of his character traits. He seems honest, trusting, and holds many other good traits. However, these traits don t stand throughout the play. Iago breaks them down. So, we come to question these original characteristics as true or not.
This play is Othello s tragedy, because he fits into the definition of a tragedy. The American Heritage Dictionary defines a tragedy as A drama or literary work in which the main character is brought to ruin or suffers extreme sorrow, especially as a consequence of a tragic flaw, a moral weakness, or an inability to cope with unfavorable circumstances. Breaking down this definition, Othello fits into the description almost perfectly. He is brought to ruin and suffers extreme sorrow by the end of the play mainly through all the personal, emotional, and physical losses he suffers. At the beginning of the play, he has everything a man could want: He has a wife and a good reputation that gets him the respect of many Venetians. By the end of the play, he has lost his wife, reputation, sanity, and finally, life. The first act demonstrates the respect that Othello gets from the Venetians, specifically from the Senators. The Senators and Othello s companions often refer to him as the brave or valiant Othello. Also, when the Duke is sending messengers for him, Cassio describes it as, The galleys have a dozen sequent messengers this very night at one another s heels…When, being not at your lodging to be found, The Senate hath sent about three several quests to search you out. (page 23, lines 47-55) Cassio describes the search for Othello as very frantic. This type of frantic search must mean that Othello is an important man in the society. This all begins to change.
Othello gives us hints of how his downfall will come about. Characteristics appear as the play develops that relate to his eventual downfall. Othello says himself that My blood begins my safer guides to rule, And passion, having my best judgement colied, Assays to lead the way. (page 95, lines 219-221) He is saying that his passion and blood can overrule him and make him do things he wouldn t normally do. This passion comes from within Othello and adds to the tragedy of the play because these feelings are the type of things that Othello has been keeping inside all this time in order to raise himself in society. It also adds to how Othello fits into the definition of a tragedy. The definition of tragedy is extended by saying that the play can be more of a tragedy if it comes about by a tragic flaw, a moral weakness. Othello s tragic flaw or moral weakness is the passion and blood having the ability to overrule his better judgement.
Othello becomes less and less of the great human being he was built up to be at the beginning of the play. The audience sees him easily convinced by Iago of Desdemona s infidelities. The great Othello from the beginning of the play seemed to be smarter than this. He seemed to be above all suspicion, yet after one conversation with Iago, he is almost completely convinced that Desdemona is a whore. Othello confesses his love for Desdemona at the beginning of this conversation when he states, But I do love thee! And when I love thee not, Chaos come again. (page 123, lines 101-102) Othello admits to his true love for Desdemona here by saying, I do love thee, but he also foreshadows events to come. Othello ends up not loving Desdemona and indeed Chaos come again when he murders Desdemona and commits suicide. This complete helplessness on Othello s part when he doesn t love Desdemona adds to the tragic elements of the play. We begin to see this change to hate of Desdemona almost right after Othello states that he does love her. He says Damn her, lewd minx! O, damn her, damn her! (pages 151, lines 541-542) Othello s feelings have been completely turned around from a true love of Desdemona to an absolute hate of Desdemona. This change makes the play even more tragic.
Othello eventually becomes the antithesis of what he was at the beginning. Othello s passion finally overrules his better judgement, and he gets into a jealous rage. He even stoops so low as to strike Desdemona, something he would never dream of doing when he was making his suit to the Duke at the beginning of the play. Othello displays his complete loss of control when he kills Desdemona. He is so blinded by jealousy and rage that he doesn t even listen to her plead for her life.
The whole change that Othello goes through, from good to evil, is made more tragic by the fact that this change came from bad traits that Othello had been keeping inside him. These bad traits are the characteristics of a traditional Moor in most Victorian plays. Moors are characteristically the villains of the play. This is exactly what Othello is not at the beginning of the play. As the play progresses, we see him slip more and more into this stereotype. Othello s fall into the stereotypical more is tragic because he worked so hard to build himself above these stereotypes.
Othello being Iago s play, but Othello s tragedy, strays from the conventional play formula just as Othello the character strays from the conventional Moor characteristics. In most plays, the main character is the one who is in control of the action as well as, if it s a tragedy, the tragic things happen to the same character. The fact that William Shakespeare strayed from the conventional tragedy formula for a play meant that he could also stray from other conventional ideas.