Othello Essay, Research Paper
A tragic figure, according to the classic definition, is a person of noble birth whose character is flawed by a weakness that causes his downfall. Othello, while not a prince or a king, is descended from royalty, and proves himself worthy as a powerful soldier and a gentle, poetic man. While some people feel that his fatal flaw is his jealous nature, others feel Othello proves that he is not prone to jealousy. I tend to favor the notion that Othello’s flaw is a jealous passion that he cannot control. He s slow to anger, but once he s angered, his passion overwhelms his common sense. Once Iago is able to persuade Othello that Desdemona has been unfaithful, Othello is on a collision course to his demise and is so overcome with jealous rage that he allows nothing to stand in his way to revenge. He kills his wife as a result of his passion, and eventually kills himself. This waste of his life, full of promise and noble intentions, depicts the true tragedy of the play. I don t think it can be said that Othello is either a tragic figure that falls victim to outside forces, or that he is a person with deep character flaws. It s simply not that black and white. I feel that Othello fits somewhere in between those two statements, and that it s a combination of both ideas that ultimately leads to his demise.
Now, as far as fatal flaws are concerned, Othello s flaw is definitely a jealous passion that is beyond his control. The character of Iago is quick to spot this weakness in Othello, and quickly uses it to get his revenge on him. Through manipulation, Iago convinces Othello that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio, and then provides the so-called “proof” of the infidelity that Othello demands. Othello is driven into a rage at his betrayal and easily gives in to Iago s suggestion that both his wife and Cassio must be killed. Othello does not really want to kill Desdemona, as evidenced when he stands by her bed and stares at her, but he feels he must kill her for her sinful ways. After she is murdered, he finds out the truth about her innocence and assumes full responsibility for his crime and for being so blind to the ways of Iago. He is in such pain over what he has done that he kills himself, dying as a true tragic hero.
Since Othello has passed all his life in the fields of war, he has the innocence and simplicity of a child when it comes to social graces and knowledge of how the word works. In matters of life, Othello is simple, frank, and honest. He has had no experience with the wickedness that exists in human nature, and thinks that men who appear honest are exactly that…honest. Because of this, Othello is easily deceived by Iago and becomes a victim of his master plan. There are also qualities of Othello that have both a good side and a bad side. Included in these qualities is his open and trusting nature. Othello believes that others are honest and sincere until he has proof that they’re not. This open-hearted love of his fellow man makes Othello a good and generous friend, but it also leaves him susceptible to Iago’s scheming. Iago knows that his plan will work because Othello trusts him, and has no reason to suspect that his loyal friend would scheme against him.
These two ideas illustrate why Othello is somewhere in between a person with deep character flaws and someone who merely falls due to the influences of outside forces. While Othello certainly has a problem controlling his jealous rage, I don t think that the loss of control alone results in his downfall. Logically, there needs to be an aggravator in order to set Othello s jealousy into action. This aggravating outside force is none other than Iago. Othello is a passionate man, and this makes him exciting. But he admits that he has a fiery temper. For example, in Act II, Scene iii, Othello states:
Now, by heaven,
My blood begins my safer guide to rule,
And passion, having my best judgment collied,
Assays to lead the way. If I once stir
Or do but life this arm, the best of you
Shall sink in my rebuke.
Iago is a smart and observant man, and he capitalizes on Othello’s excitability. Iago and his plan become the outside influence that set off the flaw within Othello, and creates a beast that eventually takes the life of Othello, Desdemona, Emilia, and Iago. For example, if Iago never existed, then there d be nothing to trigger Othello s uncontrollable jealous passion, and he and Desdemona would most likely live happily ever after. In turn, if Othello s fatal flaw had been a receding hair line, rather than jealousy, then he quite possibly may have seen past Iago s false front, and realized that Iago was merely using him as a pawn in his twisted game, and thus ended it all before anyone was physically hurt. Therefore, only the cooperation of outside influence and a tragic inner flaw could have made the play s actual ending.
Another example of the combining of an outside force with part of Othello himself is the fact that because Othello had spent so much time in army camps, he s a bit naive about certain subjects. This includes women and love in general. In Act I, Scene iii, Othello says:
For since these arms of mine had seven years’ pith
Tiff now some nine moons wasted, they have used
Their dearest action in the tented field;
This naivete has a sense of charm in the first act, where the strong and powerful general admits to being a shy and cautious lover. However, in the third act, Othello’s inexperience allows Iago to convince him that he doesn’t understand Venetian women, and that they are known for cheating on their husbands.
Overall, Othello isn t just a black or white character. He s a very complex individual, and that s because he has the potential to be a true tragic hero. He has a problem with not being able to control his jealousy, but that s not what does him in at the play s ending. It s the fact that he s so normal that twists the knife that s already in his back. Everybody faces the hardships of the outside world everyday. People are constantly facing outside pressures and being forced to question both themselves and exactly what s going on around them. When Othello realizes that there s more going on in the world than what s happening in his own little universe things begin to fall apart. And yet his uncontrollable jealousy still remains stagnant. Then, Iago begins to come around and put those outside pressures on Othello. Unintentionally, he opens up Othello s eyes, and Othello realizes that there s a whole world that s completely foreign to him. Being so na ve about so much, Othello doesn t know what to do when things begin moving so quickly. Iago sees this, and he knows what he s doing. The knife is starting to turn. The worlds are beginning to collide. The world of the potential flaw of jealousy inches closer and closer to the world of the outside pressures, which includes Iago s ultimate plan. Othello then finds himself trapped in that gray area. He s not a tragic hero that falls because of the tragic flaw that is deeply rooted inside of himself. He falls because he s just a normal guy, faced to deal with a world that is completely unknown to him, and therefore falls victim to the outside forces that, when combined with his inner feelings of jealousy, are completely beyond his control and push him over the edge.