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Introduction Othello is a classic tragic hero that stands out as distinguished individual failing in the encounter with evil. Brought to us through Shakespeare's genius, he compares in significance to other personalities including Oedipus, Macbeth, King Lear, Hamlet and other tragic heroes. This paper will focus on the explication of Othello as a tragic hero and his correspondence to the canons for tragic protagonists. Othello and Aristotle's Definition of Tragedy To decide how well Othello fits into the mold of a tragic hero, one needs to accept in the first place a working definition of tragedy and tragic hero. The theorists exploring tragedy almost universally draw upon the classic account of this play variety in Aristotle's Poetics. The prominent Greek philosopher defined a heroic tragedy in the following way: "A truly tragic plot is a disastrous reversal of fortune, coming, through his own fault, to a man of essentially noble quality, accompanied by the discovery that some other person or persons are not what they had seemed [The] test of a great tragedy is its power to cleanse the beholders' emotions through the pity and fear which it awakens in them" (Othello: the tragic hero).
This cleansing that is realised through pity and fear was termed catharsis and is an indispensable feature of any tragedy. Besides, a tragedy needs a character of noble quality, guilty of some kind of fault that brings about tragic events. A tragedy also has to present to the reader a plot possessing some logical unity and completion and the one that contains engaging action. Aristotle also specified that a tragedy has to include appropriate linguistic devices that serve to bring out its meaning (Time and the tragic hero). Most critics stopped short of saying that Shakespeare was aware of Aristotelian theories and took them as a guide for writing (Time and the tragic hero; Djordjevic ). However, his tragedies reveal strict adherence to Aristotle's theory, and Othello is no exception.
Whether this correspondence was caused by a thorough study of Aristotle's works or through an accidental coincidence of thoughts of two geniuses of the world's culture remains a matter for guessing. Thus, the play definitely possesses a noble character, Othello. The man's nobility of action contrasts with his dark-colored appearance, unusual for Europe of that time. Othello proved himself to be a noble warrior deserving of the highest respect.
He never acts dishonestly or cowardly throughout the play; in fact, nobility is one of the most important features of his character. Yet he fails through his own fault, and this fault is his credibility. An essentially good feature, it is taken to extremes in Othello, which causes his demise. He never stoops to questioning Desdemona. He is so absorbed in what Iago tells him that he never questions the words of the villain. At the time when the vicious Iago weaves his web of conspiracy, gullible Othello greets him with the words: I know thou art full of love and honesty.
Therefore, Othello is not merely a victim of malicious circumstances as he might have been if he had, for example, lost a wife had been hit by a lightning or cruelly murdered by robbers. Instead, he incurred his misfortune himself, and his death at the end of the play serves to underscore this idea. At the end of the play he chastises himself with bitterness, confessing that his ruin was brought about by his own failure: O cursed, cursed slave! Whip me, ye devils, from the possession of the heavenly sight!
Blow me about the winds! roast me in sulphur! O Desdemona, Desdemona Dead! O! O! O!" Othello as a play also fits Aristotle' description as it contains logical unity and coherence that is a necessary component of tragedy.
The play starts from the moment of idyllic honeymooning between Othello and Desdemona and follows Iago's treacherous plan from inception to its tragic success. Othello's sufferings in youth and the story of his courtship stay behind the scene, but in Othello's account they form an logical background for the action observed by the viewer. Othello evokes in the readers both pity and fear. They are pressured to feel sorry for the man who so sadly loses his wife due to a conspiracy. The pity for Othello even exceeds the feeling for Desdemona who is merely a victim; she does not have to suffer the pangs of conscience for what she has done. At the same time pity is not the only feeling Othello evokes in the readers or viewers.
He also raises fear as a man capable of such a savage revenge, killing a wife on the spot for the alleged adultery. It seems that even at the time of more stringent morality such as mediaeval Italy not every husband would go that far as to kill the adulteress. This is even less likely in Elizabethan England, and so had to seem even wilder to Shakespeare's contemporaries. Othello's reaction demonstrates that he was a man of extremely hot temper and strong emotions, capable of venting his sentiments in a very violent way. Othello: A Stock Comic Character? Although the standard view is to see Othello as a purely tragic character, other, more unusual interpretations are possible.
Igor Djordjevic in his article "Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet): From Shakespearean Tragedy to Postmodern Satyr Play" points out an interesting aspect of Othello's character. In his view, Othello could have been a comic fellow instead, and he is inverted into a tragic hero by the playwright. Othello is a character typical of comedies; a husband whose wife is much younger and more beautiful, and thus raises fears of being deceived. However, Othello does not fit into the regular model of a husband whose worries are to be derided. At the outset of the play he appears as "a lover who must obtain the legitimization of his courtship of Desdemona, and he must overcome the multiple obstacles of the see, racial prejudice, and religious charges of witchcraft" (Djordjevic ). It is his painful pursuit of Desdemona whom he had to steal to be able to marry her that wins him the hearts of the reader.
Shakespeare depicts the trials of Othello, a victim to racial bias, in such a way that the reader begins to sympathise with the late love of this great man, the swan song of his life that is already to some degree tragic. Seeing him lose what he worked so hard to attain endears him to the reader even more. Othello evokes pity in the reader partly due to the fact that he experienced so many hardships in life that the skilful narrative of these hardships eventually won him Desdemona's heart: "She loved me for the dangers I had passed, And I loved her that she did pity them." The playwright tries here to instil in the reader sympathy with the old soldier who fought desperately for his love going through many hardships. The listener responds by saying "I think this tale would win my daughter too", and this approval "symbolically [confers]
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