Othello, by William Shakespeare is regarded as an intriguing and complex tragic play that encompasses marriage life, downfall, and final demise of the protagonist, Othello. Othello, was a Moor and a general in Venetian army who had married Desdemona without the approval of her family. Iago is the main antagonist in this play and engaged in plotting the destruction of Othello. Among the reasons why Iago is determined to see the downfall of Othello was vengeance because Othello failed to promote him within the army ranks but instead promoted Cassio to the position Iago so much coveted. Iago advances his plans against Othello and take advantage of his insecurities to convince him that his wife was having an affair with Cassio. This made Othello furious and killed is wife. It is only after Desdemona died that Othello realizes that he had fallen prey to Iago’s treachery. He attacks Iago and wounds him before killing himself. This provides the climax of the play ending it as a tragedy.
The play Othello fits the description of the term tragedy as defined by Aristotle’s Poetics. Aristotle defined tragedy as a narration about something that is serious complete and up to a certain level makes use of dram to describe the fall of an individual who had been highly placed. Aristotle described that the fall of a hero in a tragedy resulted from either external and internal forces caused by the hero’s personal error or frailty considered as a tragic flaw. Othello, the main character, becomes a tragic hero and fits definition of a tragic hero in Aristotle’s poetic, as he is revealed to be neither a villain nor a virtuous man. Othello, is depicted as a good, just, and dedicated military leader but yet faces misfortune that was not caused by a vice or depravity but rather results from occurrence of an error or frailty, a situation referred as hamartia. Othello further fits the character of tragic hero as outlined by Aristotle in his poetic, as noted when he realized his mistakes that brought loses, and makes the reader have pity and be sympathetic to him.
The play Othello depicts moments of peripeteia and anagnorisis. A moment of anagnorisis describes a time within a play when a character discovers a critical issue or gains important insights. On the other hand, moment of peripeteia refers to a situation where things within a play take a turning point. There is moment of anagnorisis when Brabantio is informed by Iago and Roderigo that his daughter, Desdemona, had been kidnapped by Othello. When Brabantio verifies that truly his daughter was missing, he gets some officers to find Othello. Brabantio develops resentment of Othello and accuses Othello of using witchcraft to get his daughter and takes his case to the assembled senate. This points up to a moment of anagnorisis as extrapolated by Aristotle who highlights that it is characterized by the recognition of change that leads to enmity or friendship. A moment of peripeteia is evident at a point where Iago notice how Cassio greeted Desdemona. This presented a turning point of events as Iago saw an opportunity to exploit as evident in the statement “as a little a web as this” (II.i. 169). It is from this point that Iago got the idea of making false claims to Othello with regard to false accusation to Othello about the unfaithfulness of his wife. Another moment of peripeteia is evident at point when Cassio is ashamed to meet Othello having engaged in a fight and dismissed but Iago uses this opportunity to affirm to Othello that Cassi was having an affair with his wife “That he would steal away so guilty-like, seeing you coming” (III.iii.37-39). This fits the description by Aristotle on the moment of peripeteia, that described the turning point in a drama where the protagonist’s fortune start turning from good to bad, which rolls the motion in the plot for a tragedy. When Desdemona requests that Othello reinstates Cassio, Othello gets the conviction of the story of the affair. Another moment of anagnorisis that is evident in the play occurs when Othello after being overcome by jealous and wrath and ends up killing Desdemona, is made aware by Iago’s wife that his wife had been faithful to him. “Moor, she was chaste. She loved the, cruel Moor.” (IV.ii.258). This represents a moment of anagnorisis as defined by Aristotle, when Othello realizes that his trusted friend Iago had presented a series of lies that had made him to think that his wife Desdemona had been cheating on him.
It can be indicated that the structural dynamic in the play by Shakespeare is comprised of instances of binary oppositions that highlight different conflicts present in the play. In the play Othello, Shakespeare displays the structural binaries of race and gender as essential elements that influence the structure of the Venetian society that is comprised of both empowered and constrained groups. Using these elements, the readers are able to establish the dynamics in the society where one group is regarded as being superior to another group that is regarded as being inferior.
The play presents various instances where Othello is victimized because of dark skin and based on the fact that he was a foreigner. Othello is portrayed as a happily married and widely respected military general within the Venetian army despite his African heritage. He does not initially experience any form of discrimination. The Venetian culture, as depicted in the play, is entrapped with elements of masculinist and racist ways where characters behave in a manner meant to align to such provisions. Othello is an African prince born in the royal family as he claims, “I fetch my life and being/from men of royal siege” (III. ii. 21-22). Othello chose to leave his native homeplace and to reside within the white European community. His background of royalty seems to make life easy for him. He indicates his commitment to the Venetian government and his wife Desdemona. The racial background for Othello has not denied him the chance of a high rank within the social status. He is able to exercise power and freedom that is associated with the kind of position that he holds. Othello is depicted as “Black Moor”. At some point, his black skin color is associated with the ‘devil’ and also as a signified of barbarism that is devoid of “loveliness in favor… and beauties” (I.i.232).
Different characters in the play, Othello, are presented as having racial prejudices that influences how they perceive and treat Othello. Among the characters portrayed as holding most racist views, are Roderigo and Iago who clearly hate and are jealous of Othello. Roderigo expresses this by making racial slurs against Othello, “What a full fortune does the thick-lips owe/if he can carry thus” (I.i-87-88). They accuse Othello to Brabantio of kidnapping his daughter. To make Brabantio angrier, they use descriptions with racial connotation, “An old black ram? Is tupping your white ewe? (I.i.88). They bring out the idea that his grand-children would be a half-cast and would become source of ridicule in the society and cause shame to Brabantio. “You’ll have a daughter covered with Barbary/Horse: you’ll have your nephews neigh to you” (I.i. 110). This seemed to agitate Brabantio who takes steps to confront Othello and even charge him in front of the Senate and the Duke. Othello defends himself and reveals that Brabantio use to respect him “lov’d me; oft invited me” (I.iii.128). This portrayed that Brabantio had not previously held racist ideas until Iago influenced him to. The judgement by Duke and advice to Brabantio reveals that Brabantio wanted Othello convicted mainly due to his skin color other than the wrong doing. “If virtue no delighted beauty lack/Your son-in-law if far fairer that black” (I.iii.289).
Another major source of conflict in the play, Othello, is based on gender differences. An analysis of the character of Iago and Emilia highlight the differences in power in gender roles within the Venetian society. Iago is depicted as a masculine individual in this relationship set up. He has the power to describe, define and eventually destroy Emilia who has a feminine persona. Women are portrayed as being subservient to men. Emilia is observed to have been hardened to the cynicism with regard to the male-female relationships through the course of her marriage life as indicated in the description that “women are food for all stomach who belch them when full (III.iv.98). Iago makes abusive remarks with regard to women by calling them “whores’ and “wenches. Iago holds the view that women are only there to supply the desires of men. The subservience of women seems to have been subverted at the final part of the play where Emilia fails to heed the warning from Iago, ‘be wise and get home’. She goes on and reveals how Iago had made her get Desdemona’s handkerchief, ‘he begged me to steal’ (IV.11. 227). This led to the discovery of the deception plot by Iago. Iago reacts by making more abusive remarks ‘villainous whore” (IV.ii.228). Burning with anger, Iago destroys Emilia physically by killing her and fleeing, thereby asserting the masculine power over the female.
Another form of gender-based conflict is depicted through the relationship of Othello, Desdemona, and Iago which highlighted instances of gender differences and shifting perception. The relationship between Othello and Desdemona is characterized by love that made each party to appreciate the differences that each had from the other. Desdemona is noted to regard Othello as valiant warrior while Othello views Desdemona as a lady full of true feminine grace. Iago is clearly not supportive of this relationship. It can be seen that the hatred held by Iago is fueled by his fear and loathing for feminity as she describes Desdemona as ‘general’s general’. The power struggle between Othello and Iago puts Desdemona at crossfire as Iago makes moves to denigrate Desdemona with an aim of placing himself in a position to ‘poison’ Othello (III.iii.326). Iago uses Desdemona as a weapon to cultivate the hatred and jealous in Othello. Iago comes up with lies about Desdemona which causes the build-up of anger within Othello. This anger eventually causes Othello to have an outburst that highlights the violent, and jealous masculinity aspect in him as seen in the description, “O monstrous, monstrous!’ III.iii.428. Iago is able to win over Othello, by taking advantage of the masculinity character that appears to be overbearing.
In conclusion, it can be noted from the discussion above that the play, Othello, by Shakespeare is a tragedy. The play fits that qualities of a tragedy as per Aristotle’s poetics. Aristotle described that the fall of a hero in a tragedy resulted from either external and internal forces caused by the hero’s personal error or frailty considered as a tragic flaw. The play is set in Venice, where Othello, a black prince and military general is the main protagonist. The antagonist in the paper is Iago who harbors hatred towards Othello, because of his black racial background and his action of failing to choose him as the military lieutenant, and instead choose Cassio who was less experienced than him. Iago makes another plan where he accuses Cassio of having an affair with Desdemona. He feeds this information to Othello who becomes jealous and finally kills Desdemona. Iago’s wife, Emilia reveals to him that the stories were a deception plan by Iago. This reveal makes Iago to kills his wife, after realizing that his wife had been innocent, Othello kills himself marking the climax of the tragedy. The paper discusses moments of peripeteia and anagnorisis. The moments of peripeteia include when Iago notice how Cassio greeted Desdemona which presented an opportunity that Iago could exploit. Another moment of peripeteia is evident at point when Cassio is ashamed to meet Othello having engaged in a fight and dismissed but Iago uses this opportunity to affirm to Othello that Cassi was having an affair with his wife. A moment of anagnorisis is evident when Brabantio is informed by Iago and Roderigo that his daughter, Desdemona, had been kidnapped by Othello. Another moment of anagnorisis that is evident in the play occurs when Othello after being overcome by jealous and wrath and ends up killing Desdemona, is made aware by Iago’s wife that his wife had been faithful to him. In the play Othello, Shakespeare displays the structural binaries of race and gender that are sources of conflict in the play. The relationship between Iago and Emilia has been used to describe how gender leads to different power orientation. Gender-based conflict is further advanced in the relationship between Othello, Desdemona, and Ioga. In this case, Desdemona is used as the pawn by Iago to settle his scores with Othello and Cassio.
Shakespeare, William. Othello: The Oxford Shakespeare: The Moor of Venice. OUP Oxford, 2006.
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