Othello the Tragedy of Othello Essay

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Simultaneously, he forces a man long upheld as honest in the highest Venetian circles into scheming and manipulations; these are roles which Iago takes on too readily, suggesting a certain familiarity, but it must be preserved that no earlier instance is ever presented to suggest that the notables of Venice were in any way wrong to uphold Iago as honest and true. In fact, those same notables are those that appealed to Othello on Iago's behalf in the question of the promotion. Allowing passion to rule what should be societal decisions is Othello's barbarism cracking through the veneer of his civility. Othello, though a great soldier, is no Caesar nor even a Roman at all. His nature is of the wild, and -- like many tamed, wild beasts -- he retains the inner potential to one day bite the hand that feeds him.

And, even after Othello's barbarian passion has created the fertile conditions for Iago's moral fall, Othello is further ruled by his passion making him a ready target for Iago's manipulations. Iago's genius is simply to unlock that passion, to further thin the veneer of civility, and allow the raging barbarian to take his own course towards inevitable tragedy.

It must be considered that never does Othello rely on or even seek any opinion as to his wife's fealty but that of Iago. He has been blinded by passion. Yet, it would be proper for him to at least sound others: Cassio, though possibly involved in the cuckolding, is clearly a confidante of Othello's affairs but remains outside the general's counsels in this matter; Emilia is consulted at one point but, despite all evidence to the contrary, Othello completely disbelieves her; other notables of Venice present themselves at Cyprus. None of these is ever consulted while the general is almost instantly blinded by jealousy, grief, and rage at Iago's merest provocation.

And it is an unreasonable blindness of passion and rage which overtakes Othello. After the short part -- about one hundred and sixty lines (lines 93-255) -- of III.III, when Iago first insinuates the poison of jealousy among Othello's thoughts, the general is next met at the scene's end already in a state of overruling emotion and passion. Before the scene is over he is found on his knees, dragging Iago alongside, vowing swift, bloody revenge. In contrast to Hamlet, who seems unmoved after many scenes of philosophizing and the clear evidence of his father's murder, Othello is a very different character. His jealous passion is ignited as quickly as dry tinder. Why, it should seem that this jealous passion was slumbering deep in Othello's breast long before Iago came along to spark it. Even if Othello was blissfully ignorant, the potential resided in him and only awaited a spark, and it could be argued that the jealous rage into which Othello falls was inevitable even without Iago in specific to spark it. It is so easily sparked that the argument must be made that, had not Iago come along, one day another would; enough dry tinder in a dry enough wood will one day cause a forest first, regardless of human intervention.

The passion grows to rule Othello quickly, and by IV.I he is seen swooning and fainting to a trance by the sheer power of this overwhelming passion. At this point, but two scenes after Iago's poison was first injected, he sees clearly that its work is already done and the victim already in an advanced stage of decline. Iago, as Bradley proposes, perceives now that he can risk almost any lie and presses on with the deception regarding Cassio's confession. By this point, however -- indeed by the end of III.III -- Iago's work is already done. What remains is only to watch the tragedy unfold.

Finally, as Bradley has said, Othello is a man who "once wrought to passion, likely to act with little reflection, with no delay, and in the most decisive manner conceivable," (Bradley, 1919). From the moment of the spark in III.III the play unfolds like clockwork, the only variables being the forms of the proofs which Iago finds to apply to Othello's increasing blindness. Othello, the soldier, moves inevitably from ill-founded jealousy to direct action. He orders Cassio's death, not accounting the friendship that once existed between them which has been discarded with a soldier's expediency. And he moves to murder Desdemona too, she who has defiled his beloved image of Venice and ruined him for that society. He murders her not in hatred, but perhaps in love, to save her from herself, believing her to be a sinner, a traitor to the culture of Venice.

It is important for good tragedy to be of a self-fulfilling nature. The humanity men can identify with is that inherent to themselves; the inner knowledge that they are just as capable of spectacular failure as the great general of Venice. It is this which, looking outwards to the stage as well as inwards to themselves, men abhor to watch but cannot turn away from. Like roadside accidents, tragedy both draws and repels, which is what makes Othello so successful. The playgoer is treated to the spectacle of a man's self-destruction by the uncontrolled passions which rule him, by his all-too-human cronyism, and the playgoer therein sees the mirror of his own flawed humanity.


1. Shakespeare, William. "Othello the Moor of Venice." The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature. Ed. Michael Meyer. 8th ed. Boston: Bedford / St. Martin's, 2009. Print.

2. Crawford, Alexander W. "Othello as Tragic Hero." Hamlet, an ideal prince, and other essays in Shakesperean interpretation: Hamlet; Merchant of Venice; Othello; King Lear. Boston: R.G. Badger, 1916. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2009. 2 May 2010 < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/othello/othelloessay2.html

3. Crawford, Alexander W. "Othello's relationship with Iago." Hamlet, an ideal prince, and other essays in Shakesperean interpretation: Hamlet; Merchant of Venice; Othello; King Lear. Boston: R.G. Badger, 1916. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2009. 2 May 2010 < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/othello/othelloessay2.html

4. Bradley, a.C. "Othello's Jealousy." Shakespearean Tragedy. London: MacMillan and Co., 1919. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2009. 2 May 2010 < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/othello/othellobradley2.html >.

5. SparkNotes Editors. "SparkNote on Othello." SparkNotes.com. SparkNotes LLC. 2002. Web.…[continue]

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