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“The Mere Fact That Someone Cruelly Destroys A Potentially Happy Marriage Is Sad, Not Necessarily Tragic.” What, Then, Makes Othello A Tragedy?

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The emotion elicited from the destruction of a happy marriage by the villain at the greatest extent is sadness, possibly due to the fact that the outcome is highly predictable. One may then find himself detached from the play as there is no palpable tension felt by the audience and therefore there is no culmination in the sense of helplessness and inevitability which engender tragedy. What, then, makes Othello a tragedy? It is no longer the mere fact that Iago destroys the blissful marriage between Othello and Desdemona, however, it relates to the striking revelation that in reality Othello himself is to be held culpable for this destruction through his murder of wife, Desdemona. With this, the element of tragic irony is introduced where the hero is responsible for destroying his own marriage and hence Othello is evidently a tragedy.

In Othello, as in any Shakespearean tragedy, the sense of tragic irony stems from the inherent tragic flaw of the hero that will consequently bring upon his tragic downfall. Othello constructs his identity in a way that belies his insecurities about his other self. Othello defines himself through discourse as a noble Moor, an Elizabethan traveller, and an ascetic general. His allusions to his “travel’s history with the “exotic” where it is replete with “disastrous chances” and “moving accidents” in Act 1 Scene 3 fashion him as an Elizabethan traveller and his declaration that “[his]parts,.. title,.. and ... perfect soul/Shall manifest [him] rightly” when Brabantio is searching for him in Act 1 Scene 2 illustrates how he perceives himself to be and finds security in that. With this construction, the characters overlook his other self as they accept him into Venetian society with his attachment to Desdemona.

Nonetheless, the seizing and manipulation of this knowledge by Iago then exposes his tragic flaw, which is the triggering factor that causes him to kill Desdemona and destroy his happy marriage. Iago unmasks his insecurities through differing forms that aim to question Desdemona’s fallibility to commit adultery. This is done by mirroring where Iago echoes Othello in Act 3 Scene 3 and “ensnares” him in his “web” when Othello finally exclaims that “thou[Iago] echo’est me/As if there were some monster in thy thought/too hideous to be shown./Thou dost mean something..” and asks “what didst [he] not like..” as Cassio was parting from Desdemona. Iago then purposefully alludes to there being a possible sexual relation between them as he generalises on the promiscuity of Shakespeare’s Venetian women and that “In Venice they do let God see the pranks/They not dare show their husbands” which exploits his other un-Venetian self. This then sparks an intense jealousy in Othello which will drive him to kill her at the end of the play and destroy his once happy marriage.

His vulnerability to Iago’s manipulation initiates a sequence of events that will eventually lead him to a state of madness. This is seen when his discourse degrades from a hyperbole into one of gross imagery throughout the course of the play. In Act 1 Scene 2 when he was confronted by Brabantio and officers, he maintained an aura of confidence and calmly said to “keep up [their] bright swords, for the dew will rust them..” and that they “shall command more with years/Than with [their] weapons.” His hyperbolic speech is contrasted with his scathing remarks showing his abhorrence of Desdemona where he calls her a “strumpet” and the “cunning whore of Venice” in Act 4 Scene 2. This descent from greatness to madness, coupled with the reversal of the state of the marriage from bliss to one that is full of unhappiness and strife, illuminates on the element of peripeteia, another facet of tragedy. The tragic irony is heightened as the play draws to its end when the peak of Othello’s rage is reached as he finally “put[s] out the light” of Desdemona in Act 5 Scene 2.

Hence, the mere fact that Othello is the one who destroys his potentially happy marriage already enhances the scale and intensity of the tragic sense, creating the purgatory of emotions of grief and pity, in the form of catharsis. The very palpable sense of the inevitable, which places the audience in a state of helplessness and thereby culminating in the form of catharsis, is conveyed through dramatic irony. Dramatic irony is heightened throughout the play via many facets, one of which is the instance of fate and opportunity. This theme surmises at several intervals, all of which inadvertently aid Iago in his layering of deception of the state of the seemingly happy marriage.

One imperative element that contributes to the subversion of Desdemona’s fidelity is the handkerchief that Othello had given to her. Emilia retrieves the discarded handkerchief after Desdemona had accidentally dropped it in Act 3 Scene 3 and in her only soliloquy tells the audience of her “wayward husband...Woo[ing her] to steal it” though she knows not why, and that she “nothing, but to please his fantasy.” The “ocular proof” of Desdemona’s infidelity is then fully taken advantage of by Iago, who places it in Cassio’s chamber who will give it to Bianca. This is when the interstices of the potentially happy marriage are palpable to the audience. In Act 3 Scene

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