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Othello As A Tragedy Of Character

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Othello as “A Tragedy of Character”

“Tragedy of Othello/ The Moor of Venice” is a typical of classical tragedy and is regarded as the greatest work of William Shakespeare by many critics. While writing his play in 1604, Shakespeare adapted the story from Italian author Cynthio’s novella called Hecatammithi which was written in 1565. In order to bring a comment on play’s being “a tragedy of character” it’s necessary to emphasize on these points: general characteristics of classical tragedy, “Tragedy of Othello” as a unique form of classical tragedy, the complex relationships between the main characters such as Othello, Iago, Desdemona, and Emilia.

Aristotle-one of the great figures of ancient times’ art and philosophy- stated that the classical tragedy is “the imitation of an action that is serious and also, as having magnitude, complete in itself.” The general characteristics of the classical tragedy can be put in this way:

1. Language of the play is verse or poetry.

2. The tragic hero, the protagonist comes from the upper-class of the society. This kind of choice stems from the belief in that these rich, noble and important people were able to affect the destinies of the lower classes and the idea of “big people suffering from big tragedy” arose much fear, shock and interest in the audience.

3. The protagonist experiences an internal division.

4. The protagonist’s fortune turns into a catastrophe from happiness.

5. The protagonist has a “recognition speech” after the climax.

6. The protagonist suffers very much at the end of the play.

“Tragedy of Othello” is a unique one among other forms of Shakespeare’s tragedies; most important reason for this is that it’s primarily a domestic tragedy about love and jealousy with some political overtones such as the war between the Venetians and the Turks, Muslims vs. Christians, however other tragedies of Shakespeare such as Hamlet is a primarily revenge or political tragedy. Its style is non-realistic, it’s written in verse form whose meter is Iambic pentameter which is the most common meter in English poetry and Shakespeare’s works, its form is episodic (that also enables the play to be appropriate for being filmed many times) which means that nothing much happened before the play, and there’s no unity of time, place and action in the play. Because the play has multiple locations in which the characters make their conversations in two main places: Venice and Cyprus, there’s no unity of place, because the story is told in a timeline which probably lasts for some months (e.g. Othello sails to Cyprus) there’s no unity of time, and because there are sub-plots such as the relationship between Iago and Roderigo-who’s exploited by Iago- there’s no unity of action. Also nothing much happens before the play: Othello and Desdemona get married secretly and Cassio is made the lieutenant in place of Iago. All of these characteristics of the play are attributable to its being a classical tragedy.

“Tragedy of Othello” is a “tragedy of character” in which the seeming protagonist Othello belongs to the upper-class of the society by being a general in the army. In fact he is a moor who comes from the northern part of the Africa and thus a former Muslim who converted to Christianity. Othello, the noble protagonist of the play, is a hired general in the Venetian army (at that time Venice- one of the rich and militarily, politically powerful republics of Italy- hired soldiers from the different parts of the world as the rich families didn’t want their sons to be soldiers). Thus Othello is both a cultural and a racial alien or outsider in Venice. However he falls deeply in love with good and noble Desdemona (daughter of honorable Brabantio) and they get married secretly by breaking the norms of the society. At the beginning of the play Othello is a man of intelligence, self-confidence and he’s calm enough, but with Iago’s tricks and plots (who’s the most evil character of the history) Othello can’t control himself and his jealousy that he radically changes through the end. This change stems from his being deceived by Iago (evil incarnate) and leading him to accuse his wife for adultery. At this point, as a characteristic of the classical tragedy, Othello turns out to be a “tragically divided character”: He’s divided between the choices of killing his innocent wife as a punishment or stop believing in Iago’s deceptions, tricks and forgiving his beloved Desdemona. But after the internal division and thoughts running through his mind (thinking that as she betrayed her father and broke the laws of the society by marrying with him secretly, she must have betrayed him too with adultery, and if she doesn’t die “she’ll betray more men”) Othello decides to murder her although she is pure and totally innocent. Desdemona is the one that always loved his husband and stayed loyal to him even by resisting her father while marrying with him. Shakespeare reveals these characteristics of Desdemona by these lines, when she’s about to die, Emilia (wife to Iago) asks the murderer of her and she answers:

Nobody- I myself. Farewell. Commend me to my kind lord.

O, farewell!

Instead of revealing his husband as the criminal she chooses to protect him.

In fact Othello is deeply attached to his beloved Desdemona although he kills her, there are some crucial reasons for his killing Desdemona and thus becoming a “tragic hero”: firstly adultery was a sinful act and had to be punished



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