To what extent is Othello responsible for his own downfall?
In Shakespeare’s tragedy, Othello, jealousy sparks the tragic downfall for the hero, Othello. In this play, Othello, a moor who serves as a general in the army of Venice, experiences a great downfall caused by love, prejudice, and jealousy. All tragedies have a hero with a tragic flaw. In this tragedy, the hero loves too well, lets prejudice issues take their toll on him, and allows jealousy to rage in his heart. These characteristics are not necessarily bad, but when shown in extreme levels can cause the downfall of a great leader.
In the beginning of this story, Othello falls in love with Desdemona, the daughter of a Venetian senator. Othello and Desdemona initially keep their love and marriage a secret for fear of her father not approving. Iago, Othello’s captain in his army, tells Brabantio, Desdemona’s father, of their deception and he goes to confront Othello. Brabantio accuses Othello of using trickery to make Desdemona fall in love with him. Othello explains that he just told her stories about his life; she felt pity for him, and fell in love with him. He says, “She loved me for the dangers I had passed, and I loved her that she did pity them.”(I.2 lines 166-167). Othello loves Desdemona so much that he wants her to accompany him into the battlefield. He loved her so well that false jealousy caused him to murder her. After this has been done, Othello explains in his speech before his death, “Speak of me as I am…Of one that loved not wisely but too well…” (V.2 lines 343-344). Othello means that he loved Desdemona very much but unfortunately he wasn’t very smart about it. Othello’s love for Desdemona caused him to lose control of himself and his reason. He is blinded by this love and does not see when he is being conned by Iago.
Aristotle said that “A man cannot become a hero until he can see the root of his own downfall.” This statement is exemplified in Shakespeare’s Othello where Othello as the tragic hero is to some extent responsible for his own downfall. Othello cannot be totally blamed for his own downfall because of Iago’s creation of an alternative world filled with lies, in which is consequently consumed by the trusting and naive Othello. Thus, Othello’s downfall comes about due to the combination of the influence of Iago and the fatal flaws of Othello. It becomes clear to the audience that through using a tragic hero and his downfall, Shakespeare does not intend us to admire Othello, but to essentially identify ourselves with him.
As a tragic hero, Othello has many fatal flaws which contribute to his own downfall. Othello, at the start of the play, is undoubtedly a noble character. He is “of royal siege,” an essential requirement for the heritage-obsessed Elizabethans, and is a rigidly brave figure, refusing to run from the threat of a mob sent to find him, instead declaring “not I – I must be found” in determining to face the threat bravely. His language bears this out, too, and he speaks in blank verse, the format that Shakespeare reserves for his high class characters. Thus, it can be confidently said that Othello is essentially a ‘good’ character, a soldier, trained to identify and kill the enemy. However, as a tragic hero, he has fatal flaws, one of which is that he is so gullible and cannot identify Iago as an enemy, often seeking his counsel and referring to him as noble and “honest Iago.” The growing ambiguity between fiction and fact is the catalyst for Othello’s tragic downfall. Iago realises that he can manipulate Othello for his own gains because Othello is too “free and open nature” who too trusting and expects everyone around him to be the same way. Here, it gives the audience an insight into his deceptive and evil character, ready to catalyse the downfall of Othello.
A fundamental element to the downfall of Othello is his insecurities and lack of self knowledge. Othello’s greatest weaknesses are targeted by Iago as the perfect tool for his revenge. Thus, Othello is not completely to blame for his downfall. Othello’s sincerity and goodness makes him easy prey, as he cannot envisage such evil and “thinks men honest that but seem to be so.” Even before Iago has begun his ‘web of manipulations,’ Othello struggles to control his emotions for his new wife Desdemona. He does not believe himself worthy of such a woman and believes that without her love he is sentenced to “eternal damnation.” Whenever he is absent from Desdemona, Othello fears “chaos comes again.” However due to his “tragic flaw,” his jealousy, this noble character is transformed into a madly jealous, cruel monster. As the suspicion and doubt about Desdemona and Cassio eats away into Othello’s mind, we truly see the fusion of Othello’s jealousy and Iago’s manipulations is what causes Othello’s ultimate downfall. It is evident that Othello now gyrates between love and hate, and between violence and exhaustion. In one sentence, he pities Desdemona, recalling her as an “admirable musician,” however in the next, he wants to “chop her into messes.” It is evident here that jealousy has distorted Othello’s judgment. Thus we see that Othello has allowed the monster of jealousy to consume him and steer him wrong for which he kills himself as well as Desdemona due to his soul being tormented by the works of jealousy.
Othello’s inability to judge people outside the battle field is his ultimate downfall. It is clear that Othello’s virtues are used against him by the “green monster” and Iago’s construction of an alternate world filled with lies. Iago’s manipulative power plays a crucial role in the play as it further corrodes Othello’s lack of awareness and his gullibility – unable to see “honest Iago” for who he truly was, and in turn was unable to see that Desdemona is beautiful on the outside as well as the inside. This “perplexity” in identifying the ‘enemy’ extends to Othello’s downfall and ultimately his death. Once he realises he has killed Desdemona wrongly, he redeems some of his nobility and now identifies himself as the enemy, pleading to the devil to “Whip me…Blow me about in winds/ Roast me in sulphur. Wash me in…gulfs of liquid fire!” Othello refers himself as “the base Indian…a turbaned Turk…a circumcised dog,” identifying himself with enemies of the western world. He then commits his final act as a soldier and a widowed husband, killing himself to not only dispose of an ‘enemy,’ but to also revenge his wife’s death. His last words and his consequent death confirm that Othello has been “wrought perplexed” about his role as a soldier, his ability as a soldier has been wholly destroyed, completing his downfall.
A tragic hero has many weaknesses which lead to his downfall at the conclusion of the play. Despite his remarkable eloquence and bravery, critic A.C Bradley condemns Othello as “unusually open to deception.” Ultimately, Othello’s downfall and destruction is a result of his insecurities and flaws such as his gullibility, jealousy and his deep love for Desdemona. However, Othello cannot be completely blamed for his downfall as his virtues were used against him by the evil and manipulative Iago. Thus, Othello’s downfall is due to a flaw in his character, his inability to identify the real enemy leads him to kill his beloved Desdemona and then ultimately himself. At the conclusion of the play, the audience therefore feels a large degree of catharsis because of his tragic downfall.
For Aristotle a tragedy is to be serious having dignity and a protagonist of high esteem that experiences a reversal of fortune. This reversal of fortune must be caused by the tragic hero’s hamartia, a mistake. We see a great character, Othello, rising up in life and eventually bringing about his own downfall expressed in his own words of dismay: “Where should Othello go?” According to Aristotle, “The change to bad fortune which he undergoes is not due to any moral defect or flaw, but a mistake of some kind” like Othello’s killing of his wife is based upon error of judgment and plotting by Iago. This causes pity and fear within the spectators. Tragedy results in a catharsis, emotional cleansing or healing for the audience; this is achieved through their experience of pity and fear in response to the suffering of the character(s) in the drama. A tragic hero has to be virtuous and “a morally blameless man. Othello is a moor, a black but honorable man, in Denmark. He is respected for his courageous and brave service to the army. Othello is appointed as a general in the army. We don’t find any moral flaw or defect in his character. Desdemona, the daughter of a senator, is in love with him despite the fact that he is black. They even elope and marry. It makes us appreciate his character. And his fall would cause a feeling of pity and fear among the audience. This merits him the standards of a tragic hero. The fall of Othello would be of high importance because it involves royal blood and may resultantly influence masses in general. Iago is an ensign, denied promotion by Othello, is jealous of the promotion of his junior soldier. He wishes to avenge at Othello. He plots against Othello and his wife. In the Turk war, Othello takes his wife along. Iago, tricks Othello into believing that his wife is being unfaithful to him. On the other hand, Desdemona is truly in love with him; she even accompanies him in the war out of love saying “That I did love the Moor to live with him and my heart’s subdued even to the very quality of my lord.” Othello, though a remarkable man indeed, begins to think that his wife does not love him in real because he is black. And no woman would love a blank man. With this state of mind and inner tormenting, he ends up killing his wife. But he later realizes that it was a plot hatched by Iago out of jealousy. Audience is shocked and there is a feeling of fear and pity for poor Othello. The hero suffers from some tragic error or hamartia which is primarily responsible for his downfall. Iago planned to avenge his jealousy at Othello by misleading him; however, it is an rror of judgment on the part of Othello. She is, indeed, Othello’s fair warrior, and he is happiest when he has her by his side in the midst of military conflict or business. He gets trapped. But that error is big enough to decipher his entire career and bring his downfall. It might have been his fate to slay his wife but it was brought about by his own actions and thoughts. It was his free will, though he does so in oblivion of the true state of things. Misunderstanding was his fault. The audience is filled with catharsis when Othello, a splendid lover and a remarkable general, has come to know the truth only after his wife has been slayed by himself. The, he kills himself. This is the height of pity and awe. There is no option but to weep over the loss. Catharsis helps purging of excessive emotions from a person. By watching the tragedy and feeling the strong emotions of fear and pity on behalf of the characters on stage, the spectator experiences a kind of cleansing of the soul. Metaphorical catharsis from watching tragedy gave the spectators a shared experience that bound them closer together. In other works, Aristotle locates the essence of the self in perception; by sharing perception or perceiving the same things, the spectators develop a sort of common identity. The plot of the play is well structured with underlying irony and suspense that prevails till the last lines of the play. Desdemona wanted a loving and caring husband which she thought she eventually found. She remained true to him till her last breathe. But it is the irony of fate that he was misled by the jealousy prevailing in his surrounding and contented only at slaying his own wife. Othello chooses an immoral act of slaying his wife. And ironically, slaying his wife proves the worst error on his part. Though he later repents but it is of no use now. There is suspense whether the villain be successful in bringing about the downfall of the love couple. The use of language suits the theme of the play. The reader remains interested in the awful story till the very tragic fall of the hero.