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The Tragic Vulnerability Of Othello English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1601 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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A tragic flaw is defined as a flaw in the character of the protagonist of a tragedy that brings sorrow or death to the protagonist. Throughout history, we’ve seen key examples of tragic heroes such as Dr Faustus, Oedipus and Richard III. Shakespeare in particular has seemed to find the way to epitomise what a tragic hero is as Othello is the perfect example of man’s tragic vulnerability of love for another. If we regard Othello as a true tragic hero however, the outcome of the play is not his fault because he is simply fated to suffer. If we look at Othello not as a tragic hero, but, as a human, although he murders his wife, he is not to blame because he is influenced heavily by the manipulative Iago and Roderigo, therefore, Othello’s downfall was not a consequence of his own actions but due to circumstances beyond his control.

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The characteristics of a tragic hero are explained by Aristotle who states that there are four things which need to happen in order for a character to be considered a tragic hero. Firstly, there is peripateia, this is a complete fall from grace to misery; the second is hamartia which is a fatal or tragic flaw in the hero; anagnorisis, which is the recognition of the hero’s mistakes and faults, and finally catharsis, which is when tension is finally released and the reader feels no negative emotions towards the hero. There are two critics in particular who debate whether or not Othello can be considered a tragic hero. The first of these critics is A.C. Bradley who believes that Othello is one of the greatest tragic heroes of all time. The second is F.R Leavis who believes that Othello doesn’t qualify for true hero status. However, both Bradley and Leavis agree that Othello doesn’t reach a state of peripateia but for different reasons. Bradley states that “The Othello of the fourth act is Othello during his downfall. His fall is never complete but his grandeur remains undiminished.” This shows us that Bradley believes that Othello’s downfall is never truly complete, but, he retains his nobility and honour. We also know that Othello was taken from Royal blood to become a slave. Surely that’s a greater fall from grace? Leavis argues that Othello is simply aware of his nobility and therefore lacks the true requirements of a noble hero. “He has discovered his mistake but there is no tragic self-discovery…” Bradley seems to have the better point in this instance; Othello doesn’t suffer a fall from grace at the end of the play and his reputation remains almost intact therefore it does not meet the criteria of a tragic hero, thus, meaning that Othello isn’t fated to suffer because he isn’t a tragic hero.

It is incredibly easy to suggest that Othello’s downfall is that of his own doing. First and foremost; he is not a tragic hero and therefore he controls his own fate. Much like other protagonists in other tragedies, his own actions lead to his eventual downfall. Much like the character of Dr Faustus, Faustus commits his own mistakes and it is his hamartia that leads to his fall and eventual death. Othello’s hamartia is his jealousy. However, despite having this hamartia throughout the play we see numerous instances of characters in Othello such as Roderigo and Iago influencing Othello to make the mistakes that he does. We see a number of instances of the two characters whispering in Othello’s ear in order to stir raw jealousy inside of him as they are aware that it is his weakness; by exploiting it, this will lead to his demise. We learn throughout the play that Iago is trying to cause Othello’s fall from grace and so trick him into believing that Desdemona is having an affair. Although ultimately yes, Othello does give into his hamartia, he cannot be blamed because were it not for the influence of Iago and Roderigo, he would have not murdered his wife. Therefore, Othello’s downfall is a consequence of the actions of those around him.

Iago is a type of character known as a “machiaval”, a character that takes the teachings of the philosopher Machiavelli to the nth degree. Iago can be considered an agent of fate, sent to doom Othello. If we take this stance, it is evident that Othello’s downfall was a consequence of the events out of his control. Iago’s entire scheme begins when the “ignorant, ill-suited” Cassio is given the position that he desires. Iago feels as though it is he who deserves that position and is in turn, consumed with jealousy. Iago shows true acts of amorality throughout the play. As he deceives, steals and murders to gain that position. Iago’s amorality is apparent throughout the entire play and is demonstrated repeatedly. One of the first instances of this is where Iago himself states to Roderigo “I follow him to serve my turn upon him.” This shows us that simply, Iago does not respect nor does he care for Othello immediately showing us his villainy. In almost every scene in which Iago speaks, we know that deception is present. In the opening scene for example, Iago displays characteristics that will show his pivotal role in the tragedy of Othello. Iago proudly boasts that “I am not what I am.” Although at time of speaking, this was simply to convince Roderigo that Iago simply feigns alliance to Othello, the deeper implication of those words soon become apparent to us as an audience. Iago practices deceit whenever it is required. When Othello comes to Iago suspecting the betrayal of Desdemona, Iago does little but fuel the flames of mistrust:

“Iago: Nay, this was but his dream.

Othello: But this denoted a foregone conclusion.

Iago: ‘Tis a shrewd doubt, though it be but a dream,

And this may help to thicken other proofs,

That do demonstrate thinly.”

In this example, Othello believes that Cassio has been having lustful dreams about his wife Desdemona. Othello believes that this is simply a matter of time (“foregone conclusion”) showing us that Iago’s manipulation of Othello has worked successfully. This shows us that Iago is simply planting doubts and jealousy in Othello’s mind. Iago’s villainy is only proven further when again, Iago does little but place the doubts in Othello’s mind that his beloved Desdemona is being unfaithful:

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“Iago: O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;

It is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock

The meat it feeds on…

…Who dotes, yet doubts, suspects, yet strongly loves!”

Iago’s basic idea is that the fortunate man knows his wife his cheating; the unfortunate man only suspects and is therefore trapped between love and trust. Here again, Iago is very evidently exploiting Othello’s hamartia. Iago is pure and simply amoral. He has no problem about deceiving those close to him and deceiving for his own personal gain. It is apparent also that Iago is jealous of Othello. He seems to believe that because Othello is black, he doesn’t deserve his place in the Venetian army; in fact, he repeatedly refers to Othello as “moor”. This suggests a fixation on the fact that Othello is black. Because of this, Iago believes he should not hold his high status within the army. Initially, Iago’s repeated descriptions of Othello lead us to form a dislike towards him as a character. In one instance, Othello is described as “lascivious” leading us as readers to associate lustful and lecherous connotations with Othello. We believe that he has in a way taken Desdemona by force. Othello is also described as an “old, black, rutting ram” again lead us as readers to form sexual and territorial connotations of Othello. The use of rather violent words leads the reader to believe that Othello himself is violent. However, we soon realise that Iago isn’t in fact “honest Iago” as Othello believes him to be. Iago is used by Shakespeare as a vehicle for the story, he is needed to further the events and lead the play to the outcome it reaches. Were it not for Iago, the doubt and jealousy would not have been put in Othello’s mind, he would have not given into his jealousy had Iago not repeatedly manipulated and lied, the play would not have reached the same outcome. The fact that Iago is so prominently and obviously deceiving those around him proves to the reader that Othello’s downfall was not a consequence of his own actions, but a consequence of the events around him.

In conclusion, it is not Othello’s own fault that he suffers a downfall, it is the actions of the people and the events around him that cause the play to proceed the way it does. However, I believe that Othello is the perfect example of man’s tragic vulnerability because through love of another in the form of his wife Desdemona, he suffered the fate of having to live with the guilt that he murdered his wife because of a lie leading to Othello’s eventual death. Othello’s death is the tragic result of one man’s love for his wife. It is Iago’s fault that the play ends in the way it does because of his manipulation of events and characters therefore he can be held accountable for Othello’s fall from Grace. Othello is the perfect example of man’s tragic vulnerability and it is the events around him that cause his downfall.


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