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Do you agree with A.C. Bradley's view that Othello is 'Iago's character in action,' or are you more sympathetic with F.R. Leavis's counter claim that the play is Othello's character in action?

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Introduction

Do you agree with A.C. Bradley's view that Othello is 'Iago's character in action,' or are you more sympathetic with F.R. Leavis's counter claim that the play is Othello's character in action? In no other Shakespearian play has one characters tragic downfall been created so singularly by another character's manipulation as we see in Othello. The protagonists, Othello and Iago are juxtaposed as opposites, one being a devilishly calculated manipulator, and one an easily lead, noble romantic. The question of whether, or even if, one character is created in order to 'make' the play has been examined by Bradley and Leavis, with contrasting outcomes, however I would suggest that whilst Iago is the manipulator of the action, both characters are needed in order that there be any action at all: Without Iago or Othello, there would be no play. In recognizing whether this is 'Othello in action' or 'Iago in action,' it is important to consider the context in which it is set. From a 21st century perspective, we constantly want to gain a psychological reality and reason from characters. Yet when the play was created in Elizabethan times, the play was created primarily as a form of entertainment to be performed rather than analyzed, any meanings the play may have are secondary. When an Elizabethan went to 'hear' a play, it was an experience, the imagery, poetic verse and in particular the action all created a source of entertainment. ...read more.

Middle

If Othello is a well oiled engine, then Iago is the spanner that unscrews the bolts in order to create a conflict. In Bradley's criticism of the play, Othello is a 'noble moor', a 'nearly faultless hero' undone by Iago's 'intellectual superiority'. Taking this approach, we see the characters analyzed as though they have a psychological reality; they do not exist purely for the sake of the play, but are people in their own right. The play form becomes irrelevant because here we focus on who the characters are, what they are motivated by, and why they behave in the way they do. Events are only focused on in relation to character, for example Leavis would see Othello's Killing of Desdemona as a calculated and artificial dramatic device to end the play, whereas Bradley would consider it in the context of character, as the undoing of Othello's tragic persona. Characters here are suggested by Shakespeare, but are created more fully in the minds of the spectator. In real life, we intend characters for people, and so do the same, intending dispositions and situations for the characters in a play. We treat the play form as though it were a novel, perhaps wondering what kind of a childhood the character had, and speculating over their motives; if we read with empathy, we feel as though we know the characters and in effect feel as though we have been there with them. ...read more.

Conclusion

The very fact that his motivations are inadequate only further proves this, that a character who behaves like this without motivation can only have been created as drama: he cannot be 'real' without motivation. In spite of this agreement with Leavis's criticisms, it is not entirely convincing that the play is 'Othello in Action.' Iago still manipulates almost single handedly the actions of the play, and although the plot follows the downfall of Othello, this demise happens purely as a result of Iago. Iago's presence within the play is far more powerful, and completely essential to the plot. Othello here could be any insecure character, whereas for the play to function, Iago has to be Iago. What's more, the audience feels far more insightful into Iago's character, perhaps due to his soliloquies, understanding him when the other characters do not. He tells Roderigo, 'I am what I am not,' and the audience gain a shared understanding of the irony here. To the audience, Iago will appear to be more involved in the action, because they are more involved with him, and far more fascinated by him. Although he is clearly a dramatic device, this does not mean that the play cannot be Iago's 'character in action,' for he creates the action and he is the action. Without Iago, Othello and Desdemona would stay happily married, and there would be no action in the play, and since Othello is created to entertain, without action there would be no entertainment. 1766 words ?? ?? ?? ?? Annie Attwood ...read more.

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