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In what ways does Shakespeare present Othello as a typical tragic hero?

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Introduction

In what ways does Shakespeare present Othello as a typical tragic hero? The importance that the main character of Othello holds in this play cannot be underestimated. He is presented as the man who seems to have had everything, and then lost it all through a series of events with twists and turns, a victim of the cruel manipulation of the villain Iago. Or did Othello have himself to blame for the way he was deceived? One thing is certain, the drama's driving narrative is focused on Othello and the audience is shown the complete breakdown and disintegration of his character from noble hero to misguided victim. Othello's character fits all the criteria for the original tragic hero. In these criteria, the tragic hero has both good and evil traits, and is neither one nor the other. Othello is a play about opposites and opposition, and the many contradictions contained in the play are embodied in the tragic hero. In the first Act, Othello is presented as noble and heroic. He holds a senior rank position, uses eloquent and beautiful language and exotic, expanded imagery. In talking about how he wooed Desdemona, he speaks of "antres vast and deserts idle, Rough quarries, rocks and hills whose heads touch heaven". ...read more.

Middle

He accepts Iago's explanation too easily and he is too trusting: "Now do I see tis true" (3.3.442). Othello becomes a "barely human state". His use of language changes dramatically. His speech resembles more that of Iago, with brutal, crude animalistic imagery. He shows this particularly in addressing Desdemona: "Each drop she falls would prove a crocodile" (4.1.240) and in his random curses and oaths, "Goats and monkeys!"(240), and "O devil, devil!"(230). As Othello becomes more and more jealous there is also severely impaired speech on his part. His sentences become shorter and more broken up. There are interruptions to the flow of sentences and this reflects his state of mind. There is repetition of certain words such as his fixation with the handkerchief. This suggests that he is only becoming more and more irrational, obsessive and conflicted. Othello uses antithesis in mentioning heaven and the devils in the same phrases, 4.2.36 and saying things such as the nonsensical "Heaven truly knows...thou art false as hell". In looking again at how he falls into the category of the tragic hero, the question is raised of what brings him down and what could cause Othello to gain or to lose sympathy from the audience. ...read more.

Conclusion

He is very much punished as Iago cruelly addresses him as a cuckold. He suffers due to his pride, and gains audience sympathy for that. At the end of the century Swinburne argued that Othello must be seen as a truly noble hero, "The noblest man of man's making." Other critics such as F.R Leavis have suggested that Othello's readiness to believe Iago is a sign that the hero is na�ve and lacking in intelligence and that this contributes to the tragedy. He is not only out of his depth in love but is also, because of his background, unable to comprehend the society he has married into; this suggests that Othello is a noble savage. Leavis said that Othello possesses a weak character which is sorely tested by marriage, "the stuff of which he is made begins at once to deteriorate and show itself unfit". I am inclined to agree with Leavis's harsher view, because it really is such a huge mistake on Othello's part to murder his faultless wife that I feel there is almost no excuse, and even if Desdemona was unfaithful a punishment of death is too strong. 1,579 words ?? ?? ?? ?? Lea West English Literature - Othello ...read more.

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Response to the question

The essay responds at an average level to the task. There is an exploration of how Othello falls from nobility to a misguided victim. However, I don't think the argument is sharp enough in regards to the question. Examiners are ...

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Response to the question

The essay responds at an average level to the task. There is an exploration of how Othello falls from nobility to a misguided victim. However, I don't think the argument is sharp enough in regards to the question. Examiners are looking for a discussion of what a tragic hero is, and from that an argument which sticks to a clear definition. The introduction here says that Othello has many of the traits of a tragic hero, but there is no explanation of what constitutes this status. The argument seems contradictory, saying that Othello becomes a victim before his death, yet still claims he is a tragic hero. It would've been better if the essay had stated that "it could be argued Othello is a victim" and then explored how critics see him as anything but a tragic hero. A discussion of Iago's influence on Othello's tragedy would've been useful here.

Level of analysis

The analysis here is good. The language of Othello is explored thoroughly, and the essay comments how Shakespeare presents him as royal by his speech. I'm not a big fan of the way this essay writes as if Othello is real. Sentences such as "Othello appears to have an enormous capacity for love and loving others." add little to the argument other than retelling the story. It is much stronger to write about Shakespeare's constructions, for example saying "Shakespeare presents Othello as loving at the beginning of the play". It is essential when talking about tragedy that you make reference to the structure of the play, looking at how elements change. Simply saying that Othello is loving does not make clear as to why that makes him a tragic hero. The penultimate paragraph is strong, looking at a critical view of the play. Being able to include other interpretation is a skill examiners are looking for, and being able to weave them into the argument is great. I feel this paragraph would be more relevant at the beginning of the essay, setting up a number of points which either support or disregard the thought. I would've liked more theatrical devices to be explored here. Othello is significant that he has no soliloquies until the last scene, and this is in contrast to many of Shakespeare's tragic heroes. Examiners will want to see you understand the significance of the text as a subset of the dramatic genre, and by analysing theatrical techniques you are showing this awareness.

Quality of writing

The essay has an okay structure. There is an introduction, but as mentioned above the argument is ambiguous. Points are not logically laid out, and I think this is because there isn't a clear definition of a tragic hero. If tragic hero was defined in the introduction, with three key traits and conventions, then it would be easy to have a paragraph proving whether each is f. Critical interpretations appear at the end, which are great, but these need to be weaved into the analysis when the relevant points are made. It is much stronger to say "it could be argued" and then say "however, this argument is less strong" by continuing with your argument. Rhetorical questions such as "Or did Othello have himself to blame for the way he was deceived?" should not be included, as you should not be trying to provoke an emotional response. Spelling, punctuation and grammar are fine.


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Reviewed by groat 23/04/2012

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