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To what extent do you agree that the character Othello is responsible for his own tragic downfall?

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Ben Grantham Ms Pritchard S Peters Collegiate School 20962 Candidate Number: 6055 To what extent do you agree that Othello is responsible for his own tragic downfall? As a tragic hero, Othello should be viewed within the context of Aristotle?s Poetics, within which contains the theories of tragedy and the traits a tragic hero must possess to ensure his downfall. These are seen as flaws which cause the hero?s own downfall regardless of external influences. It is undeniable that Othello bears some responsibility for his fall from grace. However, there are various other contributing factors such as the sadistic scheming of Iago and the element of chance, both of which play significant roles in Jacobean tragedy. This is demonstrated in Act 1 when Brabantio says ?this accident is not unlike my dream,? a premonition that suggestively foreshadows Desdemona?s murder, illustrating the magnitude of Othello?s downfall. This lexical choice ?accident? alludes to Othello?s lack of ability to evaluate the situation and acting on what he perceives as ?ocular proof.? This structural technique does not correspond with the Aristotelian model?s key premise, asserting that the tragic hero?s hamartia must be what leads his downfall. Shakespeare?s revision of these classic laws allowed the potential for more conflict and thus appealed to this new type of audience, whose tastes have developed since the Aristotelian period. ...read more.


This sense of alienation later manifests through Othello?s own decay in language and morality, during which his own bestiality and jealousy is repetitively suggested: ?I had rather be a toad and live upon the vapour of a dungeon Than keep a corner in the thing I love for others? uses.? By this third act, Othello?s language has degenerated from his sophisticated and courtly voice to a bitter and harsh tone, taking the conventional criticisms of Venetian society into his own idiolect, self-identifying himself as a ?toad?. Linguistically, Othello reflects the very image of dehumanisation that a 17th-century audience would associate with someone of his origins. A Jacobean audience could also interpret this anguine image as a suggestion of metamorphosis, which to them would be further reason to believe Othello is associated with the supernatural. When Desdemona?s enters, he complains of a ?pain upon my forehead,? metaphorically resembling horns of a cuckold and thus a degradation of his own character whilst echoing Iago?s use of metaphor in Act 1. Suggestions of ?black magic? are made more convincing through Shakespeare?s use of repetition as Othello exclaims ?O, blood, blood, blood!? when reduced to thoughts of murder . This can be interpreted as an indirect reference to practising the dark arts due to its likeness to a chant, and the shift in narrative pace clearly presents Othello?s loss of control of his language once so articulate. ...read more.


As a modern audience we may debate whether Othello’s tragic flaw is anything beyond his ignorance, something which to us is relatable. Additionally, it allows us to question whether the outcome would have been the same with a different character, straying from the Aristotelian model which labels the tragic hero’s hamartia as the cause for their downfall, regardless of externalities. Naïveté is a significant contributing factor to his downfall; however we must also consider his hubris and obsession with outward image, both of which encourage the jealousy and paranoia that Othello expresses due to Iago’s deceit. Its importance to the plot is foreshadowed by Cassio who exclaims ‘O, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial’. One may consider pride as part of Othello’s culture and experience as a general, though this quality embedded by Shakespeare is unique to him and further justification that he must have the tragic fall from grace. Although a concern for integrity is undoubtedly positive for the tragic hero, one could argue Othello’s fascination had destructive ramifications. It is clear that he valued his reputation more than his marriage with Desdemona, a view which labels Iago as no more than a catalyst to Othello’s downfall. Marian Cox describes Iago as ‘satanic in energy,’ though his description as a ‘demi-devil’ further indicates his limited responsibility of this tragic hero’s downfall. ...read more.

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