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.

     To understand the magnitude of Othello’s accountability, we must first consider Shakespeare’s characterisation and how that influences both Othello’s emotional and social downfall as his Achilles’ heel. Through Iago, Shakespeare exposes us to a tragic flaw in Othello’s character construct, his nature, which he describes as ‘constant, loving and noble.’ This emotional integrity is reinforced through Shakespeare’s use of iambic pentameter during Othello’s speech, such as in Act 1 scene 3. This articulate control of language among the Venetian court shows the initial stability of his character and his ability to obtain respect from others, exactly what we would expect from a general. His acknowledgement of Brabantio’s love and his desire to draw from Desdemona ‘a prayer of earnest heart’ emphasises his moral compass though the religious connotations of ‘love’ and ‘prayer.’ Shakespeare’s presentation of Othello is also synonymous with the Aristotelian model stating the tragic hero must be ‘virtuous.’ As Shakespeare conforms to the Aristotelian definitions of ‘tragedy,’ some may argue that it is therefore Shakespeare who is responsible for Othello’s downfall, by in the exposition establishing Othello as having certain characteristics of a tragic hero to an audience schooled in classical literature, his downfall is inevitable.

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As early as Act 1, when Othello is most dignified, Shakespeare incorporates numerous external conflicts that could potentially compromise Othello’s social and emotional stability, such as Brabantio’s anger that Desdemona shunned ‘the wealthy, curled darlings of our nation’. Using the collective pronoun ‘our,’ Brabantio linguistically dichotomises Othello from the rest of Venetian society, positively associated with the lexical choice ‘darlings’. He further isolates Othello by claiming Desdemona was ‘abused, stolen from me, and corrupted By spells and medicines…’ alluding to the presuppositions held by a 17th-century audience against black people, associating them with witchcraft and demons. The use of ...

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