Marlene Romo Professor Williams English 1B 4 December, 2011 Othello’s Tragic Fall According to Aristotle, a tragedy must include the downfall of the tragic hero brought upon by his hamartia, in other words his weakness or flaw. It must also be comprised of the hero’s peripetia, where when he once had it all, it is now all lost. After the peripetia, the anagnorises follows; this is where the hero attributes his downfall to his weakness or flaw. The hero must be noble both in birth as well as in stature and according to Aristotle in the end of the play the audience must experience catharsis by encountering feelings of pity and fear.
Even though Shakespeare’s Othello does include most of the requirements of an Aristotelian Tragedy it lacks a few elements, such as a hamartia and an anagnorises as well as catharsis. Othello’s downfall is not brought upon himself instead Iago’s manipulation is the cause, therefore the play does not fulfill Aristotle’s standards of a Tragedy. Although the audience fails to experience catharsis at the end of the play, Othello does help the audience come to the realization that cruel and manipulative people such as Iago exist in today’s society.
While those who consider Othello to be a tragedy might argue that Othello’s hamartia is being naive, others may attribute Desdemona’s death to Iago’s manipulation of Othello. The fact that Iago was able to manipulate not only Othello but Roderigo, Cassio, Emilia and even Desdemona proves that he is extremely persuasive and thus Iago can be held accountable for Desdemona’s death. Since it is Iago who influences Othello into killing Desdemona that means Othello does not have a hamartia but instead confirms that Iago is very manipulative.
Iago slowly but skillfully begins to implant doubt into Othello, for example when they see Cassio walking out of Desdemona’s room: Iago: Ha! I like not that. Othello: What dost thou say? Iago: Nothing, my lord: or if—I know not what. Othello: Was not that Cassio parted from my wife Iago: Cassio, my lord! No, sure, I cannot think it, That he would steal away so guilty-like, Seeing you coming. Othello: I do believe ’twas he. (III. iii. 35-42) Iago makes Othello believe Desdemona is being unfaithful to him with Cassio, because he is constantly suggesting this.
After some time Othello begins to believe every word Iago tells him and eventually ends up doubting his wife’s fidelity which results in her death. Desdemona dies and Othello finds himself losing everything but it is not due to hamartia it is due to Iago’s cruel manipulation of the mind. Othello listens to everything Iago says to him and believes it to be true for example when Iago says to Othello “But he that filches from me my good name and makes me poor indeed. Robs me of that which not enriches him” (III. iii 72-74) Here one can be a witness to Iago’s master manipulation.
Iago is saying: Othello, Cassio is robbing you of your reputation and that is immoral not only because he wants you to lose your respect and is only doing this to hurt you, but because he will not receive any personal gain and yet is still determined to go through with it . Iago does this throughout most of the play, he instills ideas into Othello’s mind and does it with the intention of hurting him, therefore Othello does not have a tragic flaw that causes his downfall but instead Iago is the one who brings Othello down with his manipulation.
Since Othello does not have a hamartia anagnorises does not take place. Othello’s downfall is attributed to Iago’s manipulation not to Othello’s flaw. Even though it is Othello who suffocates Desdemona to death, this would never have happened if it weren’t for Iago’s manipulation. Othello cannot help but feel partially responsible for the death of Desdemona but he is aware of Iago’s cruel influence on him. When Othello has killed Desdemona and Emilia explains to him the way Iago got a hold of the handkerchief Othello says “Are there no stones in heaven But what serves for the thunder? Precious villain! ” (V. ii. 241-242). Here Othello is finally able to see Iago as the villain that he is, and he asks heaven why it will not strike him dead. Othello never feels fully responsible for Desdemona’s death, he knows he is partially to blame but he also recognizes Iago as a villain so therefore anagnorises does not take place. Othello is not the only one who views Iago as a villain after Emilia’s confession so does Lodovico and the rest.
After Iago is brought to the room as a prisoner Lodovico says to Othello: “O thou Othello, that was once so good, Fall’n in the practice of a cursed slave” (V, ii, 300-301). Lodovico is aware that Othello’s drastic change was brought upon by Iago’s evil manipulation and attributes Desdemona’s death to him. Everyone in the room realizes that Iago was not the “honest”( V. ii. 161) person they believed him to be, not only did they now realize he was a villain but they also became aware of all the people he manipulated, such as Othello, Roderigo, Cassio, Desdemona, and Emilia.
Despite the fact that catharsis does not take place, the audience does experience fear toward the end of the play. The audience experiences fear because they become aware of the existence of men like that of Iago, in society. Dramatic irony is what allows the audience to witness Iago’s malicious plans. Iago is pure evil and unlike the characters in the play the audience is aware of this throughout the play. As the play progresses the audience gradually becomes more and more aware of Iago’s cruelty.
The audience cannot help but come to the realization that men like Iago do exist in the real world. Marvin Rosenberg, Shakespearean scholar and a UC Berkeley professor points this out in his essay, when speaking of Iago he says “he evokes our fear, because we know that wicked men do exist” (Rosenberg157). Rosenberg states that the audience fears to encounter people like Iago because he seemed so trustworthy and yet he was able to manipulate everyone he wanted to and was almost able to get away with murder.
Rosenberg argues in his essay titled “In Defense of Iago” that Shakespeare’s purpose in writing this play was to enlighten the audience in the ways of thinking of a mischievous man. Rosenberg believes that Shakespeare wanted the audience to know how an evil man’s “twisted emotions work” (Rosenberg 157). Even though the audience fails to experience catharsis, good comes from the play because now the audience has been exposed to the evil of man and can go about living life without being too naive. Shakespeare’s Othello is not a tragedy under Aristotle’s standards.
First of all Othello does not have a hamartia. Secondly, it is because he does not have a hamartia that he does not experience anagnorises. And lastly the audience does not experience catharsis. Othello cannot be considered a tragedy under Aristotle’s conditions but despite this, the play if effective when it comes to opening the eyes of the audience to the existence of people like Iago. After being exposed to the play the audience is now more capable of distinguishing an honorable person from a dishonest one.
Once the audience becomes aware of the malicious acts of Iago they will question the motives of others and this will help them separate the truly honest people from those who are strategically manipulative. Works Cited Crowther, John, ed. “No Fear Othello. ” SparkNotes. com. SparkNotes LLC. 2005. Web. 11 Nov. 2011. Rosenberg, Marvin. “In Defense of Iago. ” Shakespeare Quarterly 6. 2 (1955): 145-158. Jstor. Web. 27 Nov. 2011. Shakespeare, William Othello,the Moor of Venice. Literature:An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama and Writing. Eds. X. J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. 6th Compact e. New York: Longman, 2010. 912-1012. Print.
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