Tragedies frequently focus on a tragic hero that has a flaw that ultimatelyleads to his downfall. That flaw is commonly referred to as a tragic flaw thatis inborn to the person and can reflect his background. In Aristotle’s Poetics,he discusses the theory of tragedy and what criteria is essential in an idealtragedy. According to Aristotle, the tragic flaw is the most important part ofthe hero and the events that occur in the work is a reflection of that flaw. Atragic flaw is essential in a true tragedy.
In William Shakespeare’s Othello,Othello is a prime example of an Aristotelian tragic hero. His gullibility andjealousy are the main reason of his downfall. Othello deals with love lostbecause of gullibility and jealousy.
Aristotle’s theory of tragedy, found in thePoetics, deals with the characteristics of plays that make them a true tragedy.Those characteristics are essential in giving a play its true definition.According to Aristotle, the life and soul of tragedy is plot. Incidents in theplot have the best effect if they occur unexpectedly, and in consequence of oneanother.
A great tragedy grips the audience with the plot. Aristotle also statesthat the sense of the inevitable must be present in tragedy. The tragic hero isalso another important factor in an Aristotelian tragedy.
The central charactermust be noble and have a higher stature than most men. The tragic hero must alsohave better qualities than secondary characters but must also exhibit flaws. Themost important part of an Aristotelian tragic hero is the tragic flaw. The flawis inborn to the person. He must have that flaw throughout his life and it willplay the primary role in his downfall. The flaw can also reflect the tragichero’s background. Another part of the central character is that he is destroyedby himself, not by others, bad luck, or depravity.
These are the criterianecessary to be classified as a ideal tragedy. Othello meets the criteria to becalled an Aristotelian tragedy. The main character of Othello is a classicalexample of a tragic hero. His basic elements matches him up to a true hero asdefined by Aristotle.
Othello was a soldier all his life. Due to his Moorishdescent, he experienced many things that a normal Venetian didn’t experience.His nobility and rank of a general made him of a higher stature than anyoneelse. His nobility and background made him a greatly respected person. Thatnobility also what attracted Desdemona, his wife. Othello also exhibited greatleadership qualities that he earned in the field of battle and by being a leaderin Venice. Othello’s background also was of a unsophisticated one.
He came froma land of bartering and barbarians. His background affected his attitude.Othello was a person that was innocent and base in nature. He was influenced bythe way his life was going on. Othello’s statement, “Perdition catch mysoul but I do love thee.
And when I love thee not, chaos is comeagain.”(act 3, sc. 3, line 100), showed that he felt his life was only inorder if he is loved. His innocence and lack of sophistication is revealed inthis statement. The people around him also knew of Othello’s attitude. Iago wasvery quick to see this. In his first soliloquy, Iago said “the moor is of afree and open nature that thinks men honest that but seem to be so.
“(1,3,442) Iago knew of Othello’s weakness. Othello’s innocence and baseness madehim susceptible to being undermined by people. Iago also reveals his plan to usethe moor’s gullibility against him. Othello was clearly a person who believedappearances versus reality.
When Othello was told about an affair betweenDesdemona and Cassio, he started to become jealous. Being that person whobelieves appearances, he wanted ocular proof of Desdemona’s infidelity. Even asuperficial piece of evidence would have been sufficient.
In his statement,”Give me a living reason she is disloyal.”(3,3,446), Othello revealedthat he would believe in anything he saw. This is a clear example of hisgullibility and that appearances could fool him. Othello’s words is theunderlying statement that determined his feelings. The tragic flaw ofgullibility would lead his feelings to make bad judgments.
All of hischaracteristics made him a clear Aristotelian tragic hero as discussed in thePoetics. Othello’s tragic flaw of gullibility is exposed throughout the courseof the play. He also developed a jealousy that was caused by his credulousness.Iago is the catalyst of Othello’s acquired jealousy. “Our attention remainssustained on the arch villainy of Iago and his plot to plant in Othello’s mind acorroding belief in his wife’s unfaithfulness.”(Wright, 127) Wrightcomments on the role of Iago as the main point in the play in the first threeacts. His scheming was inflicted upon the unsuspecting Othello throughout theplay.
Iago’s evil was structured on using falsities and insinuations to play onOthello’s gullibility. Iago appeared as an honest but in reality he was an evilperson. Iago created a trap that was easily bought in to by Othello.
Iago knewof Othello’s flaws and exploited them. “Iago came to trap Othello as heplays against him with his game of an honest and loving friend.”(Heilman,334) Heilman quotes on Iago’s loving appearance. This also relates to thestatement quoted throughout the play, “honest Iago.” Iago acts as afriend to everyone he wants to manipulate.
His friendly, supportive nature iseasy to trust, and when Iago has that trust, he exploits you to his benefits.”Aware that Othello trusts him, Iago will convince the moor that Cassio istoo familiar with Desdemona. Othello he says is of a free and opennature.”(Carey, 26) Othello’s gullibility is very evident to Iago and tothe audience. Othello’s free and open nature makes him vulnerable to beingtricked by Iago.
Iago’s intelligence read Othello’s baseness. When the initialrumor of an affair between Desdemona and Cassio was implanted in Othello’s head,Iago built up his trust with the moor by saying, “O, beware, my lord ofjealousy! It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feedson.”(3,3,195) Iago, being a man of skills and tricks, bewares Othello ofthe dangers of jealousy… the same jealousy being instilled in Othello by Iago.He relentlessly plays off Othello’s gullibility throughout the play.
Othello’sgullibility led him to believe lies and insinuations by Iago. “What Iagoinjects into Othello’s mind, the poison which he changes him, is either falsedeductions, dubious generalizations, or flat lies.”(Gardner, 142) Othellowas succumbed by all of the insinuations and lies.
The lies in the play arestressed in critical essays. Othello’s gullibility, his tragic flaw, was theunderlying reason of his downfall. Othello eventually became overtaken with allof the jealousy that was in his mind. The battle between love and hate going onin Othello’s mind was clearly evinced in the statement, “Farewell thetranquil mind! Farewell content! Farewell the plumed troops and the big warsthat makes ambition virtue! O Farewell!”(3,3,400) Othello was enraged atall the “evidence” of an affair given to him by Iago.
The proof thathe had received was sufficient. Othello then plans to murder Desdemona andCassio. Othello’s statement also relates to his statement that his life is goodwith love. When Othello lost his love, his life turned to chaos. At that point,Iago realized that his plan worked perfectly and that he had Othello in hisgrips. Iago’s statement, “Work on, my medicine work! Thy credulous foolsare caught, and many worthy and chaste danes even thus, All guiltless, metreproach.”(4,1,53) shows that Othello was gullible.
He clearly calledOthello a “credulous fool.” Iago comments on the people he caught andthe ease of trickery. Othello was clearly manipulated by a person thatrecognized his natural flaws and used them to his advantage. Othello was madeinto a fool by Iago, a person that had drive and mental capacity to usesomeone’s psyche to his benefit.
Shakespeare portrayed Othello as one of themost loving persons. He lived for the love and care of a person. The way that hewas turned to hatred was ironic. “Even though Othello was Shakespeare’smost loving man, he was subjected and succumbed by the pull of Iago.”(Stoll,323) Iago’s scheming inevitably caused Othello’s turn for the worse.'”Othello had suffered an overpowering delusion.”(Stoll, 325) Theoverpowering delusion that he suffers was due to his beliefs of an affair.
Hisprimal qualities led him to easily believe anything that was presented to him.Othello’s false beliefs drove him into extreme anger and made him plot to killhis wife and lieutenant. The final stages of the play reveal the truegullibility of Othello to the other characters. Iago agreed to help killDesdemona and Cassio. With Othello, they made a vow of brotherhood to kill hiswife and his former lieutenant.
When Othello finally did go through with hisplan, the dying Desdemona reassured her faith to him. Othello believed Iago andhis own false deductions instead of his own wife. Desdemona didn’t realizeOthello’s flaws.
In her statement, “And but my noble moor is true of mindand made of no such baseness as jealous ones are, it were enough to put them toill thinking.”(3,4,25) she judged Othello opposite to what he really was.She didn’t suspect that Othello would suspect her for an affair. In reality,Othello was a gullible person drawn into jealousy and falseness by Iago. Othellohad accomplished his plan of killing his wife and destroying a marriage that noreason to be torn apart. Desdemona was the victim of a plot by a gullible mandrove into rage because of lies.
When Emilia confronted Othello, he admitted tokilling his wife but said that she was untrue to him. Emilia repeatedly toldOthello that it wasn’t true. He responded to Emilia by saying, “Ay, ’twashe that told me on her first. An honest man he is, and hates the slime thatsticks on filthy deeds.”(5,2,179) Othello’s gullibility is also exhibitedin this statement.
He believed Iago and his lies because he thought that Iagowas honest. Othello was drawn in by the appearance of Iago that was given tohim. Iago’s scheming was so powerful that Othello praised him for his”honesty.” Othello and Iago were finally caught and their plot wasrevealed. Iago didn’t go through with his vow to kill Cassio. Othello told theofficials his reasons for committing murder and that Iago told him of an affair.
Iago’s response was, “Demand me nothing. What you know, you know. From thistime forth, I never will speak a word.”(5,2,335) Iago told Othello and theothers that he didn’t tell Othello about an afar.
He just made insinuations andsuggestions about one. Othello really didn’t know of an affair between Desdemonaand Cassio. His gullibility led him to be overtaken with appearances. Othellodidn’t make any real attempt to find out the truth. He relied on Iago to providea picture of what he thought happened.
Because of Othello’s mistake to seek thetruth, his inevitable downfall became realized when he killed himself. Othello’stragic flaw was being gullible. His background of baseness made him a weakminded person. Iago was an evil man who wanted to see the downfall of Othello.He recognized Othello’s flaw and used it to his benefit. Iago’s scheme consistedof images and appearances of an affair, but not evidence of one. Othello’sstature, and downfall make him a true tragic hero.
His tragic flaw, gullibility,the defining criteria of a tragic hero, made Othello a man that he never thoughthe would be. Othello became a person filled with rage and hatred who wanted toresolve the chaos in his life by putting an end to the affair that he believedwas going on. All the structure’s of Othello’s character makes him a primeexample for a Aristotelian tragic hero.