Othello And Aristotelian Poetics


Othello And Aristotelian Poetics Essay, Research Paper

Tragedies frequently focus on a tragic hero that has a flaw that ultimately

leads to his downfall. That flaw is commonly referred to as a tragic flaw that

is 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 ideal

tragedy. According to Aristotle, the tragic flaw is the most important part of

the hero and the events that occur in the work is a reflection of that flaw. A

tragic flaw is essential in a true tragedy. In William Shakespeare’s Othello,

Othello is a prime example of an Aristotelian tragic hero. His gullibility and

jealousy are the main reason of his downfall. Othello deals with love lost

because of gullibility and jealousy. Aristotle’s theory of tragedy, found in the

Poetics, 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 the

plot have the best effect if they occur unexpectedly, and in consequence of one

another. A great tragedy grips the audience with the plot. Aristotle also states

that the sense of the inevitable must be present in tragedy. The tragic hero is

also another important factor in an Aristotelian tragedy. The central character

must be noble and have a higher stature than most men. The tragic hero must also

have better qualities than secondary characters but must also exhibit flaws. The

most important part of an Aristotelian tragic hero is the tragic flaw. The flaw

is inborn to the person. He must have that flaw throughout his life and it will

play the primary role in his downfall. The flaw can also reflect the tragic

hero’s background. Another part of the central character is that he is destroyed

by himself, not by others, bad luck, or depravity. These are the criteria

necessary to be classified as a ideal tragedy. Othello meets the criteria to be

called an Aristotelian tragedy. The main character of Othello is a classical

example of a tragic hero. His basic elements matches him up to a true hero as

defined by Aristotle. Othello was a soldier all his life. Due to his Moorish

descent, 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 anyone

else. His nobility and background made him a greatly respected person. That

nobility also what attracted Desdemona, his wife. Othello also exhibited great

leadership qualities that he earned in the field of battle and by being a leader

in Venice. Othello’s background also was of a unsophisticated one. He came from

a land of bartering and barbarians. His background affected his attitude.

Othello was a person that was innocent and base in nature. He was influenced by

the way his life was going on. Othello’s statement, "Perdition catch my

soul but I do love thee. And when I love thee not, chaos is come

again."(act 3, sc. 3, line 100), showed that he felt his life was only in

order if he is loved. His innocence and lack of sophistication is revealed in

this statement. The people around him also knew of Othello’s attitude. Iago was

very quick to see this. In his first soliloquy, Iago said "the moor is of a

free 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 made

him susceptible to being undermined by people. Iago also reveals his plan to use

the moor’s gullibility against him. Othello was clearly a person who believed

appearances versus reality. When Othello was told about an affair between

Desdemona and Cassio, he started to become jealous. Being that person who

believes appearances, he wanted ocular proof of Desdemona’s infidelity. Even a

superficial piece of evidence would have been sufficient. In his statement,

"Give me a living reason she is disloyal."(3,3,446), Othello revealed

that he would believe in anything he saw. This is a clear example of his

gullibility and that appearances could fool him. Othello’s words is the

underlying statement that determined his feelings. The tragic flaw of

gullibility would lead his feelings to make bad judgments. All of his

characteristics made him a clear Aristotelian tragic hero as discussed in the

Poetics. Othello’s tragic flaw of gullibility is exposed throughout the course

of the play. He also developed a jealousy that was caused by his credulousness.

Iago is the catalyst of Othello’s acquired jealousy. "Our attention remains

sustained on the arch villainy of Iago and his plot to plant in Othello’s mind a

corroding belief in his wife’s unfaithfulness."(Wright, 127) Wright

comments on the role of Iago as the main point in the play in the first three

acts. His scheming was inflicted upon the unsuspecting Othello throughout the

play. Iago’s evil was structured on using falsities and insinuations to play on

Othello’s gullibility. Iago appeared as an honest but in reality he was an evil

person. Iago created a trap that was easily bought in to by Othello. Iago knew

of Othello’s flaws and exploited them. "Iago came to trap Othello as he

plays against him with his game of an honest and loving friend."(Heilman,

334) Heilman quotes on Iago’s loving appearance. This also relates to the

statement quoted throughout the play, "honest Iago." Iago acts as a

friend to everyone he wants to manipulate. His friendly, supportive nature is

easy 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 is

too familiar with Desdemona. Othello he says is of a free and open

nature."(Carey, 26) Othello’s gullibility is very evident to Iago and to

the audience. Othello’s free and open nature makes him vulnerable to being

tricked by Iago. Iago’s intelligence read Othello’s baseness. When the initial

rumor 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 of

jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds

on."(3,3,195) Iago, being a man of skills and tricks, bewares Othello of

the dangers of jealousy… the same jealousy being instilled in Othello by Iago.

He relentlessly plays off Othello’s gullibility throughout the play. Othello’s

gullibility led him to believe lies and insinuations by Iago. "What Iago

injects into Othello’s mind, the poison which he changes him, is either false

deductions, dubious generalizations, or flat lies."(Gardner, 142) Othello

was succumbed by all of the insinuations and lies. The lies in the play are

stressed in critical essays. Othello’s gullibility, his tragic flaw, was the

underlying reason of his downfall. Othello eventually became overtaken with all

of the jealousy that was in his mind. The battle between love and hate going on

in Othello’s mind was clearly evinced in the statement, "Farewell the

tranquil mind! Farewell content! Farewell the plumed troops and the big wars

that makes ambition virtue! O Farewell!"(3,3,400) Othello was enraged at

all the "evidence" of an affair given to him by Iago. The proof that

he had received was sufficient. Othello then plans to murder Desdemona and

Cassio. Othello’s statement also relates to his statement that his life is good

with 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 his

grips. Iago’s statement, "Work on, my medicine work! Thy credulous fools

are caught, and many worthy and chaste danes even thus, All guiltless, met

reproach."(4,1,53) shows that Othello was gullible. He clearly called

Othello a "credulous fool." Iago comments on the people he caught and

the ease of trickery. Othello was clearly manipulated by a person that

recognized his natural flaws and used them to his advantage. Othello was made

into a fool by Iago, a person that had drive and mental capacity to use

someone’s psyche to his benefit. Shakespeare portrayed Othello as one of the

most loving persons. He lived for the love and care of a person. The way that he

was turned to hatred was ironic. "Even though Othello was Shakespeare’s

most 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) The

overpowering delusion that he suffers was due to his beliefs of an affair. His

primal 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 kill

his wife and lieutenant. The final stages of the play reveal the true

gullibility of Othello to the other characters. Iago agreed to help kill

Desdemona and Cassio. With Othello, they made a vow of brotherhood to kill his

wife and his former lieutenant. When Othello finally did go through with his

plan, the dying Desdemona reassured her faith to him. Othello believed Iago and

his own false deductions instead of his own wife. Desdemona didn’t realize

Othello’s flaws. In her statement, "And but my noble moor is true of mind

and made of no such baseness as jealous ones are, it were enough to put them to

ill 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. Othello

had accomplished his plan of killing his wife and destroying a marriage that no

reason to be torn apart. Desdemona was the victim of a plot by a gullible man

drove into rage because of lies. When Emilia confronted Othello, he admitted to

killing his wife but said that she was untrue to him. Emilia repeatedly told

Othello that it wasn’t true. He responded to Emilia by saying, "Ay, ’twas

he that told me on her first. An honest man he is, and hates the slime that

sticks on filthy deeds."(5,2,179) Othello’s gullibility is also exhibited

in this statement. He believed Iago and his lies because he thought that Iago

was honest. Othello was drawn in by the appearance of Iago that was given to

him. Iago’s scheming was so powerful that Othello praised him for his

"honesty." Othello and Iago were finally caught and their plot was

revealed. Iago didn’t go through with his vow to kill Cassio. Othello told the

officials 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 this

time forth, I never will speak a word."(5,2,335) Iago told Othello and the

others that he didn’t tell Othello about an afar. He just made insinuations and

suggestions about one. Othello really didn’t know of an affair between Desdemona

and Cassio. His gullibility led him to be overtaken with appearances. Othello

didn’t make any real attempt to find out the truth. He relied on Iago to provide

a picture of what he thought happened. Because of Othello’s mistake to seek the

truth, his inevitable downfall became realized when he killed himself. Othello’s

tragic flaw was being gullible. His background of baseness made him a weak

minded 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 consisted

of images and appearances of an affair, but not evidence of one. Othello’s

stature, 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 thought

he would be. Othello became a person filled with rage and hatred who wanted to

resolve the chaos in his life by putting an end to the affair that he believed

was going on. All the structure’s of Othello’s character makes him a prime

example for a Aristotelian tragic hero.

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