Character Analysis: Othello

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Perhaps the most obvious change in Othello’s character is his loss of ability to reason. Early into the play, we see him command respect amongst his peers and ‘diffuse’ tension between characters to prevent a fight breaking out, “Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them. Good signor, you shall more command with years than with your weapons.” (I.2 .59) However, contrasted with his later impulsive and careless actions the difference is clear; he puts all his faith into Iago, whereas he used to keep with Cassio and suddenly without reasoning, on the word of Iago alone becomes paranoid and decides that “within these three days let me hear thee say that Cassio’s not alive.” (III.3 .469) Jacobeans at the time of performance would recognise Othello’s lack of ability to reason as his descent into becoming a ‘monster’ and serves as a good indication that his character is fatally flawed. Of course this view is shaped by Shakespeare as his presentation of Othello’s reactions to Iago’s news of Desdemona’s ‘unfaithfulness’ is given more attention than the fact that Iago is naturally deceptive. Although the audience are aware of Iago’s cunning and deceit, greatly emphasised through his use of solliloquay, Shakespeare chooses to present Othello’s decline due to his own inability to reason coupled with his hasty decisions, “I’ll tear her all to pieces!” (III.3 .428) rather than simply due to Iago’s deception.

As an audience, we are not prepared to see a character with such reputation as Othello’s fall into such a ‘trap’ as Iago’s; his refusal to question the placement of the handkerchief or even confront Desdemona is surprising and we realise that he has been completely drawn under Iago’s pretence. He fully trusts Iago, enough to stop him from making his own judgement of the situation, which we know if he did he would realise and overcome the trap set up for him. He becomes too reliant on Iago after his dismissal of Cassio and we can see how over the course of...
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