Othello’s Downfall: A Victim of Himself
In William Shakespeare’s play Othello, it seems as though the fall of the beloved Lieutenant Othello derived from the devious Iago and his reprehensible plan for Othello’s demise. At first glance, this idea is the prominent discourse of the play with a plethora of instances where Iago is seen plotting the death and destruction of Othello and the conclusion of Othello ultimately taking his own life. However, on another level, one could argue that Othello’s downfall was not the consequence of Iago but, in actuality, it is the result of his own character flaws enhanced by Iago juxtaposed with his lack of judgment in the recipients of his trust.
The beginning of Othello’s downfall is marked by his own lack of self-esteem and low insecurities. His identity shifts among being “the Moor” and the Venetian war lord that he envisions himself. He is seen as exotic-natured, immediately setting him apart from his fellow colleagues and even his wife, Desdemona. His “blackness” sets him apart immediately and is so inherent in nature that he cannot change that part of his otherwise opaque identity. This inability to conform to the societal standards of full acceptance leads Othello to question his own identity. “Othello’s blackness is not only a mark of his physical alienation but a symbol, to which every character in the play, himself included, must respond.” (Berry 319)
This symbol forms Othello’s viewpoint of himself. Because of his strict adherence to this symbol, Othello forms his own stereotype and clings to it desperately. This hinders him greatly in growth, as a strong leader and as a trusting husband. This stereotype is filled with racism and underlying subtle remarks made by the people closest to him. Brabantio, Desdemona’s father, upon hearing of his daughter’s elopement to Othello, immediately expounds upon Othello’s exotic nature and makes derogatory remarks in regards to Othello’s apparent race:
Run from her guardage to the sooty bosom
Of such a thing as thou—to fear, not to delight.
Judge m the world if ‘tis not gross in sense
That thou hast practiced on her with foul charms,
Abused her delicate youth with drugs or minerals
That weaken motion. I’ll have ‘t disputed on;
‘Tis probable and palpable to thinking.
I therefore apprehend and do attach thee
For an abuser of the world, a practicer
Of arts inhibited and out of warrant. (I.ii.71-80)
Although Brabantio admired Othello, he admired the General Othello not the Othello, husband of his beloved daughter. Immediately, Brabantio calls into question Othello’s ancestry and race, accusing him of using magic and enchantment on his daughter.
Othello envelops this racism and the stereotype that is formed because of this embracing, grows. This growth also signifies a foreshadowing of what is to come. Othello’s self image constantly changes based upon what company he keeps. He lacks power over its changing face and when a negative force appears, its image quivers drastically. This image changes once again in relation to Othello’s military career. In the military, Othello is depicted as strong, industrial leader. He has a passionate love for the military, even equivalent to the love that he shares with his wife, Desdemona. Although he is a strong, independent leader, he lacks a discipline in his abilities to effectively differentiate his feelings from one strong aspect in his life (military) and that of true love (Desdemona).
This inability to embrace both the military and his wife is another character flaw that Othello does not seem to get over. On one spectrum, the military offers everything that Othello desires. His identity in the military is one of greatness—his success, his qualities, his nobility. He is well versed in the language of the military. This strong emotion—love—is, in and of itself, a manipulator all of its own. Combined with Iago’s knowledge of how to persuade...
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