Explore the relevance of rank and race in Shakespeare’s representation of a tragic hero.
The fall of Othello is caused by many collective contributing factors; the most important, I believe, being rank and race and how the other characters in the play, such as Iago, can exploit these factors to influence Othello’s downfall. I do not believe rank and race are valid themes of the play, yet the true themes of jealousy and love cannot be reasonably interpreted without considering the presentation of race and rank. The play seems to be based around the Aristotelian classical model of tragedy, and Shakespeare incorporates the hubris and harmartia in the character of Othello to further enhance the effect of Iago’s attempts to ruin him.
Othello is a worthy figure of a tragic protagonist. The attributes he possesses suggest that we should view him as a hero, as he is descendant of a line of royalty and is an impressive military superior in the Venetian army. This role was very important in the Elizabethan times, Venice was a powerful, respected place and as this government was threatened by the Turks, Othello was seen as worthy enough to protect that. Othello is proud of his status, and his reputation is a crucial aspect of the hero’s perception of himself. As an Aristotelian tragic hero, Othello requires a hubris, a flaw in his personality. It is generally agreed that Othello’s hubris is his arrogance and self confidence, as this suggests that he believes that bad things will not happen to him, which is apparent in these lines;
‘My parts, my title, and my perfect soul Shall manifest me rightly.’ (A1, S2, L31).
‘My services which I have done the signiory Shall out-tongue his complaints’ (A1, S2, L18).
According to the Aristotelian model of tragedy, this pride would lead to an error of judgment or mistake, the harmartia. His confidence may invoke the idea that his right hand man, Iago, would be consistently loyal to him; therefore his mistake would be trusting Iago’s lies. However, Othello’s self-assuredness could be a positive quality, a representation of his instinctive authority and level-headedness that provokes jealousy in Iago. Othello’s hubris could instead be gullibility or susceptibleness, or, what I believe to be most accurate, his own jealous tendencies, as this is what ultimately causes the error of judgement.
The role of rank and race in this play appear to be assisting factors for what I believe to be the main theme of the play, jealousy. Both of these factors play a very important role in the destruction of Othello’s life and sense of judgement. I believe that Iago’s main motivation is jealousy. Some may argue that Iago has none, that he is just evil and that our attention should be focused on the development of Othello’s character, but there are too many suggestions that give reason to Iago’s actions. His hatred may have started with his jealousy of Othello’s rank, the fact that Othello promoted Cassio over him and also the rumour that Othello slept with Iago‘s wife, Emilia.
‘For I do suspect the lusty Moor
Hath leaped into my seat …
… and nothing can or shall content my soul
Till I am evened with him, wife for wife’
This reference to ‘the lusty moor’ could be Iago’s racism which causes him to suspect Othello, or it could be his suspicions that cause him to be racist, but nevertheless, to a certain extent due to Othello's heritage, Iago's hatred of him quickly falls to racism. It is stressed from the beginning that Iago is a traitorous man during Iago‘s monologue in the opening scene;
‘I follow him to serve my turn upon him’ (A1, S1, L42)
‘I am not what I am’ (A1, S1, L66)
Iago has made his intentions clear from the very beginning, which leads the audience to believe that he has a plan to destroy Othello’s life, which is relevant to the fall of a tragic hero, as the destruction is apparently inevitable.
Rank is relevant to the...