Good Or Evil: A Critical Analysis of Othello’s Main Characters
William Shakespeare’s Othello is a classic depiction of a struggle between good and evil. In the play,, the characters are faced with the choice to either conquer or succumb to the overpowering force of evil. Shakespeare places his characters on a sort of spectrum in which a character’s amount of god or evil can be represented by a shade of color: black representing pure evil, white representing absolute goodness, and a shade of grey exemplifying the nature of all characters that fall in between the two extremes of the spectrum. In the play Othello, the main characters are a prefect example of this technique of characterization. Through plot development, interactions with other characters, and other different methods of characterization, the two main characters Othello and Iago, reveal their true colors throughout the development of the play.
Othello, the main character in the play, when analyzed can be considered a grey character; he has the tendency to succumb to the darkness of evil, or overcome the force of evil and arise as a champion of the good. Prior to the start of the novel, Othello had secretly married Desdemona, daughter of Brabantio who is a Venetian senator. When the topic of Desdemona’s marriage to Othello is brought up to Brabantio, he decides to accuse Othello of wooing her by witchcraft in front of the senate and the duke in order to break up the marriage and have his daughter returned. This plan backfires, however, as Othello explains to the senate and the duke that he wooed Desdemona with his stories of how he gained his freedom, the magnificent battles he won, and the strange and interesting things he had seen on his journeys around the world. He states to the senate:
These things to hear / Would Desdemona seriously incline. / But still the house
affairs would draw her hence, / Which ever as she could with haste dispatch, /
She’d come again, and with a greedy ear / Devour up my discourse / ... She
loved me for the dangers I had passed, / And I loved her that she did pity them
Othello is able to win over the senate and the duke with his glorious stories. The duke even remarks, “I think this would win my daughter too” (1.3.40). At this point in the play, it is apparent that Othello is almost a purely white character; his only flaw being he had, “...ta’en away this old man’s daughter, / It is most true. True I have married her. / The very head and front of my offending / Hath this extent, no more” (1.3.35). This burst of goodness is short lived in the character of Othello, however. With the progression of the play, Othello begins to become darker and darker of a character, as he becomes enshrouded with lies that corrupt him and send him spiraling downward until he is surrounded by a dark evil. Norman Sanders, a literary critic of Shakespeare’s Othello discusses how the use of language defines the main characters of the play. In his criticism Othello, Sanders writes, “Othello’s natural speech is poetic, stately, romantic, heroic, and so on... during the course of the action, Iago manages to ‘infect’ Othello with some sordid thoughts and speech, in effect bringing the noble Moor partway down to his own level” (Nardo 52). In Othello’s life, Iago represents the evil that he is burdened with overcoming. Unfortunately for Othello, he is unable to prevent himself from being restrained by Iago and his evil ways. Iago, a soldier in Othello’s army who wanted to marry Desdemona, decides to manipulate Othello into thinking his wife was cheating on him with Michael Cassio, Othello’s lieutenant. This shroud of lies blinds Othello to the truth and sends him into fits of uncontrollable rage, and even epileptic fits. Iago’s built up lie of Desdemona’s infidelity brings Othello to a point in which he becomes a completely dark character consumed with evil; he reaches out with vengeance in his eyes towards his wife, and...
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