Degrees of Guilt in Othello

Topics: Othello, William Shakespeare, Iago Pages: 7 (2638 words) Published: May 2, 2007
Although the degrees of their guilt greatly vary, every major character in Shakespeare's "Othello" contributes to the deadly chain of events that transpire. There are seven major characters in the play: Othello, Iago, Cassio, Desdemona, Emilia, Roderigo, and Bianca. Though some may seem to have greater roles than others in the tragedy, each one can be considered a major character because their specific actions are factors in the catastrophic ending. It is obvious that only a few of them have devious intentions, but that does not alleviate the responsibility of the others. Whether the individual's intentions are good or bad is not the concern. The issue at hand is whether or not their actions contribute to the tragic finish. Othello is often perceived as the tragic hero in the play. The introduction of his character creates an ideal image of the Moor. He is introduced as a well-admired general. His good character is verified by the respect he seems to enjoy from the people around him. Their respect and admiration for him is transferred over to the audience: Othello is like a hero of the ancient world in that he is not a man like us, but a man recognized as extraordinary. He seems born to do great deeds and live in legend. He has the obvious heroic qualities of courage and strength, and no actor can attempt the role who is not physically impressive. (Gardner 140) He seems to be the model Venetian and a well-rounded man.

However, some of the audience may see through his depiction and view Othello for who he really is. Othello holds an arguable degree of guilt in the tragedy. He does not have bad intentions, but he is somewhat accountable for the tragedy. Many of his negative attributes are exposed, although they are overshadowed by his admirable introduction. First of all, he is a foolish man. Othello trusts the word of a person who he did not even trust enough to make his lieutenant. Furthermore, he should gather more evidence of Desdemona's unfaithfulness before accusing her of being unfaithful. He accepts insubstantial evidence as proof of something as big as his wife's infidelity. He becomes infuriated after overhearing a conversation between Iago and Cassio about a woman whose name was not mentioned. He knows that Cassio is a well-known ladies' man. Othello should consider the possibility that Cassio was talking about another woman. Unfortunately, the Moor was quick to develop accusations. He allowed a handkerchief to direct his thoughts when he should have collected more evidence. Moreover, he should have confronted Desdemona and Cassio himself. Neely suggests this by saying, "Her [Desdemona's] inability to defend herself is partly the result of Othello's refusal to voice his suspicions directly" (88). O'Toole supports this argument by stating, "Suspecting his wife, he fails to confront her with her supposed infidelity, or to question her alleged lover, or to ask any of the other people who could tell him what's going on. He is driven demented by a handkerchief" (69). The jealous and insecure Moor acts upon his rage instead of rationale. Another reason why Othello is to blame for the deaths is because he lets his jealousy and insecurities control his thoughts and, ultimately, his actions. O'Toole argues this by saying, "He can talk up a storm, but he's not much for thinking. His tragic flaw is jealousy and he carries it around like a crutch, just waiting for someone to kick it from under him" (69). Furthermore, he allows his insecurities dominate him. He lets Iago paint an appalling picture in his head and he probably adds small, terrible details to the story himself. Othello is significantly older than Desdemona. Additionally, he realizes that she and Cassio are around the same age. He is set on the fact that Cassio is her new love interest because she has more in common with him than with the old Moor. Though this is far from the truth, Othello lets the thought dominate his mind. He should...

Cited: Fallon, Robert T. A Theatergoer 's Guide to Shakespeare 's Characters. Chicago: Ivan R.
Dee, 2004
Sourcebook on William Shakespeare 's Othello. Andrew Hadfield, ed. New York:
Routledge, 2003
Shakespeare, William. Othello. E.A.J. Honigmann, ed. 3rd ed. London: The Arden Shakespeare, 2002.
Snyder, Susan
William Shakespeare 's Othello. Harold Bloom, ed. New York: Chelsea, 1999.
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