Recognition and Reversal: Othello
Aristotle classifies both recognitions and reversals as the greatest point of tragedy in a play or story. Recognitions and reversals are consistently used to develop character, advance the plot, and get a reaction of pity and fear from the audience. Recognition is the act of realization or knowledge or feeling that someone or something present has been encountered before. Reversals are a major change in attitude or principle or point of view. For the main character or hero/protagonist to realize everything that has happened throughout, reversals are used by the writer or writers. Recognition is a device which helps readers to realize a reversal. Other ways in which recognitions and reversals can be used is when the audience or reader has pity for the hero. Pity is a result of a combination of reversal and recognition. Another way recognition and reversal can be used is when the reader or audience reacts to fear, a product of reversal and recognition formed into a shocking ending to a plot. The greatest point of tragedy, as Aristotle calls it, happens when not only shock, but reversal, recognition, and pain are presented around the center of the play or story in an unexpected instant to the audience or reader at the end of a play or story.
In “Othello” by William Shakespeare, examples of recognition and reversal can be seen throughout the play as the hero/protagonist Othello, goes through a life changing experience in which he realizes things through a somewhat shaded lens. In the play, as we near the end, the proceedings change and finally Othello is able to see that he has made a mistake. In a perfect world, it would not be too late to change what the aftermath will be. But, in Othello’s case, the recognition in this dramatic play happens way too late for Othello to correct the situation. “Othello” truly offer readers evident examples of recognition and reversal.
Reversal is most evident in the final Act in Scene II where Othello kills Desdemona. Before the murder, Othello’s love for Desdemona is portrayed in Act II, Scene I when Desdemona arrives in Cyprus, “It gives me wonder great as my content / To see you here before me. O my soul’s joy,…As hell’s from heaven! If it were now to die, ‘Twere now to be most happy, …” (Kennedy and Gioia, II. I. 176-177, 182-183). However, as the play moves further along, Iago starts to manipulate the mind of Othello and Othello’s trust in Desdemona starts to diminish. At the start of Act V, Scene I, Othello places a great deal of trust in Iago – “O brave Iago, honest and just, Thou hast such noble sense” (Kennedy and Gioia, V. I. 32-33). But in Act V, Scene II, the truth about Iago is revealed to Othello by Cassio and Emilia. Othello’s trust in Desdemona is shown throughout the play until his trust starts to wither as Iago twists his mind, “Yet she must die, else she’ll betray more men. / Put out the light…If I quench thee, thou flaming minister, / I can again thy former light restore,…” (Kennedy and Gioia, V. II. 6-9). The greatest recognition in Othello occurs in Act V, Scene II, lines 87-91. Othello kills Desdemona. Then Cassio and Emilia appear and reveal Iago's evil plot and Desdemona’s innocence. Othello then realizes that he was wrong and that his trusted friend Iago has played him for a fool. Once Othello speaks of the handkerchief he gave to Desdemona as a symbol of their love, Emilia knows that Iago is the person who set up Desdemona and Othello is not the one to blame. Emilia keeps repeating the words, “My husband?” (Kennedy and Gioia, V. II. 145, 152, 156) as she makes an incomprehensibly swift journey from knowing absolutely that Iago, her dear husband, is honest and totally trustworthy, to realizing that in fact he was the quintessential villain. The most distressing recognition comes near the end of the play, when Emilia, Desdemona’s friend...
Cited: Aristotle. GradeSaver. 1999-2011. 11 11 2011.
Dictionary.com. 2011. 07 11 2011 <http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/recognition>.
Dictionary.com. 2011. 07 11 2011 <http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/reversal>.
Kennedy, X.J. and Dana Gioia. Literature: an Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. New York: Pearson Longman, 2010.
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