To what extent does Othello meet the criteria of a tragic hero?
The characteristics of a tragic hero are explained in Aristotle’s theory. Aristotle said that a tragic hero must go through four stages. These are Peripateia, which is an utter and complete downfall from a very high status such as a king, prince etc… to catastrophe and misery. Hamartia, which is a fatal or tragic flaw in the hero. Anagnorisis, which is recognition of the hero’s mistakes, and Catharsis, which is when the audience is purged of all negative emotions towards the hero. For many years there has been a great deal of controversy over the character of Othello in Shakespeare’s play. Critics have debated the extent to which Othello can be considered a tragic hero, but there are two critics, whose views are held within higher consideration than the others. The first of these critics is A.C. Bradley who believes that Othello is one of the greatest of all tragic heroes. The latter of these critics is one F.R. Leavis who believes that Othello does not truly qualify for the tragic hero status.
Bradley and Leavis both agree on the fact that Othello never reaches a complete Peripateia, but for vastly different reasons A. C. Bradley’s argument is that “The Othello of the fourth act is Othello during his downfall. His fall is never complete but his grandeur remains almost undiminished”. This demonstrates to us that Bradley accepts the fact that Othello’s downfall is never truly complete, but he remains steadfast in his view that Othello retains some form of nobility and honour. He sees Othello as “Virtually faultless”. We can see this when he says “Othello does not belong to our world, and he seems to enter it we not know whence – almost as if from a wonderland”. This displays to us the extent to which Bradley sees Othello as a pure, faultless figure.
Leavis’s argues that Othello is “Overly aware of his nobility” and thus lacking in the requirements of a true tragic hero. We can see this when Leavis says that “Othello’s “like a pontic sea” speech is overblown and self dramatising” This shows us that Leavis holds a genuine disrespect for Othello, and that he is able to interpret what we would normally consider to be a virtue, as a flaw through thorough analysis. Leavis says that “Eloquence is a form of arrogance” this can be seen when Othello says that he is “rude in his speech”. This shows us the extent that Leavis analyses Othello’s virtues and is able to interpret them as flaws. My opinion is more towards that of A.C. Bradley. My reasons behind this are that Othello is descended from royal blood and was taken as a slave. Is this not an utter and complete downfall from a high status?
With regards to Hamartia, Bradley argues that Othello is a practically “faultless hero”, whose strengths and virtues are used against him by the character of Iago. Bradley argues that Othello’s only trait of character is his strong and absolute trust. He argues that Othello’s trust can be seen through his words to Iago when he says “My ancient, a man he is of honesty and trust to his conveyance, I assign my wife”. Although it could also be argued that Othello illustrates another flaw in his character in that he regards his wife as a possession. With regard to Othello’s action, Bradley exonerates Othello away from all guilt when he says that “[Othello's] opinion of Iago was the opinion of practically everyone who knew him”. This demonstrates to us that Othello was not the only one that was deceived and manipulated by Iago. Another example of this can be seen through Iago’s manipulation of the character of Cassio When Iago says “Your Dane, your German and your swag bellied Hollander – drink, ho! – are nothing to your English”. This is a clear example of Othello not being the only one that was manipulated by Iago, in the sense that Cassio trusted Iago to take care of him in the event of him getting drunk. Iago abused this trust by allowing him to get into a fight. It shows...
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