Trace the stages of his demise
and the affect it has on characters and events in the drama.
Othello is a play which conforms to the generic features of a tragedy, The entire drama is about Othello’s downfall, which is orchestrated by Iago. The fall of Othello throws the play into chaos and brings down the people around him. Othello is a man with a powerful position within the army, the high position is one of the features of a tragedy.
The protagonist needs to have a position to lose. The flaw that is magnified to bring him down is jealousy, this is seized on by Iago who makes Othello’s fate unavoidable.
Othello is blind to this inevitable demise that causes him to murder his wife and his close friend Cassio to die. Every tragic hero performs an act of hubris, Othello’s act is to kill Desdemona. Othello believes he has the right to kill her because she has gone against convention to make him a cuckold, as a man he believes he has power to.
The peripertia is an important time in the play, Othello has been having good fortune up until he murders Desdemona. This is when Othello has his anagnorisis, he realises that she was innocent and he killed her unjustly. Following this discovery Othello’s fall from greatness begins, he is no longer respected and he loses his position in the army. The death of Othello restores the natural order of the play.
Othello is introduced to the audience by other characters within the play.
Iago undermines the audience’s view of Othello as a hero, he focuses on Othello’s race and sexuality to present Othello as negative. Iago uses lots of sexual imagery, talking about an “old black ram” and a “white ewe”. He sets up imagery of Othello being a violent man with an innocent girl. This also brings in symbols, the black represents the devil and evil whereas Desdemona is shown to be innocent and pure. Othello’s male sexuality is shown as negative and beast like. Iago is preoccupied with Othello’s sexuality, he is jealous of his strength, masculinity and heroism.
Brabantio accuses Othello of practising “foul charms” on Desdemona, he cannot understand how his pure daughter would fall in love with the “lascivious moor”. Brabantio sees it as being against “all rules of nature”. He believes that because Othello is a black man in a white society that he cannot have a high class white lady. Throughout the play there is contrasting viewpoints. Othello is respected by the Duke and others within the army, they believe him to be a “valiant moor” but Iago sees Othello as “defective”. This shows how Othello really is, respected and how Iago is the only person to see Othello as evil. Iago is blinded by his desire for revenge. There are further contrasts within the play with Desdemona being pure and Bianca being a “strumpet”. This enhances Desdemona’s image of being pure and faithful. She remains two dimensional in the play, a woman of unquestioning virtue.
Othello is flawed in many ways, he is jealous and of honour but it is pride that leads to his ultimate undoing. The jealousy is his most evident flaw. He is portrayed to be a “green eyed monster”. This has as emotional and physical effect, he is green with envy and it eats away at his mind but also it affects his body. He suffers from epilepsy due to the stress he receives as a result of his jealousy. When Othello finds himself to be a “cuckold” his pride is wounded and he needs to regain it somehow. In an attempt at regaining it he commits an act of hubris, namely murdering his wife, the “fair lady”. As her husband he sees himself to be better than her and to therefore have power over her. It is implied within the play that Othello’s belief of himself as higher Desdemona morally is impossible.
This is achieved through pathos as the audience emphasises with Desdemona. In depicting Desdemona as “divine” the audience sees her as a perfect wife, therefore when her husband wrongly kills her, the audience feels sorry for her and condemnatory to Othello. The audience recognises Othello has been manipulated however their sympathies do not lie with him as a victim in the same way they perceive Desdemona. It is very easy for Iago to manipulate Othello, this is mainly due to his reputation as an “honest” man and Othello’s naivety. Othello is also worried because he is a black, “unbookish” man in a white upper-class society. He does not truly believe that Desdemona can love him because of this and doubts her true love for him but really she is loyal to her “master”.
Othello could not stand back and qualify why she loved him, he is driven by his own love. He believes he loved “not wisely but too well”. As Iago is seen to be a man of “exceeding honesty” Othello has no reason to query the seeds of doubt Iago sows. Iago does not say that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio, he just makes remarks and informs Othello of things that make him doubt it. Iago tells Othello of Cassio sneaking away so “guilt-like”. This is so it cannot come back to him with Othello saying Iago told him. Also Iago acts resistant to reveal information about Cassio, pretending to defend him but really casting more doubt on him. Iago says he would rather have his “tongue cut” from his mouth than to expose Cassio but really he is happy to do it but wants the situation to seem worse.
Iago believes he is justified in what he is doing to Othello but there is no real evidence to this being true. He has two main reasons for his attempts at bringing down Othello, he believes he deserved the job which Cassio was given and he thinks that Othello slept with his wife. Iago’s belief that Othello slept with his wife comes from a rumour he heard but it is not supported with proof. Iago knows that is probably is not true but he uses it as an excuse anyway, he admits it is only “thought” that Othello has slept with his wife. Othello’s skin colour contributes to Iago’s reasons to bring down Othello, he sees him as undeserving of the rank because of his race and he does not believe it matters if a black man is brought down. Iago wanted Cassio’s job because it would mean that he would have power and Iago craves power.
He is frustrated at being constantly overlooked within the army and having no authority. Iago is respected for his honesty but this is ironic be cause he is the complete opposite. He says, “I am not what I am”, admitting he is putting an act on to everyone so he can gain trust to lead Othello to his downfall. A lot of Iago’s plans are for “sport”, he enjoys to see people suffer, he wants to see people suffer because he feels rejected. Iago is not seen as a best friend but as someone trustworthy, this upsets him, leading to his need for revenge. Iago sees himself to be the master of himself, “I follow but myself”, he is completely in control of his actions and his surroundings, even at the end of the play when his plot has failed he is in control by refusing to reveal his plot.
Lodovico represents Venetian society and is a relative of Desdemona so his views are key to the play. Lodovico plays the part of the chorus, he is detached from the main event and has a critical perspective on Othello’s actions. Lodovico arrives late in the play and therefore does not see everything that has happened, he meets Othello for the first time and does not see the “valiant moor” he expected but a “cruel moor”. He arrives in the court to see Othello slapping his wife and does not believe that this can be the same man that the senate call “all-in-all sufficient”.
Lodovico believes he is “deceived” by Othello and the stories he has heard of him. Othello’s downfall has now become public. Lodovico’s appearance in the play also reminds the audience of what Desdemona gave up to be with Othello, this makes the audience believe that Othello is even more demonic for attacking and murdering Desdemona. Othello’s demise brings chaos to the army, with him dead and Cassio being dismissed only Iago is left. If Iago had not been found out then he would be in charge of the army which would be a disaster. He would lead with a corrupt power and he would be tyrannical. The Venetian society would fall if Iago were in charge due to his self-obsession.
Desdemona’s suffering starts with the handkerchief, at this point Othello believes his suspicions of her are confirmed. The highpoint of her suffering comes when it becomes public. When he slaps her in public there is a realisation by everyone that Othello is changing. The slap brings high embarrassment to Desdemona. The unjustified suffering which Desdemona is receiving has an emotional and physical affect on her, she is so upset and bewildered by what Othello is accusing her of, she questions everything he says, confused and bewildered. Desdemona cannot bring herself to say what Othello accused her of because she finds it so disgusting.
The physical effects of her suffering are the slap that she receives and her death. Othello is insecure about his race and this leads to his belief that he never truly deserved her. As Othello never honestly believed that he deserved Desdemona Iago easily took him in. He is deceived by Iago’s lies and tricks because he never believed that Desdemona loved him and he does not believe what she says because of it. If he were not so insecure he would listen to her and realise that she was honest all along. Othello asks for “proof” of her affair but what he really wants is proof of her love. He gave her the handkerchief as a token of his love and he has not received anything in return.
Othello is blind to many things, not just his own weaknesses but Desdemona’s undying love for him. Othello has no understanding of his own weaknesses and how they can be manipulated. He is also blind to the true virtue of Desdemona, he sees her as perfect at the start, with not one flaw but by the end he calls her a “strumpet”.
Othello cannot see Desdemona as anything other than perfect or evil, there is no middle ground in his mind. In his mind she is either a “fair lady” or a “strumpet”, he believes she is an icon for good with no possibility for weakness. Othello is more accepting of the negative points, this is due to his life of “slavery” and situations of “imminent deadly breach”. He can relate to negative problems but he does not have any experience of a good life. Othello’s poor judgement leads to him wrongly dismissing his best friend and believing a deceitful Iago. Othello believes all that Iago says but ignores what the other characters say. He poorly judges the situation.
Emilia is the most grief stricken character following Desdemona’s death, she feels that she is partly to blame for Desdemona’s death. She feels this because it was her that stole the hanky and gave it away, if she had not then Desdemona may not have died. Emilia is very loyal to Desdemona, she pledges her loyalty to Desdemona. After the murder she tells Othello that Desdemona is “heavenly true” and would not cheat on him. Her true feelings begin to emerge, she calls Othello a “devil”, she no longer fears him because by committing murder he has lost all power.
She believes Othello is as “ignorant as dirt” to fall for Iago’s plans. Iago tells Emilia to “charm” her tongue, he does not want her to talk because she can reveal him for what he is. She ignores his orders and chooses to stay loyal to her mistress, saying she is “bound to speak”. The loyalty she has for Desdemona is greater than that for her husband, she takes this so far as to be killed. Iago shows no remorse for what he has done, he remains resolute and chooses “never to speak a word”, by doing this he remains in control and stops the situation becoming worse. Lodovico condemns Iago on his actions, he and Gratiano vow to make Iago talk through “torments” and torture if that is what is necessary. They feel Iago has committed a crime against Venetian society bringing down its General and causing chaos within the army.
Justice is reinstated when Othello kills himself, the audience is made to feel that as he took a life it is right that his should be taken. The characters condemn Othello as the fool that he is and that he is revealed to be a slave of his passions. Othello dies seeing himself to be the enemy, killing not himself but what he has become. He recognises his own damnation and welcomes it to equal the scales. Othello cannot control what he does, he cannot control his emotions. Iago is seen for what he really is, a “cunning” man with overpowering greed and jealousy. He is hungry for power and this is what leads to him bringing chaos and destruction to the Venetian society.
With Cassio in charge of the army, order is restored, the society can get on as if it had not happened. The realisation Othello has of his flaws give the audience a sense of catharsis, the audience feel that now he knows of his mistakes he cannot do more wrong. He feels bad for what he has done and understands that killing himself is the only way to restore order. It is arguable that the play does not give a sense of catharsis because it is never shown that Iago is tortured. The audience never sees him being properly punished for the problems he has caused. Also Iago never repent of what he has done, he never understands the pandemonium he has brought to the Venetian society. Overall Othello is flawed in many ways, he is jealous, insecure and full of pride, This leads to his demise and the demise of the other characters within the play.