Unpacking the Tragic Hero in Shakespeares Othello

Categories: Tragedy


Thesis: The William Shakespeare's play "Othello, the Moor of Venice". Exposes the author's understanding of an awful hero. By the end of the play Aristotle's viewpoint exposes that every lead character hero has some type of moral Achilles's heel.

Working Outline

a.Attention grabbing opening declaration
b.Background information on the subject
c.Thesis statement

II. Body Paragraph I.
a.Aristotle's general description and meaning of a disaster b.Imitates the action of life.
c.Must be dramatic type.

d.Arouses the emotions of pity and fear.

III.Body Paragraph II- begin with meaning and elements of a tragic hero a.Definition of Aristotle's tragic hero.
b.Discuss of Othello as honorable, virtuous and effective.
c.Discuss of Othello's character defect.

IV.Body paragraph III.
a. Meaning of plot.
b. Calamity or culminating even.
c. Heroes awakening or awareness.

Aristotle's Tragic Hero.

In William Shakespeare's drama "Othello, the Moor of Venice", Aristotle's "terrible hero" perception reveals that a classic disaster is being performed.

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Aristotle is not determining specific laws for disaster, simply providing a description of them based on his understanding from the numerous dramas that he saw or read providing a basic description. Simply put this drama is called The Leader of Royal army eliminates Kings child.

According to Aristotle’s version of the tragedy, something terrible happens to a powerful protagonist, or in this case Othello, who is destined for a sullen downfall, immense suffering, and ultimate defeat due to his own hamartia. According to Aristotle, Othello’s hamartia is brought on by selfish pride and a driven ego.

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For example, because of his position as a General, who was strong, brave and highly respected among his peers, Othello believed he was a great man despite being a North African Moor. This verse located in the bible identifies selfish pride. “But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.” (Romans 11:17-21 ESV). Shakespeare’s drama Othello is set in Venice and Cyprus during the Renaissance Era. In the Renaissance Era, opulence and affluence distinctly separated the classes in Venice. After being summoned by the Duke, Othello led the Venetian Army to Cyprus for war. The very essence of war is tragic in its nature. The lead character, Othello, is a Moor from North Africa. He is the general of the Venetian Army. He secretly married the beautiful Desdemona, a princess from a distinguished Venetian royal family. Iago, who hates Othello after being passed up for promotion, was Othello’s friend and confidant. He set about a massive revenge plot to convince Othello that his wife was cheating on him. In the process Iago uses his own wife Emilia, Rodrigo and Othello’s own hamartia to bring him down. In the climax, Othello kills his innocent wife Desdemona in a fit of jealous rage. The word of God addresses jealous in this passage of scripture; for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful. (Cor.3:3-5, Revised Standard Version) Iago is eventually caught, but sadly, Desdemona was already killed by Othello. Grief stricken and laden with guilt, Othello takes his own life. The William Shakespeare’s play “Othello, the Moor of Venice”. Reveals the author’s perception of a tragic hero. By the end of the play Aristotle’s point of view reveals that every protagonist hero has some type of moral Achilles’s heel.

According to Aristotle, a tragedy is not just a drama in a public art form to promote political agendas. Aristotle believed tragedy was just an exclusive ploy to promote the latest political agenda celebrating heroes who idolize themselves as nobles. Tragedy helps audience members reflect on and evaluate their own family traditions, personal values and tightly held ideology. The audience member may determine that their own values may not be the same as the current cultural norms as a tragic drama allows.

As defined by Aristotle, it is correct to label Othello a “tragic hero” and to classify the drama as an Aristotelian tragedy. Aristotle’s concept of tragedy quote “Tragedy is an imitation of an action of high importance, complete and of some amplitude; in language enhanced by distinct and varying beauties; acted not narrated; by means of pity and fear effecting its purgation of these emotions.” (Kennedy, 2013, pg945) -Aristotle, Poetics, Chapter VI.

Aristotle’s tragic hero imitates the action of life in Othello by the way the protagonist must fall from power and from apparent happiness. This fall is
demonstrated in the drama when the King resends Othello’s command while he was in Cyprus. Othello also fits the characteristic of Nobleman because he is the leader of the Venetian Army. Othello is a Moor, but he fits the description of powerful person in a tragedy. Othello, the Moor from North Africa, is a foreigner, but he is a soldier who rose through the ranks to become a well-respected General – which is also an imitation of life. Aristotle’s vision of tragedy in dramatic form is fulfilled in Othello as the audience witnesses Iago secretly manipulate his own wife, Rodrigo, and Othello to get the ultimate revenge on Othello for denying him a “deserved” promotion. In the drama Othello, the Moor of Venice strong emotions of pity and fear are aroused when the drama comes to its’ climax. Just after Othello killed Desdemona, Iago’s wife Emilia came in to explain about the attack on Casio that involves Roderigo as well as Iago. While Emilia explains she sees Desdemona. She questions Othello about what has happened. Othello tells Amelia that her husband helped him to recognize what a good liar Desdemona was and exposed her cheating. Amelia exposes that her husband Iago had Desdemona’s handkerchief and that her husband lied to him (Othello) about the handkerchief and that Desdemona was a good wife to him and did not cheat on him. The plot twists and turns demonstrated the drama. At the climax of the drama when Othello has smothered Desdemona with a pillow and she awakens for a moment to declare that she killed herself. Her death is quite dramatic and fits yet another characteristic of tragic hero. To add to the drama, Iago, Montano, and Gratiano come in to add to their explanations to inform General Othello. Pity is felt for Othello after he murdered his wife in the face of lies. The word of God says “When men strive together one with another, and the wife of the one draweth near for to deliver her husband out of the hand of him that smiteth him, and putteth forth her hand, and taketh him by the secrets: 12 Then thou shalt cut off her hand, thine eye shall not pity her.” (Deuteronomy 25:11-12 English Standard Version) A fearful mood for what is to happen in Othello’s future takes hold of the audience. Upon Othello’s death, the mood goes beyond sympathy to pity. “Emelia:O my good lord, yonder’s foul murders done!” Nay, lay thee down and roar, For thou hast killed the sweetest innocent That e’er did lift up eye.“”Othello: I kissed thee ere I killed thee. No way but this, Killing myself, to die upon a kiss.” (X.J. Kennedy, Dana Gioia (2013), pg 1094)

A tragic hero is a great or virtuous character destined for a heartbreaking downfall, extreme suffering, or unthinkable defeat. It is Othello’s own pride and ego (hamartia) that lead to his downfall. While the audience may want to attribute his tragedies to Iago, deep within Othello, his own pride is the cause of his destruction.

In Conclusion by the end of the drama, Aristotle reveals that every protagonist hero has some type of moral Achilles’s heel. A tragic hero is a powerful character traveling steadily toward a heartbreaking downfall, enduring pain or unimaginable defeat. It is Othello’s own pride and ego (hamartia) that lead to his downfall. While the audience may want to attribute his tragedies to Iago, deep within Othello, knows his own pride is the cause of his destruction. Aristotle’s definition of a tragic hero in the story of Othello meets the accomplished goal you end of feeling pity for Othello.


Kennedy, X.J. & Gioia, Dana (2013). Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. “William Shakespeare, Othello, the Moor of Venice” (Pages 1002-) Pearson: Seventh Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Scruton, Roger (1988). A Short History of Modern Philosophy. New York, NY:Routledge Stangrom, Jeremy and Julian Baggani (Eds.) (2004). Great Thinkers A-Z. New York, NY: Continuum Kennedy, Anthony (2006). An Illustrated Brief History of Western Philosophy. Malden, MA: Blackwell Sherman, Nancy (2005). Stoic Warriors. New York, NY: Oxford Tarnas, Richard (1991). The Passion of the Western Mind. Understanding the ideas that have shaped our World View. New York, NY: Randome House Fountain, A, (2013, December12). Bible quotes.
(Kennedy, Gioia (2013), pg 1094)

Updated: Apr 29, 2023
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Unpacking the Tragic Hero in Shakespeares Othello. (2016, Mar 01). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/othello-essay

Unpacking the Tragic Hero in Shakespeares Othello essay
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