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Othello Final Research Paper - ENG LIT

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“Othello” Research Paper
“Othello”, William Shakespeare’s famous tragedy about the Moor of Venice, is argued by
many to be one of the finest tragedies even created in the history of the Western Civilization. As
any true tragic hero, Othello holds an important role. He is a tragic hero mostly due to his self-
centered nature and his gullibility, with his attempt at redemption being too little and too late.
The following research paper will discuss Othello as a tragic hero and compare him to the
concept held by Aristotle about what a true tragic hero really is. It is very important that at first
we understand the characteristics of a tragic hero as defined by the Greek critic Aristotle.
According to him a true tragic hero must possess a series of characteristics and attributes that
define him as such. Most important among these characteristics were, the noble origin or rank of
the hero, the tragic flaw or weakness in judgment he possessed and the fall from high to low
estate. By making use of Aristotle’s mentioned criteria we can clearly identify Othello as a
tragic hero.
In those times it wasn’t uncommon for the Italian city states to have a foreigner, with
exquisite military capabilities, in service as head of the Army. Othello is being portrayed as an
African Moor of noble birth who held the impressive highest ranking military position of
Governor-General of Cyprus, thus being one of the described foreigners who served in leading
the army. At the time Cyprus was a city state as part of the great state of Venice. Even if we take
his title alone, Governor-General, it’s easy to notice the air of nobility it exudes. This title

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defined a person held in tremendously high esteem by the people of Venice, a person considered
an example of courage and strength.
In Act 1, Scene 3, we are shown the Duke along with some senators, sitting at a table and
discussing issues right when Othello enters the room. It becomes very obvious that Othello is
being held in high esteem by the other state officials in the moment he enters the room and a
senator exclaims “Here comes Barbantio and the valiant Moor” (47). Another of Othello’s
positive attributes is portrayed clearly in the moment he defends himself and his marriage to
Desdemona. Desdemona was the daughter of a Venetian Senator named Barbantio. Defending
himself he associated himself with one of the “great ones” of the world.
When accused of witchcraft by Barbantio, Desdemona’s father, he demonstrates courage
and confidence in himself and his actions. Othello seems to emanate some sort of personal
magnetism which combined with his dark, tall stature, assist him in gaining the confidence of the
Venetian senators and of the people. In Act 1, Scene 2, when Montano, the Governor of Cyprus,
is awaiting for the arrival of Othello's ship, following a strong storm at sea, the depth of the
respect displayed by the people toward Othello is made clear by the governors words that refer
to him as the brave Othello (38).
Othello is similarly very well respected by his men, the soldiers who always refer to him
as captain, a term originating in Roman times which describes a commander of a company of
men. He was known for his skills and military knowledge being a proven military leader. He was
at his core linked to the military having been serving in some sort of military capacity from the
young age of seven. Othello, as portrayed in the play is the holder of an impressive number of
positive attributes usually found in the greatest leaders, among which respect, courage, dignity,

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self control and sound judgment. According to the writer A.C. Bradley, Othello is a character
truly worthy of admiration, one of heroic stature of wonderful imagination and capable of an
impressive amount of self control … (Mehl, Dieter, Shakespeare's Tragedies: An Introduction,
[New York, Cambridge University Press, 1986] page 66). His courage and self confidence are
made clear in the moment when Othello makes his stand against Barbantio, Roderigo and Iago.
As they took out their swords, Othello, instead of retreating in the face of the danger of being
outnumbered, begins to taunt them by saying, “keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust
them” (59-60).
Throughout his play Shakespeare continually portrays Othello as a well respected
nobleman. Shakespeare displays a soft side when he shows Othello’s love and confidence in his
love Desdemona. In the first act, Scene 3, Othello entrusted his wife in the care of another
gentleman and his wife as he was required to go to war in Cyprus. The couple he entrusted his
wife to was his good friend Iago and his wife Emilia. This displays Othello’s confidence and
trust in both his wife and his friend Iago to which he assigns his wife (286).
Moving on with the play, in an intriguing move, Shakespeare beings gradually to display
Othello’s faults and negative personality characteristics that eventually lead to his destruction.
Further, his political position as Governor-General, the allegiance of the people and the soldiers
to him and his self-confidence, now all contribute to the development of his negative character
traits. Even though it seems ironic and unlikely to happen in Othello’s case all his positive aspect
seem to bring out his negative traits and accentuate his character flaws. His biggest flaws seem to
arise from his jealousy pointed at his wife Desdemona and his all too trusting nature.

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Anonymous
Excellent resource! Really helped me get the gist of things.

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