In other tragedies, we see the theme of madness such as in King Lear and_ Macbeth_ and this is also the case in Othello. By the end of Act III scene iii the madness is clear. Within this scene Othello falls to the ground in a fit. Iago describes Othello in the following way: The lethargy must have his quiet course: If not, he foams at mouth and by and by Breaks out to savage madness. Look he stirs:
This madness has come as a result of Iago’s manipulations and indeed it can be seen that the madness was exactly what Iago intended to bring about as is evident in this quotation:
For making him egregiously an ass And practising upon his peace and quiet Even to madness. ‘Tis here, but yet confused: Knavery’s plain face is never seen tin used. (Act II scene i)
Now will I question Cassio of Bianca, A housewife that by selling her desires Buys herself bread and clothes: it is a creature That dotes on Cassio; as ‘tis the strumpet’s plague To beguile many and be beguiled by one: He, when he hears of her, cannot refrain From the excess of laughter. Here he comes: Re-enter CASSIO As he shall smile, Othello shall go mad; (Act IV scene I)
The madness is evident later in the play in Othello’s interaction with Desdemona. He slaps Desdemona causing shock amongst the other characters. It seems that Othello has lost all sense of reason. Othello’s actions at the end of the play when he murders Desdemona may also be regarded as madness. Othello tries to justify his actions by saying it was a consequence of Iago’s manipulations and that he is merely a victim. It could also be argued that the madness that is displayed by Othello throughout the play is the consequence of jealousy so it seems that jealousy and madness are closely aligned in this play.
At the very start of the play in Act I scene i we hear racial abuse from Iago and Roderigo about Othello with language such as “an old black ram/ Is tupping your white ewe” and “What is a full fortune does the thick lips owe”. Despite such racist language and the fact that the play was written in the Elizabethan period, Shakespeare is doing something very interesting with race. Indeed, the language heard at this point of the play is voiced by the villain and his accomplice, so hardly characters that we are meant to sympathise with. In fact, when we meet Othello he is a very well regarded man who has reached a high position in the Venetian society. Shakespeare has chosen a moor to be the hero of the play and this would have been breaking with conventions where black characters were often seen to be the villains. However, there are complications about race. When the Duke speaks about Othello in Act I the Duke says, “Your son in law is far more fair than black” suggesting that Othello has been accepted because he is more like a white man rather than the fact they have accepted his race. Othello himself talks about black being in some way evil and corrupt when he speaks about how his view of Desdemona changed when he thought she was having an affair stating: Her name, that was as fresh As Dian’s visage, is now begrimed and black As mine own face. (Act III scene iii) By the end of the play. Therefore it can be seen that race is a complicated issue within the play.
The question of whether Othello can be regarded as a tragic hero is a complicated one. Othello does begin the play as a man of high status and he does, by the end of the play, fall from that position, dying by his own hand. It could be regarded that Othello’s flaw is his jealousy as this does seem to be the element that causes his dramatic change in his character. It can also be argued that he suffers more than he deserves, another important element of being a tragic hero. Furthermore, at the end of the play Othello makes a speech and this could be regarded as his recognition of his flaw. However, some argue that Othello’s fall is a result of Iago’s villainy and not of his own failings. In his final speech Othello says that he “was not easily jealous, by being wrought/Perplexed in the extreme’. By stating this it also suggests that Othello is not really accepting his own flaws and recognising his errors.
Othello has been a powerful warrior and it seems that his role in battle has resulted in him being held in such high regard. Some critics believe that the tragedy that ensues is a consequence of the fact that Othello does not understand how to be anything other than a warrior. He does not understand love and relationships so that when faced with difficulties in his marriage with Desdemona he responds as he would on a battlefield with shouts to “kill”.
- What is Othello’s Tragic Flaw?
- What role does race have in Othello’s fall?
- Your answer should include: Less / Value / Vulnerable
- What is the importance of Othello’s role of warrior?
- Your answer should include: Lacks / Understanding / Relationships