We use cookies to give you the best experience possible. By continuing we’ll assume you’re on board with our cookie policy

Othello as a Tragic Hero

The whole doc is available only for registered users

A limited time offer! Get a custom sample essay written according to your requirements urgent 3h delivery guaranteed

Order Now

One of the most obvious focal point of disagreement about Othello is whether Othello was a tragic hero or not according to the classic conception of a tragic hero; whether his characterization, personal attributes make him fall into the domain of Aristotelian concept of tragic hero; Whether or not he possessed a tragic flaw.  To Swinburne, Othello was “the noblest man of man’s making”. (Swinburne)But T.S. Eliot, on the other hand spoke unfavorably of his “cheering himself up”, (153) and came out with a celebrated critical term “Bovarysme”. Robert H. Heilman (1956) comes very close to restating the Eliot position when he says; “Othello is the least heroic of Shakespeare’s tragic heroes.” (p. 166)

The identification of Othello’s hamartia differs from reader to reader and from critic to critic. Some critics are of the view that excessive Egotism and self-confidence of Othello remain the main cause of his tragedy. He harbors unjustified suspicions against Desdemona. He had a trustful nature and he is thorough in his trust of Iago.(Bradley, 1965. p. 213. Jealousy overpowers him and he lacks self-control. It is hardly likely that even a combination of all these would be equal to what Aristotle considered to be a serious hamartia, and he exhibited any of the failing mentioned above. It would hardly be logical to say that the Othello was punished for crime in the yes of the divine. Another view is that the present failings of Othello may be taken to means that he was he was always like that, and his tragedy comes due some inherent or innate unsoundness in his character. However we get no indication of this in the play.

The conception of the tragic hero that we gather from Aristotle’s Poetics is that he is a highly esteemed and prosperous man who falls into misfortune because of some serious hamartia i.e. tragic flaw. Aristotle gives the example of Oedipus and Thyestes, which means that according to him, it was Oedipus’ hamartia that was directly responsible for his fall. Although the meaning of hamartia is far from certain, its most frequent applications is in the sense of false moral judgment, or even purely intellectual errors. Among Greeks no sharp distinction between the two existed. It is generally believed that according to Aristotle the hamartia off Oedipus consists in some moral faults and it has been tried to identify various moral faults in Oedipus. Othello also possessed these moral flaw and his tragedy only comes due to these moral flaws, So according to Aristotelian conception, Othello is a tragic hero as he is a larger than life character and has tragic flaws that bring his destruction.

            Distinguished Professor Butcher has identified four possible range of meaning of Aristotle‘s Hamartia i.e. tragic flaw. The foremost of these connotations is an error due to unavoidable ignorance of circumstances whereas an error caused by unawareness of conditions that might have been identified and for that reason to some extent morally blameworthy is another manifestation of the sense in which the term hamartia was used by Aristotle. The third sense is “A fault or error where the act is conscious and intentional, but not deliberate. Such acts are committed in anger or passion.” Where as fourth one is “A fault of character distinct, on the one hand, from an isolated error, and, on the other, from the vice which has its seat in the depraved will…a flaw of character that is not tainted with a vicious purpose.”[1]This essay will try to analyze all these manifestation of tragic flaws present in the character of Othello to manifest that he was a tragic hero.

The character of Othello possesses an aura of personality that makes him distinguished as well naive and unrefined as compared with other characters in the play and other Shakespearean protagonists. That is the sole reason that why he fell a prey to Iago’s plot. Iago told Roderigo, “O, sir, content you.  I follow him [Othello] to serve my turn upon him “(I, i lines 38-9).  Iago explains that only follow Othello to certain extent. A rudimentary supposition is that as the murder of Othello’s wife Desdemona is the result of deceitfulness of Iago, so himself remained a victim to the evil genius of Iago. Othello’s wrath was a product of his impulsiveness, the inherent flaw in his character, but that was utilized and triggered by the machination of Iago.

The offense of Iago – to conspire the demise of the Moor – is worse since it is embedded in a shrewd mind with organized attempt whereas the wrongdoing of Othello was the result of his naiveté. He was blindfolded by a thorn in the heart and mind. But his sin can not be justified only on this ground as there were various methods to check the blameworthiness. However, it can be illustrated that Othello permitted himself to be influenced by Iago’s proposition of the unfaithfulness of Desdemona. Iago only provides a justification that was needed by Othello. Some critics are of the view that Desdemona’s murder is an outcome of Othello’s excessive arrogance and his impulsiveness to decision-making. A.C. Bradley ponders over the dispositions and nature of Othello and says in this regard;

“The sources of danger in this character are revealed but too clearly by the story. In the first place, Othello’s mind, for all its poetry, is very simple. He is not observant. His nature tends outward. He is quite free from introspection, and is not given to reflection. Emotion excites his imagination, but it confuses and dulls his intellect. On this side he is the very opposite of Hamlet, with whom, however, he shares a great openness and trustfulness of nature. In addition, he has little experience of the corrupt products of civilised life, and is ignorant of European women.” (p. 217)

Despite this major flaw, he possessed some distinct personality traits. His has the capacity to build positive and reciprocal relationships and to take a number of steps to persuade.  He possesses the capability to tailor an approach to appeal to the needs of a particular audience and an example of this relationship building is his genuine companionship with Iago. But again this trait of Othello is used against him as Iago takes advantage of his trust and design more evil plots against him.

Although Othello possesses some evil propensities but he is capable of preventing these base and evil instincts to dominate him.

In order to locate the degree and gravity of his sins, his motives fro his evil actions must be taken into consideration. It can be argued that his sins are product of weak mental faculties and some inherent flaws in his character. It was further enhanced by the manipulation of Iago instead of his pride. His action of murdering Desdemona was also not due to deficiency of confidence as he was a strong leader as manifested by his ability to command military and various other states affairs. But his leadership does not mean that he was forfeited against personal fantasies and whims of imagination.

Othello’s basic dilemma was that he was in a totally new socio-cultural milieu. He was in a new city with a new bride who was graceful and young. Furthermore, Othello was in deep love with her does not know her well. He was uncertain about Desdemona decision to select him as her husband, and can only comprehend one clarification, “She lov’d me for the dangers I had pass’d.” (I,iii,167) He is aware of the prevailing environment of prejudice and bias in Venice and without doubt must inquire why Desdemona would against her own norms and values and associate white Venetians by marrying an outsider.

All these added suspicion in his minds before Iago begins his conniving plot. Although Desdemona was an epitome of love and care for her, but his preconceived notions cannot enable him to believe in her love unreservedly. His response to his skeptic mind is to put

Desdemona on a pedestal, making her an “emblem of purity and trustworthiness”

‘Tis not to make me jealous/ To say my wife Is fair, feeds well, loves company,

Is free of speech, sings, plays, and dances well./ Where virtue Is, these are more virtuous.

Nor from mine own weak merits will I draw/ The smallest fear or doubt of her revolt,

For she had eyes, and chose me. (3. 3.180)

Othello arrived at the conclusion that Desdemona’s consideration and virtue only capacitated her to feel affection for the unlovable — an unstable culmination originating from his low self-worth. When Iago cast away this fictitious idealism with his evil designs, he is merely strengthening what Othello considers profoundly to be thoroughly possible i.e. that Desdemona could love another man. Iago is on hand to verify Othello’s primary doubts:

Ay, there’s the point! as (to be bold with you)/ Not to affect many proposed matches/ Of her own clime, complexion, and degree, / Whereto we see in all things nature tends …

Her will, recoiling to her better judgement,/ May fall to match you with her country forms, / And happily repent. (3. 3. 228)

So all these facts, arguments and supported evidence clearly manifest that Othello was a lager than life character and his tragic flaw contributes toward his tragedy. It is both an amalgam of self-infliction and circumstances beyond his control. He is a noble character but when things go wrong and pressures builds up, Othello’s inadequacies are revealed like the cracks in the dam. This makes him a tragic hero according to very conception of Aristotle. A.C. Bradley refutes the point of view that Othello was not noble and has no characteristics of a tragic hero. He is of the view;

This character is so noble, Othello’s feelings and actions follow so inevitably from it and from the forces brought to bear on it, and his sufferings are so heart-rending, that he stirs, I believe, in most readers a passion of mingled love and pity which they feel for no other hero in Shakespeare, and to which not even Mr Swinburne can do more than justice. Yet there are some critics and not a few readers who cherish a grudge against him. They do not merely think that in the later stages of his temptation he showed a certain obtuseness, and that, to speak pedantically, he acted with unjustifiable precipitance and violence; no one, I suppose, denies that. (p. 221)


Bloom, Harold. William Shakespeare’s Othello. New York: Chelsea House, 1987.

Bradley, A. C. Shakespearean Tragedy: Lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth.

            2nd ed. London: Macmillan, 1905.

Butcher, S.H. Aristotle’s theory of Poetry and Fine Arts. Hell and Wang: New York. 1961.

Elliot, T.S. The Hero Cheering Himself Up. Shakespeare and the Stoicism of Seneca. ED.

            Leonard F. Dean, Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1961. 153-155. .

Heilman, Robert B. Magic in the web; action & language in Othello. Lexington, University of

            Kentucky Press, 1956.

Shakespeare, William. Othello. Penguin Books. New York. 1993

Swinburne, A.C. A Study of Shakespeare; Edited by Goose Edmund. Website;


[1] For detailed discussion on these manifestations of the term Hamartia, please see Aritotle’s theory of Poetry and Fine Arts by S.H. Butcher (pp.310-315.)

Related Topics

We can write a custom essay

According to Your Specific Requirements

Order an essay
Materials Daily
100,000+ Subjects
2000+ Topics
Free Plagiarism
All Materials
are Cataloged Well

Sorry, but copying text is forbidden on this website. If you need this or any other sample, we can send it to you via email.

By clicking "SEND", you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy. We'll occasionally send you account related and promo emails.
Sorry, but only registered users have full access

How about getting this access

Your Answer Is Very Helpful For Us
Thank You A Lot!


Emma Taylor


Hi there!
Would you like to get such a paper?
How about getting a customized one?

Can't find What you were Looking for?

Get access to our huge, continuously updated knowledge base

The next update will be in:
14 : 59 : 59