Discuss the Character of Othello as a Tragic Hero
In many ways Othello’s portrait is larger than life, his nobility, his heroism, and brevity as a solder put him apart from the brawling, scheming Venetians whom he has been fated to defend as a general. Othello is a hero, in the world of dwarfs, there is nobody in the play who can be compared with Othello. Among the heroes of Shakespeare, Othello is the most romantic, most poetic and at the same time most pathetically tragic. He is a colossal figure in his emotional propensities also. He is capable of loving with all his heart but when his fury is roused, he becomes as tumulus as a tempest. Othello’s tragedy is the tragedy of passion.
Othello’s romantic temperament is paradoxical in the military environment, he has been put in. There is a romantic halo around the figure of Othello. He has not been born and bred in familiar prosaic in England but comes from a romantic wonderland the distant, unknown Morocco. He has always lived a life of adventure and romance traveled to distant places and met with strange people and experiences. It is this romantic figure that Desdemona falls in love with. Othello is noble and dignified in every way. He claims his descent from royal ancestors and throughout the play we see him bearing himself in a calm, dignified manner when Brabantio and his men come to assail him, Othello fearlessly stands his ground. His words on this occasion display rare dignity and self-control-
“Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them,
Good signior, you shall more command with years than with your weapons.”
Othello showed the greatest brevity and integrity on the battlefield. Even Iago, Othello’s worst enemy testifies to his firmness in danger. Shakespeare, by touch after touch, builds up the figure of noble and villain Othello in order to shatter it finally with the stroke of a tragic ax. This is at the beginning of the play. Towards the end, we find the fall of Othello from such a height into the alleys of jealousy, anger, and self-torturing agony. His equanimity is gone, he comes down to the level of an angry foul-mouthed commoner, who calls his innocent wife a strumpet and hurls abusive language upon her. It is the evil machination of Iago that has made this transformation. Othello is not by nature a jealous or suspicious man rather he is the opposite.
He is too much trusting and credulous. He is a nobleman who has an idealistic conception of the fellow human beings. He thinks that everybody else is as good and noble as he is. It is precisely this trait in Othello’s character that Iago capitalizes on, probably because he has passed all his life in the military camp. Othello possesses the innocence and simplicity of a child. Iago understands this and decides to make him a prey of his devilish scheme:
“The moor is of a free and open nature
That thinks men honest but seem to be so,
And will as tenderly be led by the nose
As asses are.”
Like other Shakespearean heroes, Othello is an absolutist where he trusts, he trusts absolutely, his demand for trust from others is also absolute. He thought that Desdemona whom he trusted, loved and married could never betray him. He cannot live without her:-
“There are, I have garnered up my heart,
Where either I must live or bear no life,
The fountain from which my being runs
Or else dries up—to be discarded thence!”
Othello’s tragic trait is his credulousness. It is his hamartia or the flaw of character. He is opposed to Hamlet but in both the characters, it is their innate characteristic that brings the doom. Hamlet introspects and infinitely delays the action; Othello is quite free from introspection and therefore rushes to action. If Hamlet were in Othello’s place, he would never father himself to strangle his wife. He would rule over the course of action, verify it, and try to have proof of it, but defer it continuously. But Othello is different. Once he is convinced of Desdemona’s falsity and expresses his grim resolution to take revenge, he rushes to it with inhuman speed. Iago, the supreme villain, proceeds step by step with hints and dark insinuations. Gradually jealously is roused in Othello and at one point, it engulfs him totally. Othello’s reasoning is clouded and in his delusion, he starts thinking that Desdemona had violated nature and justice by her wanton act.
Othello decides to kill her not to wreak his vengeance but to do justice to her and save her soul by sacrificing her on the altar of justice. He must kill Desdemona, “Lets she should betray more man.” Othello proceeds to kill Desdemona in a way as if it was a purgation of a sin that tainted their pure love.
Othello by killing Desdemona kills his own soul, later he finishes himself off physically. One of the most heart-rending scenes in Shakespeare is that of Othello repenting his cruel deed. He describes himself as “one that loved not wisely, but too well, one that like the base Indian, threw a pearl away richer than all his tribe.”