The tragedy of Othello shows the downfall of the protagonist, Othello, by the deception of Iago and his fatal flaw of jealousy.
The idea of striving for power contributes to Iago’s determination to bring down Othello after Cassio’s promotion to lieutenant over him. Power also acts as a reason for Othello killing his wife because of the damage done to his authority with the supposed infidelity of Desdemona. Othello’s power at the beginning of the play is portrayed as stable.
Othello’s role as an important figure in the army and the respect given to him from seniors hides the issue of his position as an outsider.
Despite Brabantio’s prejudice remarks against Othello, he still manages to claim back his authority with the power of his speech and love for Desdemona. However, Shakespeare uses these aspects of Othello’s character to bring about the tragedy which sees the breakdown of Othello’s mental state and the death of Desdemona, Emilia and Othello.
According to Aristotle’s definition of tragedy, the tragic hero ‘enjoys prosperity and a high reputation’ (Poetics XIII). In Othello, we see Othello’s downfall from his initial high-status to a man weakened by jealousy, by Iago’s envy of power of which he has been deprived of.
Iago’s deception leads Othello to think his honour has been damaged by Desdemona, even though his power has actually been degraded by Iago’s ability to deceive him and at the end of the play, Othello’s realisation of this results in him taking his own life.In 1:3, Othello is addressed as “Valiant Othello” (48) by the Duke, who greets Othello before he greets Brabantio which indicates the high-level of respect given to Othello by senior figures. This contrasts the insults made by Iago in 1:1 calling Othello “an old black ram” and “a Barbary horse”, racist terms that are associated with barbarianism and savagery. Iago’s racism suggests he feels a degree of superiority over Othello in that he is from the majority race.
Shakespeare’s use of this language and suggest Iago wants to downgrade Othello and bring out his vulnerabilities.The use of the word ‘Moor’ portrays Othello as an outsider, someone who normally wouldn’t be associated with such high-status or authority. The term ‘moor’ was often used to refer to someone who wasn’t white, although the origin of the word was used to label Arabs and Berbers who inhabited Spain between the 8th and 15th centuries and even Queen Elizabeth had used the term when she desired the removal of ‘blackamoors’ from Britain. The use of the word ‘moor’ in Othello is casual that even Desdemona uses it to refer to Othello.
Nonetheless, it’s connotations suggest that at the time this play was written, ‘The Moor’ would be a total outcast from society but the fact Othello wasn’t considered as a second-class citizen indicates that his power and reputation was robust at this point, despite his vulnerability; an indicator of the tragedy to come. Othello’s self-defence in 1:3 shows Othello to be honourable in his speech. “Most potent, grave, and reverend signiors, / My very noble and approv’d good masters” (76-77) are lines that show Othello being respectful and confident that his honourable conduct will persuade Brabantio of his love for Desdemona.References to war in the line “I won his daughter” (95) implies Othello is confident that his position as an important figure in war won Desdemona over her father and it will win over Brabantio as well.
The fact that Othello, by the end of it, did win over Brabantio, to some extent, demonstrates the influence of Othello’s conduct and charisma in his high authority. This puts Othello in a high position ready for a great fall that is inevitable due to his fatal flaw of jealousy in the tragedy of Othello.Shakespeare’s use of language in 1:1 suggests a high level of power at the beginning of the play. ‘war’, ‘battle’, ‘Masters’, ‘lords’, ‘royal’ and ‘honour’ are seen in 1:1.
Though, not directly used to describe Othello, the presence of these words could suggest to the audience a sense of order and stability in contrast to 3:3 where we see Othello begin to lose his authority and words such as ‘jealousy’, ‘suspicions’, ‘doubt’ and ‘honest’ are repeated to imply Othello has lost control of his metal stability.The repetition of the word ‘seem’ suggests confusion which in turn increases Iago’s power in that he’s in control of Othello’s mental state and weakens Othello’s power. Iago’s envy and hatred of Othello’s power contributes to the force that brings down Othello. Iago yearns for the power he thinks Othello and Cassio are unworthy of.
His detestation towards Othello is seen in his first soliloquy in 1:3 where he says “I hate the Moor” (386) and the reason he gives for his anger is that he believes Othello has “’twixt my sheets / He’s done my office” (387-388) adding sexual jealousy as well as to his envy of authority.However, Iago claims “I know not if’t be true / But I, for mere suspicion in that kind, / Will so as if for surety” (388-390) which suggests he’s so insecure of his position, he’s willing to use any excuse to give himself authority of which he thinks Othello has deprived him, partly for promoting Cassio over him and also for having such high-status in spite of being an outsider. Iago expresses racial prejudices against Othello more than any other character in the play suggesting that Iago feels he should have authority over Othello because he is part of the racial majority.Although Iago has little power due to his status as the Ancient and of lower social class, his reputation for honesty, constantly being called “Honest Iago” throughout the play, puts him in a position to easily manipulate characters.
Iago’s clever manipulation builds the power he has to put Othello “into a jealousy so strong / That judgement cannot cure” 2:1 (292-293) by using Othello’s “Loving, noble nature” 2:1 (280) until he has complete power over Othello’s mental state where he can seek his revenge and increase his power as Othello’s power declines and allows Othello’s downfall to take place.It could be argued that Othello’s jealousy, which acts as his fatal flaw, is brought about by Iago’s jealousy and the tragedy lies in the hands of Iago, rather than Othello because Iago is able to gain so much authority over Othello’s mentality, Othello has no choice but to believe him. The fact that Othello asks many times for “ocular proof” 3:3 (365) suggests Iago’s manipulation is so clever, it is inevitable that anyone, let alone Othello would fall for it. Unlike other Shakespeare tragedies such as Macbeth, Othello has little control over the events which lead to his death.
In Macbeth, Lady Macbeth manipulates Macbeth into killing the king, but he has more of a choice and more of a conscience and the choice he makes leads to his own demise. Othello doesn’t have that choice because he’s under Iago’s control which could suggest he’s too flawed to be a tragic hero. Although, Othello does have some choice when it comes to killing Desdemona, his role as army officer and being around a violent environment and the context of this play being from a less civilised and strongly religious era could make Othello’s demise too inevitable.Although, the modern day equivalent of murders such as Desdemona’s are “honour killings” which are common, though seen as shocking and deplorable.
This could be the same case for the Elizabethan time period and this type of “honour killing” could have been seen as men only trying retrieve their ‘lost honour’ in an unacceptable way. In 4:1 we see the moment in which Othello loses control by Shakespeare’s use of structure. Othello begins to sound convinced by Iago with fast questions and the use of stichomythia in lines 32-36.Othello’s once fluent speech becomes disjointed and repetitive reflecting his confused and anxious state of mind.
Considering that in 1:3 Othello’s speech represented his authority over people, now that his speech is disjointed it shows the loss of power to Iago. “Lie with her! lie on her! we say lie on her…
handkerchief! — confessions! — Handkerchief! — To confess… Pish! Noises, ears and lips — is’t possible? Confess — handkerchief! ” shows a switch from poetry to prose and a loss of the iambic pentameter seen through the play.
Irregularity of rhythm could represent Othello’s irregularity of thoughts contrasting to his confident self defence in 1:3. All the while Othello’s self control deteriorates Iago remains to be ironic and conceited. The word ‘lie’ acts as a pun that suggests a double meaning of Iago’s lying and an image of Cassio and Desdemona lying together. As Othello falls into an epileptic fit, every bit of power Othello has transfers to Iago and the tragedy will begin to unfold under the control of Iago.
To conclude, the effect that power and striving for power has on the characters of Othello and Iago contributes greatly to the tragedy of the play. Iago’s want for power causes Othello losing his power to Iago’s manipulation consequently resulting in the murder of Desdemona and suicide of Othello. Shakespeare’s use of language with words associated with war and racism shows us the significance of power in the tragedy and use of structure of poetry and prose shows us the demise of Othello.
Cite this Discuss the importance of power in the tragedy of Othello
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