Othello, the eponymous hero with a fatal flaw in Shakespeare’s play, falls from grace through circumstances engineered by the class manipulator, Iago, arguably his most trusted aide. Whilst he fits the prerequisite for a tragic hero in Shakespearian tragedy, the dynamics of the deceit in which Othello finds himself entwined reveal a flaw closer to stupidity than naivety or jealousy. His willingness to believe Iago’s unsubstantiated lies betray the intelligence the audience expect of Othello, so the notion that he is too stupid to be a tragic hero bears some truth.
The first appearance of Othello in the play comes during a heated moment as Brabantio, instigated by Iago and Roderigo, confronts him over Othello’s involvement with his daughter, Desdemona. Othello’s actions here define his character for the audience and his calm reluctance to accept that he has done anything wrong seems testament to his character – “Not I: I must be found. My parts, my title, and my perfect soul shall manifest me rightly..
.”. This demonstrates that he has a soldier’s mentality; he will either fall or be the victor. As can be seen later in the play, this serves to amplify the crippling jealousy aroused by Iago’s revelations.
However, upon the audience’s first encounter with Othello, he appears to be intelligent in the way he manages the situation and the last words of Brabantio, “She has deceived her father, and may thee”, obviously make an impression as they resonate in his actions further on.When Iago confronts Othello with the supposed affair occurring between Desdemona and Cassio, he does it so hesitantly that Othello becomes enraged before he has divulged the information. This makes Othello more vulnerable for the lies to do more damage. This damage is apparent in his speech in Act 3 Scene 3: “Why, why is this? .
.. No, to be once in doubt is once to be resolved..
.” It is this doubt that consumes him so completely and this contributes to his subsequent stupidity. However, it is possible at this point to confuse his stupidity with the soldier’s mentality so ingrained in his existence. It is the lack of knowledge that drives Othello crazy, something that he is not used to on the battleground, so it catches him off-guard.
Whilst Iago messes up his soldier mentality, stupidity causes Othello to remain so pliable. He initially demands proof, already starting the psychological process of setting himself apart from Desdemona – “And on the proof, there is no more but this …
Away at once with love or jealousy!” An example of his glaring stupidity is when he concludes that Cassio crying Desdemona’s name in his sleep denotes adultery. Eventually he acts on no hard evidence and pays the ultimate price.Othello’s continued faith in Iago is critically misplaced, although this could be attributed to his naivety. There is a wonderful irony in his belief in Iago’s honesty and the many references made there of almost make Othello a figure of ridicule.
Surely this extensive humiliation is not appropriate for a tragic hero. Iago always talks as if Othello has lost his good name and as if Desdemona has been unfaithful: “Good name in man and woman…
” As aforementioned, Othello will either fall or be the victor and in this instance he must kill Desdemona to regain his good name. The final nature of murder reflects Othello’s state of mind at this point, as there is no going back and his stupidity has caused him to take leave of his other, more virtuous, senses.To look at the split personality of Othello at the beginning and end of the play, it is remarkable to think that one fatal flaw caused this regression. Iago, the instrument of his downfall, nurtured his jealousy and betrayed his naivety, and any tragedy lies in this.
Yet his growing stupidity, which is at odds with the high position he holds in society, lets him down as a tragic hero. His inability to articulate is a flaw he acknowledges early on when he professes, “Rude am I in my speech and little blessed with the soft phrase of peace”. Unfortunately, in his jealous stupor he fails to reflect in such a way. Othello never recovers from the initial shock inflicted by Iago at a time when his anger made him most vulnerable, but his stupidity causes him to make inferences that make him increasingly farcical as a tragic hero.