Othello - Critical Study of Text Essay

Othello is one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies - Othello - Critical Study of Text Essay introduction. It is based on ideas and themes of honesty, character flaws, patriarchal societies, and love. Due to people’s context and values there are many different readings that could be interpreted from this play. In my opinion, the two readings that most aptly fit the tragedy of Othello are a Renaissance tragedy derived from the Aristotelian model (Dominant reading), which involves the protagonist being brought down by a tragic flaw, and a feminist, anti-patriarchal reading (Alternate reading), which describes the weakness of a society dominated by male values.

The Dominant reading of Othello would recognise the protagonist falling from a ‘high station’ because of tragic flaw, based on moral weakness or human frailty, which eventually brings them down. The protagonist in Othello is the character Othello himself. He is brought down by an antagonist, Iago, through a pitiable and frightening set of circumstances, in which Othello undergoes a catharsis and comes to a clearer understanding of the world, and gains insight. Throughout the play, Iago is plotting and scheming to bring Othello down for he thinks that Othello has committed adultery with his wife, Emilia. Iago states “I hate the Moor” (1, 3, 379) which assures the audience that he is against Othello. Iago plays on Othello’s tragic flaw which is his uxoriousness, loving Desdemona too much.

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“One that loved not wisely, but too well” (5, 2, 340)

Another flaw of Othello’s is his trust in Iago. Othello refers to Iago as “Honest Iago” numerous times throughout the play. Iago twists situations and manipulates Othello to lead him to believe that Desdemona had been unfaithful to him, with Cassio. This fits in with the Aristotelian tragedy because Othello’s tragic flaws make him believe Iago and eventually commit revenge on his innocent wife. But Othello’s tragic flaws are not the sole reason for the tragedy. The antagonist, Iago, abuses Othello and his flaws for his own use. Othello is brought down from his position, and eventually to his death, by his flaws, which is typical of Aristotelian/ Renaissance tragedy. Othello fits very aptly with the Renaissance tragedy derived from an Aristotelian model, but this is not the only way for the text to be read, for this reading still leaves gaps and not everything is accounted for, such as the harsh treatment of women throughout the play.

A feminist, anti-patriarchal reading of the text Othello can, likewise with Dominant reading, fit aptly to this tragedy. This alternate reading suggests that the tragedy of the play ensues from the values that are embedded in a society that fails to recognise or celebrate women. Much of the action of the play evolved from the tension created by the values that are inherent in patriarchal systems. These systems are controlled by men, to the advantage of men, and women are trapped by such social values and are therefore powerless or devalued.

The female characters in Othello, such as Desdemona, Emilia and Bianca, can only define themselves in terms of male values; their behaviour tends to conform to stereotypes desired by men and their language. When Brabantio learns of Desdemona’s elopement with the Moor, he says to him, “She has deceived her father, and may thee” (1, 3, 290), warning of her infidelity. This quote shows the control that the male figures in the play believe they should have over ‘their’ women. Women are treated as objects for men to desire and keep, and they are treated lesser than men.

The tragedy could be viewed as being caused by the patriarchal society, in the way that most of the victims in the play were women, and their deaths were caused by men, their husbands. The tragedy may have been prevented if there wasn’t the patriarchal society. Othello may have believed Desdemona when she pleaded her innocence, but instead he trusted a man, Iago, whom was actually plotting against him! The values inside a patriarchal society are sexist towards women and restrict and distort morality. The men in the play speak very coarsely of women, which demonstrates their lower position in society. Iago describes women as “Players in your housewifery, and housewives in your beds” (2, 1, 110-111). He also uses strong imagery with animals, and so do the other men, including Othello.

The women in the play do try to bring about some power and independence for themselves. Emilia, in particular, sticks up for herself and her mistress, Desdemona, by confronting Iago with his evil plans, in front of the other men.

“I will not charm my tongue; I am bound to speak” (5, 2, 183). She stands up and tells all, though it is too late for Desdemona is already dead. The patriarchal society caused Emilia to keep her silence during the body of the play because she is being loyal to her husband. She comes to the realisation, admittedly when it is too late for her mistress that she must speak out.

“‘Tis proper I obey him, but not now” (5, 2, 195)

At the time that Shakespeare wrote Othello this reading would not have been accepted, for patriarchal systems were the way of life at that point in time. When Shakespeare’s plays were performed the female characters weren’t even played by women! Young males used to play these positions. I believe that the feminist, anti-patriarchal reading most aptly fits the tragedy Othello, for the Aristotelian model leaves too many gaps, which the alternate reading fills.

Othello is a great tragedy with many interpretations. I believe the feminist, anti-patriarchal reading fits most aptly to this play, although the Dominant Aristotelian reading does have some correct aspects too, such as the fall of a great person to a low position. Both ways fulfilment and enjoyment is reached, which I’m sure was Shakespeare’s main goal.

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