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Catharsis In Othello Essays

A Shakespearean tragedy is one that encompasses many different elements. Shakespeare presents all of these elements spectacularly in Othello. For a tragedy to occur there are five conditions. The protagonist, Othello in this case, must experience a death or a total loss of ranking in society. The audience must also be captured by the actors and feel some sort of connection to them. This is known as catharsis. In Shakespearean tragedies the protagonist always has a character defect or a tragic flaw. This tragic flaw along with pride will cause the protagonist to make an error in judgement leading him to his downfall and eventual death. These two elements are called hubris and

hamartia. The unities of time, space, and action must also be followed. This means that the play must take place in a very short period of time, occur in one general area, and follow one main character throughout the play. Shakespeare orates for us a tragic occurrence in the life of a man who once had it all, throws it all away in a fit of jealous rage .

The downfall of the central character is the main concept of the tragedy. Without the main character s downfall there is no reason for the reader to feel pity, therefore, no tragedy. The downfall of the protagonist in Shakespearean tragedies always originates from their tragic flaw. Othello s tragic flaw is his jealousy, which Iago constantly reminds him about. This is first brought about in act III, scene 3 when Iago asks Othello if he has Seen a handkerchief spotted with strawberries did I today see Cassio wipe his beard with (III, 3, 431-432/435-436). At this point Othello is jealous at Cassio for having won the heart of Desdemona and earned the handkerchief. Upon hearing this Othello flies into a mad fit by saying O, that the slave had forty thousand lives! (III, 3, 439). By his jealousy Othello makes himself very prone to many attacks on him by Iago.

Catharsis is the part of the play that moves the audience and attempts to put them in the actor s shoes. Shakespeare does this by attacking the issue of love. It is a very touchy and emotional subject. Anyone who has ever fallen in love can relate to Othello and Desdemona. They are viewed as the perfect newly-weds who have each other as compliments. Desdemona shows us this by protesting to the Duke and her father that she saw Othello s visage in his mind, And to his honor and his valiant parts Did I my soul and fortunes consecrate (I, 3, 247-249). The love between her and Othello is one of great passion and breaking barriers. They were many years apart, came from different races, and were different colors of skin, something that was unheard of in their time. Obstacles such as these, even in our day, are very difficult to overcome. When reading or watching Othello being performed one cannot help but to feel envy for the love they have. In this tragedy, catharsis presents something the audience cannot avoid.

Hubris and Hamartia are two components of a Shakespearean tragedy that are very much intertwined because of their basis on pride. Hubris is when the protagonist is consumed with pride and believes that fate can be beaten. Evidence of Othello s pride is based on the thought, No one messes around with Othello! This becomes his eventual downfall. The reader remembers in act III, scene 3 when Iago had planted false evidence of Desdemona s unfaithfulness; Othello reacted in a very calm way, mostly in disbelief. In act IV, scene 1 when Iago brings more evidence of Desdemona s infidelity Othello reacts in a very different and violent way. Let her rot, and perish, and be damned

tonight; for she shall not live (IV, 1, 183-184). This statement stems from Othello s pride in being a man of high standing who will not be cheated on. Hamartia also comes into play where Othello believes that fate can be beaten by killing Desdemona. Even if Othello had escaped death here he would have been removed of his high military status and thrown in jail. Othello was truly a man consumed with pride and wrongly believed he he could defy fate and come out on top by killing what he loved most.

Othello could be considered not to be a tragedy because of its violation of the unities of time, space, and action. The unities of time, space, and action state that the story must take place in one city, occur in a short period of time more than 24 hours, and must follow one central character throughout the entire play. Othello does not occur in one city through the entire story. Othello went to war in Cyprus and spent most of his time living in Venice. Although there is very little time spent in Cyprus Othello, the story, does not work along the same lines as Hamlet. In Hamlet almost the entire story took place between the castle walls. As for the unity of action we see something quite different here. The play we studied is titled Othello, therefore, the reader assumes that Othello is the central character. If the book were not named this, it would be quite possible that many readers would believe the title could be Iago and not Othello. Although Iago is not the good guy he is in the play just as much or even more than Othello. At the beginning of the play Iago is present and Othello is absent. This is how it is many scenes are in the play. Although Othello is regarded as one of Shakespeare s best tragedies, there is still contradicting evidence against this.

Many scholars acclaim Othello as Shakespeare s most perfect tragedy because it encompasses all of the elements of a tragedy so wonderfully. The love shared between Othello and Desdemona at the beginning of the play is so much more spectacular than that of Claudius and Gertrude in Hamlet or Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in Macbeth. The guilt and wrong felt by Othello after he realizes his errors in judgement is uncomparable to the drama in Shakespeare s other tragedies. Any audience viewing Othello for the first time would be captured by the characters because of their relation to the audience. Any experienced Shakespeare reader would have no problem giving Othello the title of most perfect tragedy because it covers all of the elements of a tragedy so wonderfully.

What are the qualities Othello possesses which makes it a tragedy?

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Othello’s character, circumstance and the eventual catharsis of fear and pity are the qualities that make Othello a tragedy. Othello’s position of eminence accentuates his eventual downfall, and his tragic flaw is essential in both the circumstances created and in the resulting catharsis. Shakespeare creates an accumulation of fear and pity, through the harsh deception of Othello, and catharsis occurs when Othello is released from this situation through his death. Through Othello’s position of eminence, his tragic flaw and tragic circumstance, and finally the catharsis of pity and fear, Shakespeare’s Othello is a tragedy.

Othello clearly has a position of power in the Venetian society. Shakespeare shows him as being successful and respected. Through dialogue and confrontation, Shakespeare shows the audience Othello’s character “My parts, my title and my perfect soul” “keep up your bright swords for the due will rust them” and “were it my cue to fight I would know it without a prompter” are all indicative of Othello’s confidence and standing within society. Shakespeare also demonstrates Othello’s high standing through other characters “Valiant Othello, we must straight employ you,” “your son-in-law is far more fair than black. clearly indicating that Othello is respected. Shakespeare not only shows us Othello’s high social standing, but also his moral nature and character. Othello’s trust “my life upon her faith” “good Iago” “honest Iago” is also shown through Desdemona “and but my noble moor is true of mind, and made of no such baseness as jealous creatures are” However, despite his high standing and moral, trusting nature, Othello has a tragic flaw in his character. Othello’s tragic flaw is pride. Shakespeare takes advantage of Othello’s trust, “That thinks men honest that but seem to be so” through Iago.

Dramatic irony is used to foreshadow the imminent disaster, as the audience is made aware of Iago’s intentions through soliloquy “I hate the moor. ” “to abuse Othello’s ears that he is too familiar with his wife” and due to his trust, Othello continues to believe Iago “I think thought dost: and for I know thou’rt full of love and honesty. ” His trust however, is not Othello’s tragic flaw. Othello’s state of hate and jealousy comes from his overwhelming pride, as this is the root of his jealousy.

Iago’s ironic comments “beware my lord of jealousy” “that cuckold lives in bliss, who certain of his fate, loves not his wronger” play on Othello’s pride and love for his wife. Othello is inwardly torn between his suspicions of Desdemona and his love for her. Through the juxtaposition of contrasting images, Shakespeare shows the audience Othello’s inner struggle. “A fine woman, a fair woman, a sweet woman” placed beside “let her rot and perish, and be damned tonight” and further contrasted with “the world hath not a sweeter creature” demonstrates Othello’s inner conflict.

Finally, Othello’s pride overcomes him “I will chop her into messes: cuckold me? ” Othello’s pride is once again revealed in the soliloquy prior to Desdemona’s death. Shakespeare uses this soliloquy to accentuate Othello’s tragic pride. “Yet she must die else she betray more men” demonstrates that he is acting out of what he believes to be justice, for the salvation of pride. “that dost almost persuade justice to break her sword. ” Because of his tragic pride, Othello becomes a willing victim to circumstance.

Othello is a victim of circumstance. Shakespeare uses Iago’s jealousy as an example of circumstance acting against Othello. Iago’s hatred “I follow him to serve my turn upon him” is out of Othello’s control. Iago perceives Othello’s noble qualities “The Moor (howbeit that I endure him not), is of a constant, loving, noble nature” yet his selfish nature drives him “In following him, I follow but myself. ” Shakespeare makes frequent use of dramatic irony “Honest Iago” “And for I know thou’rt full of love and honesty. Othello is subtly manipulated by Iago “I hope you will consider what is spoke comes from my love” while slowly planting seeds of jealousy within Othello “beware my lord of jealousy. ” Further dramatic irony conveys Othello’s suffering at the hand of circumstance. Manipulation of circumstance further drives Othello to madness “By heaven that should be my handkerchief” and this false prove drives him to madness “and be damned tonight, for she shall not live” Desdemona’s constant promotion of Cassio’s suit “this is a trick to put me from my suit” also acts against Othello.

This is another example of dramatic irony, demonstrating the tragic series of circumstance conspiring against Othello. Iago makes use of sexual imagery “naked with her friend in bed” “with her? With her, on her what you will” to amplify the effect of circumstance, leading Othello to madness. This combination of circumstance all occurring outside of Othello’s control contribute to the tragedy, and contribute to the eventual catharsis. Catharsis is the final quality of tragedy. Shakespeare gradually builds pity for Othello.

Through dramatic irony, the audience sympathizes with Othello’s situation, as he is mislead by circumstance “I will be hang’d if some eternal villain hath not devised this slander. ” Through Othello’s standing in society, Shakespeare conveys to the audience a sense of fear at his downfall. His noble and controlled nature “put up thy bright swords for the dew will rust them” is juxtaposed with his madness “I would have him nine years a-killing. ” Through violent imagery, “I’ll chop her into messes” Shakespeare demonstrates the change in Othello, prompting fear within the audience.

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Desdemona’s naivety further demonstrates the depth of Othello’s error “Alack, my lord what do you mean” and dramatic irony “my love doth so approve him” causes further pity to arise within the audience. The audience feels fear at Othello’s madness “my great revenge had stomach for them all” and yet pities him for he has been mislead “will as tenderly be led by th’ nose as asses are. ” The climax of fear occurs when Othello kills his wife and dramatic irony is broken. Pity however returns to the audience upon Othello stating “But that I did proceed on just grounds” and his statement “of one that loved not wisely: but too well. The final catharsis is reached upon Othello’s death “and smote him, thus” and as Othello is set free from his anguish, so is the audience. Lodovico’s final speech is symbolic of the finality the audience experiences, and the final culmination of the tragedy. Othello’s character is an essential quality of tragedy as it presents him in a position of esteem, making his downfall more significant. The flaw in his character is an essential quality of tragedy, as without this flaw, his downfall would not occur. Othello’s downfall occurs due to circumstance,

Author: Brandon Johnson

in Othello

What are the qualities Othello possesses which makes it a tragedy?

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