To what extent is Othello responsible for his own tragedy?
Othello is largely responsible for his own tragedy, his doings, over any one else’s lead him to his downfall. Othello’s gullibility, vulnerability, miscommunication, trust issues, and blind jealousy overshadow his judgement and these character flaws lead to his downfall. His demise begins as he is a black Moor in charge of white men, here we see something is not right as others make racist comments and don’t approve. Othello is very proud and does not want his ego bruised, and this is prioritized over his love for his wife, Desdemona. His rash actions and his tendency to jump to conclusion increase the risk of a tragedy, such as this. Othello is a Shakespearean tragedy characterized by the tragic hero, and his flaws, and tragedy resulting in his unfortunate end.
The main tragic flaw that Othello possesses is the “green-eyed monster” of jealousy, which overrules any common sense, causing misjudgement. Jealousy leads Othello to do many irrational things, finally ending the life of the one he loves, Desdemona. Othello lives in extremes, either he is jealous or he isn’t, he is in love or he isn’t, either he trusts or he doesn’t, and this is a vital mistake. Iago easily sees through Othello as he exclaims “The moor is of a free and open nature”, and this known vulnerability can be played on to exploit his other weaknesses, such as jealousy. His main jealousy is sexual jealousy, in regard to his new wife, Desdemona, and the fear that she makes a cuckold out of him. This not only makes him jealous but bruises his ego, in a way that his pride is hurt, so he feels he needs to put Desdemona back into her place.
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Othello is a very self-centered character who is proud of his position and stature, probably with good cause, considering his previous background and upbringing. So whenever his position or superiority is undermined, he is very sensitive and lashes out. This is evident in the case of Othello’s ego over his love for Desdemona, when he is made out to be a cuckold by Iago, through his wife’s “ignorant sin”. He is too proud to think otherwise, or to listen to his love. Because of his ego, he does not want to admit that he is at fault, or that he could be wrong, so chooses to blame those around him instead of taking it upon himself, causing confusion and mistrust, “I understand a fury in your words, But not the words”( Desdemona).
He sends those away whom upset him and does not bother to listen to their contribution, and with his position he can afford to do so. This flaw of his ego prioritising over his love for his newly wed wife, is a major downfall of Othello. In this sense Othello is largely responsible for his own tragedy, letting his pride overshadow all else.
One of Othello’s other flaws is not being able to read people, in a way that he ends up trusting the wrong people, which works against him. His inability to look through people and know where their allegiances lie further complicates the situation. His misjudgement of people is a crucial part in his downfall, believing “honest Iago”, and not bothering to listen to his wife. One should think that he wants to believe Desdemona but goes against his better instinct and seeks revenge instead. These situations and circumstances seem difficult to believe or understand but just as G.B.Shaw explains “Tested by the brain it is ridiculous, tested by the ear it is sublime”. Othello lets himself be put into these positions by his misjudgement and not being in touch with his reason. Othello’s trusting nature
“I am bound to thee forever”, gets him into trouble as he allows Desdemona to be in a vulnerable position, under the care and watchful eye of Iago. Not really knowing Iago for the man he is, he takes to trusting Iago with advice on women, thinking Iago is a happily married man. He is either completely entrusting in someone, or not at all, as he puts at stake his life, at Brabantio’s hands, convinced that Desdemona will back up his story of devoted, genuine love, “This only is the witchcraft I have used. Here comes the lady: let her witness it”. He places his trust into the wrong hands, going against his better instinct, and this characteristic of the main character definitely plays a large role in his own tragedy.
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Othello also purposefully puts himself in a difficult situation, in marrying a Venetian girl and being a Black man in charge of white people “I took you for that cunning whore of Venice. That married with Othello” These decisions put him in a vulnerable position, leaving him open to exploitation, not helped by his gullibility. “The heroic status conferred on Othello makes him all the more vulnerable; his relationship to Desdemona is subjected to strain at its time of greatest fragility”, this statement by G.A.Wilkes clearly explains the bad position Othello puts himself in, not “finds himself in”. His vulnerability is shown when he is reminded by Iago that he knows little about the people he associates with “Look to your wife…I know our country disposition well”. Although people clearly see and exploit his vulnerabilities of being unaccustomed to his surroundings, he allows this to happen, and neither notices or does anything about it.
The rash actions of Othello amount to his and his wife’s end. He is violent when angry and easily jumps to conclusions, making assumptions, leading to misunderstandings, “Being done, there is no pause”. He is a quick tempered man, full of seemingly uncontrollable rage, nonetheless, he could control them. Although people may have driven him to madness, it was his reactions and actions that really mattered, in his life and that of others. Othello had to respond to the stimulus of others, and he did so poorly, greatly contributing to his own tragedy. Miscommunication also plays a major role in the tragedy of the couple, and this confusion is helped along by Othello’s wrong interpretation of situations, “That she with Cassio hath the act of shame. A thousand times committed”. Although we can empathise with Othello at times, we have to question his actions and foolish decision, as we know the irony of the situation he is in.
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There is much miscommunication intertwined into the plot of Othello, adding to the dramatic irony, and therefore tension. Othello’s interpretation and rash actions complicate the situation further, mostly because of misunderstandings and miscommunication between characters. When Desdemona pleas for her life she exclaims” “Alas he is betrayed, and I am undone”, and Othello, presuming only the worse, assumes this is her admitting to her infidelity. Without questioning or listening to any possible explanation, blinded by his ego, and thought that he is the only one who could be possibly right, he fails himself. Another example of misunderstanding is when Cassio talks of Bianca, and instead of considering it being anyone but Desdemona, he thinks only the worst, digging him deeper into his accusations and self-absorption. His interpretations and misunderstandings, which he helps along, are definitely a source of his own tragedy.
Many of Othello’s character traits blend together to make him the perfect victim of a Shakespearean tragedy. He is open to exploitation, and many of his characteristics work against the situation he put himself in. Othello, above anyone else, is responsible for his own tragedy, due to his rash actions, self-centeredness, choices along the way, and interpretation of a situation. He is a difficult character, who is hard to control, but easy to lead. He is foolish in his choices of whom to trust, and who to betray, which ends in his death and that of his love. We see Othello fall to his doom as he could have stepped back and assessed the situation, thus gaining tragic insight, but just rushes to conclusions and this is when the damage cannot be reversed.