Questions and Answers
1. Discuss Othello as a typical Shakespearean tragedy highlighting its distinctive features.
Answer – This Shakespearean tragedy is a saga of suffering culminating in the demise of the tragic hero. The cursed hero is a very unusual individual of rare traits. He enjoys a coveted position in society. He is an embodiment of the qualities of a noble head and heart.
As a military commander Othello towers over his contemporaries. He is considered the bedrock of the defense of the state of Venice against the onslaught of the Turks. Even his enemies concede that he is moral, straight forward, extremely daring, and bereft of meanness. Later in the play, it emerges that he was blue-blooded in his lineage.
Beyond any doubt, Othello is a highly gifted individual, but he endures insufferable mental anguish before he meets his grave. The seed of his destruction is neither a divine plan nor a human curse. It lay within himself as a tragic failing of his character. The renowned critic A. C. Bradley calls it a ‘fatal’ flaw. He has an unexplained propensity for indiscrete and ill-thought behavior. For example, he is rash and inexcusably impulsive in action. For the exalted position he held, such volatile and erratic response can result in un-intended disastrous consequences. The pain he suffers is un-endurable, much worse than Shakespeare’s other heroes.
Othello, as a fictional character, shines in his sadness. His pathos and grief make the novel such an absorbing reading. The plot begins with an external conflict, but the conflict soon creeps into Othello’s heart crippling him for good. His intense suffering grows more and more excruciating as the story proceeds from the temptation scene till the end, where we discover the tragic scene of Desdemona’s bed. This grief maintains its stranglehold over Othello’s mind tormenting it with no respite, no remission. His spiritual anguish is so traumatic that it bedevils even the reader’s mind with a feeling of dejection and confusion.
Othello tumbles from his enviable status in the society. The crisis tears apart the moral fibers of his self. He degrades himself, losing his fine sense of judgment. In a feat of senseless rage, he derides and assaults his wife in full public view. Not content with this, the valiant warrior resorts to chicanery and eavesdropping – unbecoming of a hero like him. One of the noblest of the citizens of Venice, thus, morphs into a murderer to kill his devoted and innocent wife Desdemona, with the vile Iago as the accomplice.
To bring some succor to his guilty self, he plans to cripple Cassio for good. From Othello, the noble, he degenerates to become Othello, the hideous. Sense of fair-play, justice and dignity desert him. The tragedy become insufferably poignant as the reader goes through the ordeal of Desdemona. Her husband inflicts a thousand cuts on her soul, doubting her fidelity and character. The mental torture becomes unendurable for Desdemona, also plunging the reader in grief. She is a beleaguered figure, abandoned and cursed by her husband whom she adores till her last breath. Helplessly weak and left with no recourse to justice, she meets her doom without a single word of remonstration against her husband. The admiration and longing for her brute husband does not wane a bit, till her last.
Othello brings about his downfall himself through his stupidity and naivety. In other tragedies, Shakespeare conjures up an external intervention that condemns the hero to disgrace, infamy and death. But, in Othello, there is no evidence of any vengeful supernatural force. In this novel, an uncanny coincidence of events precipitates the crisis and the resulting tragedy. Desdemona dropping her handkerchief unintentionally is the first, and perhaps the most important mishap. Quite inexplicably, Bianca arrives at the right moment. More curiously, Iago is able to stage-manage the over-hearing scene. We witness the spectacle of the proud Othello lying pitiably at the feet of his sworn enemy and then seeking his help in murdering Iago.
The wicked schemers in this tragedy, as in other tragedies of Shakespeare, suffer the retribution for their evil deeds. But along with the devil, the virtuous and the innocent are also destroyed.
Shakespeare’s Othello is a monumental tragedy that exudes nothing but pathos, remorse, vengeance and brutality. Othello suffers for his failings, but Desdemona suffers for no fault of hers. The only heartening feature is the punishment meted out to Iago, who deserved it so much. We can, therefore, say that in Othello, justice is meted out unevenly. There is no poetic justice, however.