The Jacobean Tragedy By William Shakespeare English Literature Essay
Othello is a Jacobean tragedy by William Shakespeare and is often felt to be his most gripping and tormented play. Othello is a tragedy about a soldier who is propelled into murderous fury by his wife’s apparent infidelity, of which the character Iago convinces Othello, is true. The topic of who is to blame is a controversial one as there is no clear answer. I do not believe Othello is entirely to blame for what happens to him. His downfall is due to his jealousy and lack of judgement but Iago is also responsible with his manipulative ways, reputation and the way he uses his reputation. Desdemona can also be deemed responsible due to her naivety.
Aristotle proposed the tragic protagonist would suffer a ‘Tragic downfall due to a fatal flaw or error’, Thus if Othello is a tragic hero he is ultimately responsible for his own downfall. The critic A C Bradley claimed that Othello was blameless for his downfall and laid all the responsibility on Iago, However the critic F R Leavis claimed that the tragic protagonist, being Othello, was responsible for his own demise. Bradley argues that Othello is faultless and that it is his strengths which are manipulated by Iago. He also argued “[Othello's] opinion of Iago was the opinion of practically everyone who knew him” suggesting that everyone saw Iago as ‘Honest Iago’ and many other people in the play were deceived by him. Othello’s trust has also been stated by Bradley as being ‘absolute’ which could be his flaw however Leavis argues that Othello’s trust is not strong enough to be his flaw. He also argues that Iago’s role in the play being only ‘subordinate and merely ancillary.’, stating that 'Othello's inner timbers begin to part at once, the stuff of which he is made begins at once to deteriorate and show itself unfit', Othello has a propensity to jealousy along with a weak character, and both of these weaknesses are tested by his marriage to Desdemona. However lack of judgment can be seen as his hamartia as he decides to trust Iago and when demanding proof of Desdemona’s unfaithfulness is satisfied with circumstantial evidence. Iago states “If imputation and strong circumstance,/ Which lead directly to the door of truth,/ Will give you satisfaction, you might have’t’” (III.3.457-459). If this lack of judgement can be seen as his hamartia, the flaw which will eventually lead to his demise, Othello would seem entirely responsible for his own downfall. Othello’s lack of judgement enables him to trust Iago entirely, even though he had no reason to believe Desdemona is unfaithful. However, his poor judgement could have been caused as his jealousy clouded his mind and reasoning. A C Bradley suggested that “if such a passion as jealousy seizes him, it will swell into a well-night incontrollable flood’ this supports the idea of Othello’s hamartia being jealousy, which would be out of control thus leading him to act brutally. “It is the green eyed monster, which doth mock/ the meat it feeds on” (III.3.4.168-9). Iago describes Othello as being ‘eaten up with passion’; once he becomes convinced that Desdemona has been unfaithful. Othello’s jealousy will feed itself, leading to him behaving brutally. This brutality which kills Desdemona ultimately leads him to kill himself, which would suggest he is solely responsible for his own downfall.
Iago is considered as one of Shakespeare’s most evil characters and is presented as a Machiavellian character. Professional jealousy motivates Iago to ruin Cassio. He uses manipulation to cause Othello’s demise. Iago is an opportunist who manipulates situations in order to deceive Othello. His improvised style of deceiving is highlighted in his first soliloquy ‘Let me see now/ to get his place and to plume up my will/ in double knavery – how, how?—Lets see”. In act III, his reluctance has disastrous effects as he pretends that he doesn’t wish divulge his thoughts, he has put himself into a position where he can thoroughly poison Othello’s mind. Iago can manipulate his victim’s flaws and exploits them. He controls his victim’s fate until discovered by his wife. In IV.1.82-87 Iago’s control is shown when he tells Othello how to interpret Cassio’s looks ‘encave yourself/ And mark the fleers, the gibes and notable scorns/ That dwell in every region of his face;’ his confident commands highlight his cruel characteristics. Iago plants the seeds of doubt in Othello’s mind; Cassio is desperate to regain favour with Othello and takes his case to Desdemona. Othello and Iago walk towards them but when Cassio see’s Othello he decides to leave. Iago manipulates this situation when Othello asks “was that no Cassio parted from my wife?’ (III.3.37) to which Iago replies “No, sure I cannot think it,/ That he would steal away so guilty like” (III.3.38-39) Iago’s improvisation help him to deceive Othello, when he receives the handkerchief from Emilia, and leaves it in Cassio’s apartment thinking that “This may do something” (III.3.36). Iago is also a good judge of character and as planned Othello now possesses “a jealousy so strong/ That judgement cannot cures” (II.1.300-1). Iago has the ability of a puppet master and his control enables him to manipulate any situation in order to deceive Othello even more.
Iago also uses his pre-built reputation to gain Othello’s trust and also aid his downfall. His reputation is the polar opposite of his true nature. Iago states the importance of his reputation in scene 3 “Good name in man and women, dear my lord,/ Is the immediate jewel of their souls. “ (III.3.155-156). His reputation is seen to many as honest and trustworthy. He describes his view of reputation in act 2 when Cassio is talking about his loss of reputation "I thought you had received some bodily wound; there is more sense in that than in reputation. Reputation is an idle and most false imposition, oft got without merit and lost without deserving: you have lost no reputation at all, unless you repute yourself a loser." II.3.271-276). Cassio, who is deceived by Iago, recognises his honest reputation when he thanks Iago for encouraging him ask Desdemona to mediate for him with Othello, “I never knew/ A Florentine more kind and honest” (III.1.37-38) and also tells Iago “You advise me well. . . Goodnight, honest Iago" (II.iii.332-340). Iago’s reputation means he can manipulate Cassio resulting in Desdemona pleading with Othello for Cassio’s case. The more Desdemona pleads for Cassio, the more she convinces Othello that he is her lover. Desdemona is also deceived by Iago’s reputation as she asks him for help with Othello “Good friend, go to him, for, by this light of Heaven,/ I know not how I lost him” (IV.5.150-151). Till the very last scene, Iago is still regarded as ‘Honest Iago’. In act 2 Iago states "When devils will the blackest sins put on,/ They do suggest at first with heavenly shows,/ As I do now (2.3.351-352)." Iago is alluding to St. Paul's statement, "And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14).", Othello’s trust and friendship with Iago is illustrated in scene three when Iago declares “I humbly do beseech you of your pardon/ For too much loving you” to which Othello replies “I am bound to thee forever” (III.3.212-214).Without his disguise, Iago would not have been able to deceive his victims, and would not have been able to convince Othello that Desdemona was unfaithful, Othello would have most likely killed Iago for his claims if it wasn’t for his good name.
In conclusion, I do not agree with the statement that Othello was solely responsible for his own downfall. I believe Othello’s downfall was due to a number of reasons. Firstly, Othello himself had flaws of which Iago was able to exploit. His jealousy which is described as ‘eating him up with passion’ ultimately unleashed a brutal monster inside. However I don’t think this ‘monster’ would have been released without the manipulation of Iago. Iago used his reputation to manipulate Othello’s flaw and deceive Cassio to convince Othello that Desdemona was being unfaithful. Both Iago’s reputation and his manipulative ways assist Othello’s downfall. Conversely, in my opinion there is not one person who is solely responsible for Othello’s downfall but I do think that Iago had the most input into his demise. Othello himself is not solely responsible as his jealousy which clouds his mind and causes his lack of judgement, is caused by Iago’s suggestions of infidelity and Othello was not the only one to be deceived by Iago. His reputation enables him to deceive all his victims. Iago plants the seeds of jealousy into his mind ‘‘I’ll pour this pestilence into his ear’ (II.3.336). I think you can also blame Desdemona’s naivety, which is exploited by Iago. The whole time she is trying to regain Cassio’s reputation she in completely unaware she is just furthering Othello’s suspicion. Overall, I think Iago is mostly to blame but is not entirely responsible for Othello’s downfall. Othello’s gullibility, naivety and insecurity with his marriage to Desdemona are all exploited by Iago. All these flaws are manipulated by Iago, leading to the tragic demise of Othello and Desdemona.
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