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Commonly we find in the writings of William Shakespeare, he writes his plays surrounding a main character who because of their traits and actions either lead them to a tragic fate or a gracious uprising. Many times we find one of the characters dies from a tragic event that they themselves have caused and simply cannot overcome. One such character who follows this depiction is Othello. Othello is one of Shakespeare's most well known characters. I will discuss how his own traits and actions lead to his demise and a tragic ending that he could not change.
In Shakespeare's play Othello, we find a man who suffers great tragedy when he is betrayed by his trusted friend Iago. Trust is an admirable trait of Othello's, but he places all his trust and faith in his friend Iago rather than in his loving wife Desdemona. In Othello we have the tragedy of man as "angry ape," devoid of any glimmering of his spiritual nature. The character of Iago in deliberately pursing a course of psychological crime reaches a pitch of almost unbearable intensity in the consequences (Wild 9). The play has hardly begun when Iago casually reveals the key to his character to the audience as he quietly confides to Roderigo, "I am not what I am" (I.i.65); (Wild 9). We will see as the plot unfolds that Iago will devise a cunning plan to use Othello's own natural traits against him.
Iago was very jealous of Othello since Othello held a high position in the Venetian forces. Othello had upset Iago by promoting Cassio instead of Iago to be his second-in-command. Cassio, in Iago's words, was a man "That never set a squadron in the field, / Nor the division of battle knows" (I.i.19-20). This promotion of Cassio did not set well with Iago. Because of Iago's inner hatred for Othello, Othello's tragic fate is played out in a plotted love triangle that in the end was all a lie. We will see, when the curtain closes, it is Iago who has manipulated all other characters at will, controlling their movements and trapping them in an intricate web of lies. We cannot overlook the obvious though; it was Othello's own traits that in the end lead to his eventual demise.
Othello was a proud man, not one to be made fun of or to be mocked. Some may argue that his honor was his undoing, while others might say the hints of instability in his person lead to his eventual demise. Were these traits too much for him to overcome? Were they too much for him to see the obvious lies being told to him by his loyal trusted friend Iago? To better understand Othello we need to look deeper into his ancestry. Could it be that he has inherited these tragic traits from his ancestors, the Moors?
The "Moors", as they were known in ancient times, were African Americans who were thought of as smooth talkers. The Moor's thought and truly believed that they were going to live secure, plentiful, and happy lives with no violence. They were also known to be very smart people. They showed their gratefulness for their religion by attending church functions regularly. All the people who knew them believed they lived a more honorable life than any other known African Americans of their time. (Africanus 2007)
In Africa, during Shakespearian time, many African American people were not known to be as noble and honorable but were known to be needy and highly addicted to wrath. They would inflict pain on anyone just so they would remember who they were. They could not sustain any friendships because of their way of life. Africans never spoke softly with a gentle tone but spoke loud with anger in their voices. Their government looked and frowned upon them as if they were dogs. It was their religious belief that if they did not change the traits they were born with then those traits would lead them to their graves. Othello lives his life with the same traits his ancestors have lived with for many years. He shows during the play how his traits are leading him to his own demise (Africanus 2007). The tragedy of this situation is that Othello's noble qualities are insufficient to cope with the world (Newton 2).
We find as the play unfolds, another one of Othello's tragic traits was being too trustful or perhaps more precisely, misplacing his trust. Othello loved dearly a girl named Desdemona, he loved her not only because of her beautiful pale skin but because of the way she admired him. Desdemona's love for Othello was both spiritual and sexual (Newton 3). She adored him and would listen to his tales over and over again. He loved her because she loved him not for his position but for the man he was. Others adored and honored him for his past accomplishments as a war hero, but not Desdemona. Her true love for him was revealed as she said, "I saw Othello's visage in his mind / And to his honours and his valiant parts / Did I my soul and fortunes consecrate" (I.iii.247-249). At the time of their marriage, Desdemona could have never imagined the traits she admired so much in Othello would eventually lead to both of their deaths.
Another one of Othello's traits, his jealous nature, eventually overpowered him. Othello admitted this flaw to himself when he said, "O, beware, my lord, of jealousy! / It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock / The meat it feeds on. That cuckold lives in bliss / Who, certain of his fate, loves not his wronger;" (III.iii.165-168). Iago uses this green-eyed monster of jealousy against Othello. He was continually taunted by the thoughts of adultery fed to him by his trusted friend Iago. Iago wanted Othello to believe his wife Desdemona was being unfaithful. In his most daring plot, Iago used the simple mistake of a dropped scarf to set in motion distrust between Othello and his wife.
Othello had given his wife a scarf that had once belonged to his Mother. The scarf was very important to Othello and held a special place in his heart. While out walking one day in the garden, Desdemona accidently dropped the scarf where Iago's wife Emilia, who was the keeper of Desdemona, found it. Iago took it from her and his evil plan started to develop. Iago knew if he planted seeds of doubt in Othello's mind, that Othello trusting him as he did, would believe him over Desdemona. Iago then convinced his wife to join his plan by innocently planting the scarf with Cassio to make it appear Desdemona had given it to him and they were having a secret affair. Since Othello was jealous by nature and because of his trust in loyal Iago, Othello began to believe the seeds of doubt planted by Iago's tales of her alleged adultery. Iago went as far as to hide Othello in nearby bushes while he had a well crafted conversation, supposedly regarding Desdemona, with Cassio as Cassio casually strolled by the place where the angered Othello lay in wait. Iago intentionally drew Cassio near to the bushes where the eavesdropping Othello lay hidden and said "Ply Desdemona well, and you are sure on't" (IV.i.108). Iago then skillfully and quickly moved Cassio away from the eavesdropping ears of Othello before Cassio could reply. The conversation between the two continued, now out of earshot of the eavesdropping Othello. Iago began speaking of his own wife to Cassio, both laughing aloud. The deception had worked just as Iago had planned. Othello automatically assumed they were speaking of his wife Desdemona and he was overcome with fury at the thought of his wife lying down with Cassio. Unfortunately, Othello's trust for his loyal friend Iago blinded him to the cunning deception being played out before him and his jealousy overtook him making him unable to perceive his wife's actual loyalty which in the end was only for him.
Now it was his third and most tragic trait of anger and rage that overtook him in the end. The mere thought of his wife in the arms of Cassio blinded him with rage. Being the proud man he was Othello could not bear to have people laughing and mocking him as he imaged his wife sneaking out to be in the arms of her lover. With jealously, anger, and rage coursing through his veins and being blinded by his trust for his loyal friend Iago, the Moor stood beside his wife as she slept marveling at her pure beauty. Staring at his wife, he softly whispered, "Yet she must die, else she'll betray more men" (V.ii.6). She heard him and awoke, smiling at him she said, "Will you come to bed, my lord" (V.ii.23)? At this time, unbeknownst to Desdemona, her fate had already been sealed; Othello had made up his mind. He knew what he now must do. Somberly he urged her to think of any sin she might have committed for which she might beg for heaven's forgiveness. Trying to get her to confess, he stated "Well, do it, and be brief; I will walk by. / I would not kill thy unprepared spirit. / No, heavens fortend! I would not kill thy soul" (V.ii.30-32). Desdemona spoke in sudden fear pleading for her life, "O banish me, my lord, but kill me not" (V.ii.78)! The traits of loyalty to Iago, jealously over a wife who in fact had never betrayed him, and overwhelming rage all converged into a single moment of tragic proportions as Othello overcomes Desdemona with his strength and slowly smothers her. She struggles and pleads, cries out to God, but she is no match against his anger fueled by his pride and jealousy. Her life slowly slips away, but her love for Othello remains true, as her dying words she professes to his innocence by saying, "A guiltless death I die" (V.ii.121). When asked by Emilia who did this, Desdemona loved her husband so much that she defended him to the end saying, "Nobody-I myself. Farewell. / Commend me to my kin lord. O, farewell" (V.ii.124-125)!
As the last act unfolds, we see that Shakespeare has woven a tragic tale ending with Othello's realization of what he has done, killing his loyal and loving wife with his own bear hands. Othello learns from Emilia, Iago's wife that Desdemona has been loyal to him the entire time and in fact it was her husband, his loyal trusting friend Iago, who had deceived him. With Iago's cunning plot finally revealed to all in the room, Othello sees no other action than to take his own life. In a final moment of despair, Othello proclaims, "I kissed thee ere I killed thee. No way but this, / Killing myself, to die upon a kiss (V.ii.354-355). With those simple words, the deed is done. We find in the end, it was not Desdemona that had betrayed their love but Othello's own tragic flaws that had sealed their fate forever.
As we apply Othello to today's time, men fall desperately into jealousy just as Othello did. This is a trait not only of men but women as well. We all suffer from this jealousy and rage at some point in our lives. In life we all encounter this dilemma at some point in a relationship, even though most of it turns out to be similar to Othello's case of a made up conspiracy. Some believe and act upon what they hear before they know the whole truth.
Take for instance my own life. I can relate my own father to Othello. My mother was loyal towards my father and was a very trustworthy honest person just as Desdemona. She loved him very much for who he was just as Desdemona loved Othello. But my father heard from a trusted friend rumors and lies much like the lies told to Othello by Iago. He began to believe that my mother was not loyal to him at all and was not the person he thought her to be. When my mother was pregnant with me, he questioned if I was even his child. In reality, my mother had never been with another man. When the day came to bring me into this world my father assumed that because I came early I wasn't his, so he left her without ever finding out the truth.
Luckily in my parent's case, it did not end in a murder suicide such as the one portrayed by Shakespeare in Othello. But it does prove that the traits possessed by Othello, loyalty to those who you trust, jealousy, and in the end overwhelming anger, just as the traits possessed by my own father, can lead to devastating and life changing events that once you take action upon them there is no turning back. Somewhat like Othello, my father found out that what he had heard was wrong. He wished he had not done what he had, but like Othello he could not change what had been done. I did not know my father until I was thirteen years old and those are days neither he nor I can ever get back. Just as the actions of Othello, no matter how much he wanted to take his actions back, in the end he could not. We as humans are our own worst enemy. In the tragic case of Othello, because of his natural traits, not only his fate but the fate of his loyal wife had been sealed and this unfortunately was a fate that could not be undone.