Discuss the tragic aspects of Shakespeare’s play Othello. What characteristics make the play as one of his greatest tragedies?
Othello is definitely one of the greatest tragedies written by Shakespeare. Each and every element, from the start to end, makes this play a successful tragedy. Of course, there are some ingredients and characteristics, which are necessary to be used to write a tragic play and Shakespeare has done it very well while writing Othello. Before discussing, whether Othello is a tragedy or not? Let’s discuss some of the important characteristics of a successful tragedy.
No one can give such an accurate definition of tragedy as given by Aristotle. He is right when he says:
“A tragedy is the imitation of an action that is serious and also, as having magnitude, complete in itself; in appropriate and pleasurable language; in a dramatic rather than narrative form; with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish a catharsis of these emotions.”
First and important element which I am going to discuss is the hero of the tragedy. It is the characteristics to be discussed first because it is the most important element of a tragedy. According to Aristotle, a tragic hero is the one who is cursed by fate and possessed by a tragic flaw. It is worthwhile to mention here that there is a little difference in Greek tragedies and Shakespearean’s tragedies. Shakespeare is not agreed with the condition that a hero must be from upper class. In his views, it can be from any class, whether it is lower, middle or upper class. In this play, Othello is from upper class as well as middle class. He simultaneously fulfills both the conditions, given by Aristotle as well as Shakespeare. He is a general of an army but at the same time a Negro. Another condition about the protagonist of the play is that he must suffer because of his hamartiaand external as well as internal circumstances, which lead him to his downfall. From the discussion, mentioned supra, it has been confirmed that definitely Othello is a tragic character who suffers because of his hamartia.
As far as the hamartia is concerned, it is a flaw or err, by which the hero suffers and eventually meets his tragic destination. It is clear that Othello suffers but why he suffers can be answered in just a simple word and that is; jealousy. He loves his wife so much that he does not want him to talk to anybody. A simple talk between Desdemona and Cassio causes the death of Desdemona and Othello. Othello could not judge his wife. He did not see that his wife was loyal to him. He was unfamiliar with the fact that a plan has already been made by Iago for him to meet his death. He does not give ear to his wife’s explanation. He does not believe on her words. He does not judge that she is as pure as water. If he is haunted by anything, it is conspiracy by Iago and at the end he finds that what he has done is not justified and forgivable at all. In this backdrop, it can easily be said that Hamartia is also an element, by through Othello suffers and it completes this tragedy.
Another important factor of tragedy is Catharsis. When we see the play, being spectators we realize ourselves as Othello. We feel piety for Othello and Desdemona as well. Our feelings and emotions arouses because of the factor, whereupon Othello suffers. We know that Othello is doing wrong but at the same time we realize that if we were Othello we did the same as he did. Catharsis is the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from strong or repressed emotions. It is surely a tragedy, which gives us an opportunity to feel pity for Othello and fear for another, almost as if we are playing the roles ourselves. Thus, this play also fulfills this important condition and helps the play to make him a remarkable tragedy.
At last but not the least, there are also some elements which are important to mention here and first of them is inner conflict and second one is outer conflict. Conflict is the controversy, which should be solved at the end. Both types of conflicts are there in the play. Outer conflict can be found in the name of Iago and through the external circumstances. On the other hand, inner conflict that which is in the mind of the main character and in this case, the main character is Othello. A conflict always arises in his mind as was aroused in the mind of Dr. Faustus. A struggle between evil and good is also available in this tragedy. These are minor but necessary ingredients, which categorized this play in the list of tragedies.
The upshot of the above discussion is that Othello is definitely a tragedy because it fulfills all the requirements of tragedies, discussed above. We find that there is a hero, who suffers because of his hamartia, feelings of piety and fear arouses in our minds for Othello. In short, each and every characteristics of tragedy is available in the play to make it one of the best tragedies of Shakespeare. Consequent thereupon, although Othello could not judge anyone correctly yet we can judge Shakespeare as a tragedian and as every characteristics fulfill the requirements of a tragedy, therefore, Othello is definitely a tragedy in view of the characteristics discussed above.