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Character of Othello

Othello has often been termed a "tragic hero," however, that definition might not be the most accurate or useful one to fully understand the implications of this complex Shakespearean hero. Standard dramatic criticism argues that a "tragic hero," is "a good and noble man brought to a bad end because of some flaw in his character that leads him to the wrong course of action." Implied in that definition are four concepts, or templates, against which Othello can be measured: a) good and noble man; b) tragic flaw; c) wrong course of action; and d) bad end.

Vivid and suggestive descriptions of both Othello's race and sexual prowess are made throughout Act 1, Scene 1, before the audience even meets Othello. Iago and Roderigo make much of Othello's "thick lips" (1.i.66) and call his an "old black ram" (1.i.88), and "a Barbary horse" (1.i.111-112], who is "making the beast with two backs" (1.i.116-17) with Desdemona. This skillfully offensive language sets up a different expectation of Othello, who appears in Act 1, Scene 2. Instead of a barbaric Moor, the Othello who strides on the stage is a strong, powerful man, come to Venice as a soldier of fortune to help fight the war against the Turks.

Unlike other tragic heroes, he is not a prince like Hamlet or a king like Oedipus, or even a man of noble birth. In fact, nothing about him matches the first of the four qualifications required for a tragic hero, that of a "good and noble man."

If Othello fails the first requirement of being a "good and noble man," he more than makes up for that lacking, by possessing at least three tragic flaws: rash decisiveness; extreme jealousy; and an almost unnatural ability to trust the wrong person. The rashness of his decision-making abilities is due in great part to his excellent soldiering. In all things military, Othello is shown to be almost without equal and his military genius is shown in his response to his men who start to r


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Character of Othello. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 17:20, April 19, 2019, from