Othello as a tragic hero
Uploaded by b1e9x8y9 on May 15, 2006
To what extent does Othello represent the idea of the tragic hero?
The ‘Poetics’ of Aristotle are extremely significant when distinguishing the
characteristics of tragedy, and particularly important when analysing the character of
Othello as a tragic hero. Aristotle writes that there are certain qualities which define a
tragic hero: peripeteia, the undergoing of a downfall; hamartia, evidence of a fatal flaw;
anagnorisis, recognition of these flaws; and catharsis, the purging of emotions from the
There has been much debate over the subject of Othello as a tragic hero, and over the
last century the views of two critics have been particularly influential. A. C. Bradley#
states that Othello is Shakespeare’s most romantic character, whose nature remains noble
throughout, whereas F. R. Leavis# disagrees, arguing that Othello was never noble to
begin with, and gives in too easy to the manipulations of Iago.
When considering Othello as a tragic hero, there has been a lot of discussion over
whether his character undergoes peripeteia. A. C. Bradley believes that Othello “has
played the hero and borne a charmed life” and describes him as “a great man…
conscious of his own worth”. For me, Othello’s nobility is unmistakable from the
constant references made to him as “Valiant Othello” (I.iii.49) by the majority of the
other characters. He is evidently well respected and looked up to, and therefore must
possess an element of decency.
This heroic and noble understanding of Othello is reinforced when Shakespeare
compares him with Christ when “Brabantio, Roderigo, with Officers and torches and
weapons” (I.ii.54) enter the second scene of Act 1. This action vividly echoes the Gospel
when Christ and his followers are met by officers carrying swords and torches. This same
comparison can be made when Othello avoids any physical attack telling the opposition
to “Keep up [their] bright swords, for the dew will rust / them” (I.ii.59), perhaps
mirroring Christ’s words, ‘Put up thy sword into the sheath’ from the Gospel.
Shakespeare therefore perhaps makes this connection between an idolised figure and
Othello, emphasising these positive qualities about him and adding credibility to
F. R. Leavis considers Othello much more negatively; he believes that he gives in
too easily to Iago’s manipulations. Bradley’s argument is that “it was no sign of stupidity
in Othello” to place his trust in Iago, and “it would have been quite unnatural in him to
be unmoved by the warnings of so...