In William Shakespeare’s drama “Othello, the Moor of Venice”, Aristotle’s “tragic hero” observation shows that a classic tragedy is being made. Aristotle is not identifying exact rules for tragedy, simply providing a description of them based on his knowledge from the dramas that he saw or read. A tragedy has various definitions, but the Merriam-Webster version defines it as: “a serious drama typically describing a conflict between the protagonist and a superior force (as destiny) and having a sorrowful or disastrous conclusion that excites pity or terror.” The last part, about disastrous conclusion is relevant for several of Shakespeare’s tragedies, to include Othello. The play “Othello, the Moor of Venice” reveals the perception of a tragic hero. By the end of the play Aristotle’s point of view reveals that every protagonist hero has some type of moral weakness.
The main character, Othello, is a Moor from North Africa. He is the general of the Venetian Army. He secretly married a princess from a distinguished Venetian royal family, Desdemona. Iago, who is jealous of Othello after he was passed up for promotion, was Othello’s alleged friend. Iago created a plan to get revenge on Othello by convincing him that his wife was cheating on him with another man. Iago’s wife, Emilia, helps him accomplish his plan to get revenge. In the end, Othello kills his innocent wife Desdemona in a fit of jealous rage. Iago is eventually caught, but Desdemona had already been killed. He was successful by using Othello’s own flaws against him, which included Othello’s guilt ultimately leading to his suicide.
According to Aristotle, “tragedy is an imitation of an action of high importance, complete and of some amplitude; in language enhanced by distinct and varying beauties; acted not narrated; by means of pity and ear effecting in purgation of these emotions (Kennedy & Gioia, 2016).”
Shakespeare’s tragic play “Othello, the Moor of Venice” does not meet Aristotle’s version of tragedy. Aristotle first characteristic of a tragedy has a protagonist of outstanding quality and high social position. According to Aristotle, the hero (protagonist) must fall from glory in order to be considered a true tragedy. An average common individual is not glorified nor has a large role in society. Therefore, those that appear perfect who are royalty or considered heroes are thought to be superior to the average person. Subsequently, the hero must encounter a downfall to be considered a tragic hero. Aristotle refers to the downfall as a hamartia, which is the protagonist error or transgression of his or her character (Kennedy & Gioia, 2016). The main protagonist must have a flaw that ultimately makes them responsible for their own destruction and fall.
Something appalling happens to an influential protagonist, Othello, who is destined for suffering, and defeat because of his own flaws. According to Aristotle, Othello’s flaws are brought on by his selfish pride and ego. Othello’s was in a highly respected position as a General, who was strong, brave and respected among others, Othello had a big ego and believed he was great man despite being a North African Moor.