Discuss at least three reasons describing why Shakespeare's Othello the Moor of Venice is or is not a tragedy as defined by Aristotle, as well as three reasons why or why not Othello is a tragic hero as defined by Aristotle.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I will discuss in the following post reasons one could make either argument about the play as a tragedy and Othello as a tragic hero by Aristotle’s definitions.

Reasons that the play qualifies as an Aristotelian tragedy:

  • The strong reliance on Peripety; the play begins with a happy marriage between...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

I will discuss in the following post reasons one could make either argument about the play as a tragedy and Othello as a tragic hero by Aristotle’s definitions.

Reasons that the play qualifies as an Aristotelian tragedy:

  • The strong reliance on Peripety; the play begins with a happy marriage between Othello and Desdemona, yet ends with the dissolution of trust and the latter’s murder.
  • The catharsis at the end of the play when Othello kills Desdemona, which is the culmination of the growing discord and mistrust.
  • The reliance on pity; Othello is pitiable because of Iago’s masterful manipulation. The dramatic irony present in knowing Iago’s tricks and seeing Othello fall for them as the audience inspires pity for Othello.

Reasons that the play does not qualify as an Aristotelian tragedy:

  • Shakespeare’s absent set descriptions and sparse stage directions means the play lacks the spectacle Aristotle defines as one of the elements of tragedy.
  • Iago lacks a believable personality as a jealous person, which violates one of Aristotle’s comments on a good tragic character.
  • One could argue that the pity inspired in the audience doesn’t occur because Othello so easily falls for Iago’s tricks, and when Othello murders his wife, the audience is angry at his actions and wants to see his downfall.

Reasons Othello is a tragic hero:

  • Othello’s hamartia is his lack of confidence in himself; he so readily believes Iago’s lies because he worries that a young, beautiful woman like Desdemona could never love a non-white man such as himself. One could also argue that this hamartia is actually jealousy.
  • His reversal of fortune is that he loses both his wife, his friends, and his own life in rapid succession.
  • Othello realizes that he is responsible for his downfall, prompting him to commit suicide.

Reasons Othello is not a tragic hero:

  • Othello does not demonstrate an excessive pride or hubris. Instead, Othello seems to have to opposite problem deep down.
  • One could argue that he certainly deserves death for murdering his wife via smothering, which goes against Aristotle’s definition of the tragic hero.
  • One could also argue that Othello is certainly responsible for his lack of confidence or jealousy, and if he did not have these flaws, then he wouldn’t have been susceptible to Iago’s manipulation. This contradicts Aristotle’s view that the hamartia is not the fault of the hero himself.
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team