F R Leavis 1952 stated "Othello is too stupid to be regarded as a tragic hero." What are your thoughts on this ? I feel he was used like other characters. So why was he stupid? Surely Iago was clever.

ericpollock | Student

Othello is a North African “Moor” leading Venetian forces against the Turks of the Ottoman Empire in defense of the Venetian colony of Cyprus: his tragedy has a complex social geography. Othello’s first appearance on stage allows us to compare him with Iago’s slanderous portrait. Othello speaks with absolute self-possession and dignity and assumes that his merits will speak for themselves.
B. He refuses to be drawn into violence by Brabantio and the mob who threaten him, and his behavior offers a striking contrast to Brabantio’s hysterical speeches.

The marriage that testifies to Desdemona’s love for Othello is not viewed as an admirable transcendence of prejudice by Brabantio, who redefines it as an act of female transgression and social disobedience. Othello offers a passionate and persuasive account of his wooing of Desdemona that nevertheless amplifies earlier intimations that his marriage is a cause of anxiety. He has previously associated entering into marriage with a circumscription of his identity and a restriction upon his freedom of movement. His description of why he loves Desdemona focuses exclusively on his utter investment in Desdemona’s love for him. When Desdemona frankly insists that she wishes to accompany Othello to Cyprus (and consummate her marriage), Othello supports her plea more cautiously, insisting that her presence will not detract from his warrior identity. Othello exhibits a certain self-division: his notion of himself as warrior-leader seems at odds with his imagination of himself as Desdemona’s husband. This will make him particularly vulnerable to Iago’s manipulations.

Tragedy often focuses upon highly fraught moments of choice. Othello declares that he is torn between believing in Desdemona’s honesty (which means her chastity, as well as her faith) and believing in Iago’s integrity and good judgment. He insists on having proof—but that proof will be mediated by Iago. In addition to Iago’s manipulative actions, other forces in the world of this play help to make Othello choose as he does. The workings of chance help Iago—for example, Desdemona’s accidental loss of her handkerchief. Human fallibility helps Iago—for example, Emilia’s desire to gain a kind word from him by giving him the lost handkerchief. People’s own virtues may undo them—Iago uses Desdemona’s generous sympathy for Cassio against her. The fertility of other people’s imaginations aids Iago—their ability to make their own monsters.

Othello’s choice may be determined by his soldier identity. He is inexperienced in matters of the heart. He automatically trusts the comrade whom he has known for a long time. Nevertheless, he makes an important strategic decision based on flimsy evidence.

In the end, Othello is more naive than "stupid."

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