How is Othello a tragic hero in Shakespeare's Othello?

Expert Answers

Want to remove ads?

Get ad-free questions with an eNotes 48-hour free trial.

Try It Free No Thanks
lsumner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A tragic hero is of noble status and greatness. The tragic hero possesses a human tendency to make error in judgment. The tragic hero has a tragic flaw. Othello is noble and quite capable as a leader. He is chosen to lead in the military effort against the Turkish invasion against Cyprus. Although he is of high stature and greatness, he makes an error in his judgment against his wife, Desdemona.

Othello is a tragic hero in that he allowed his jealously to overcome him. It is one thing to be jealous, but Othello acted on his jealousy and murdered his wife, Desdemona. Because Iago planted seeds of jealousy, Othello was taken into a snare. Othello should have trusted his wife. He trusted the wrong man and his life ended in tragedy.

Although Iago planted seeds of jealousy, Othello lacked self control. He could not control his rage. This was a tragic flaw. He allowed his jealousy to consume him. He was totally overwhelmed with jealousy. Rather than trusting his beloved wife, he smothered her out of jealousy. In the end, he takes his own life out of utter hopelessness.

These characteristics fit Othello:

The following is a summary of [Aristotle's] basic ideas regarding the tragic hero:

1.  The tragic hero is a character of noble stature and has greatness.  This should be readily evident in the play.  The character must occupy a "high" status position but must ALSO embody nobility and virtue as part of his/her innate character.

2.  Though the tragic hero is pre-eminently great, he/she is not perfect.  Otherwise, the rest of us--mere mortals--would be unable to identify with the tragic hero.  We should see in him or her someone who is essentially like us, although perhaps elevated to a higher position in society.

3.  The hero's downfall, therefore, is partially her/his own fault, the result of free choice, not of accident or villainy or some overriding, malignant fate.  In fact, the tragedy is usually triggered by some error of judgment or some character flaw that contributes to the hero's lack of perfection noted above.   This error of judgment or character flaw is known as hamartia and is usually translated as "tragic flaw" (although some scholars argue that this is a mistranslation).  Often the character's hamartiainvolves hubris (which is defined as a sort of arrogant pride or over-confidence).

4.  The hero's misfortunate is not wholly deserved. The punishment exceeds the crime.

5.  The fall is not pure loss. There is some increase in awareness, some gain in self-knowledge, some discovery on the part of the tragic hero..

6.  Though it arouses solemn emotion, tragedy does not leave its audience in a state of depression.  Aristotle argues that one function of tragedy is to arouse the "unhealthy" emotions of pity and fear and through a catharsis (which comes from watching the tragic hero's terrible fate) cleanse us of those emotions.   It might be worth noting here that Greek drama was not considered "entertainment," pure and simple; it had a communal function--to contribute to the good health of the community.  This is why dramatic performances were a part of religious festivals and community celebrations.


y2kfain eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Othello is a tragic hero for several reasons. First, let's examine the definition of a tragic hero. A tragic hero is the protagonist of a story who has a fall from grace. A tragic hero is a character who has everything going for him or her, however, they have flaw that sparks their downfall. Due to hubris or pride the heroic character, realizes his or her unfortunate mistake to late. Othello is a military general who is respected by the government and most of the people in his Italian community. However, Iago is the antagonist or nemesis who works against Othello. Due to Iago's envious and vengeful personality, he constructs the downfall of Othello. Iago hates Othello because Othello has promoted Cassio instead of himself. Then, Roderigo hates Othello because he's in love with Desdemona who is Othello's wife. Finally, Brabantio, Desdemona's father hates Othello for marrying his daughter without his permission. Despite Othello's courageous leadership, he is tainted by Iago's, Roderigo's and Brabantio's feelings about Othello's race and/or national origin. Keep in mind Othello is a Moor from North Africa. He is the only African in his Italian community; therefore, he is subjected to the scrutiny of others.

The play is set in the 1600s. At that time, interracial marriages were not always accepted or appreciated. When Othello marries Desdemona who is a woman of Noble birth, there are some people who think that Othello is simply not good enough. However, Desdemona loves her Moorish husband unconditionally. She loses the love of her father, yet she stands by her husband's side. Othello's race is not an issue for Desdemona. However, Othello begins to wonder if his wife would prefer an Italian husband. Othello's major flaw is jealousy, which leads to his feelings of insecurity and doubt. Once Othello becomes doubtful of his relationship with his wife, jealousy convinces him that his wife Desdemona has become unfaithful. Instead of trusting his loving relationship, he believes Iago when Iago suggests that Cassio is having an affair with Desdemona.

Ultimately, Othello's jealous nature leads him to kill the only woman he has ever loved-Desdemona. By the end of the play, several people have died including Othello. Othello has everything going for him. Yet, the story ends tragically because the hero of the story ends up dieing a dishonorable death.

Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This question has already been asked and answered on eNotes.  Here is a comprehensive link for you: