'Othello' can be a difficult play to like.  Disucss this statement.

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kplhardison's profile pic

Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted on

Othello can be a difficult play to like because:

  • it brings up the question of ethnic prejudice
  • it is a heartrending tragedy
  • the tragedy is of the hero's own making; he gives in to being influenced and acts rashly after abandoning reasonable inquiry and dutiful trust
  • Desdemona and Othello are both sympathetic characters drawn with three-dimensional realism
  • Iago is so despicable
  • the ending is so shocking

Granted that tragedies are tragedies because they are tragic, and they are tragic because of the results of the hero's Aristotelian fatal flaw. Often the flaw is hubris [hubris: shaming a victim for power it yields because thinking one is superior to others (Aristotle)] but it can be any character failing (failing in one's inner character traits). Othello's flaw is that he has misplaced trust (Iago instead of Desdemona) and that he is naive and easily influenced (or gullible).

Hubris consists in doing and saying things that cause shame to the victim…simply for the pleasure of it. Retaliation is not hubris, but revenge.…Young men and the rich are hubristic because they think they are better than other people. (Aristotle, Rhetoric; Encyclopædia Britannica)

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billdelaney's profile pic

William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I find it difficult to like Othello for several reasons. First, I don't like to see a powerful man killing an innocent woman who loves him. At one point he says: 

Sweet soul, take heed,
Take heed of perjury; thou are on thy deathbed.

And Desdemona replies:

Ay, but not yet to die.

She means she intends to be faithful to him for her entire life. This is pitiful and painful to watch or read, since Othello is doing such a terrible deed on such flimsy evidence.

My second reason for finding it difficult to like Othello is that he seems so easily manipulated by Iago. Othello ends up looking like a complete fool. He feels grief, but he does not feel appropriate shame for having killed his adoring wife.

Iago's motivation seems implausible. He is cutting his own throat by undermining Othello, since his position depends on Othello. Furthermore, Iago's hatred does not seem justified. We can't believe that Othello would have committed adultery with Iago's wife Emilia, as Iago says he suspects. His motive is so nebulous that critics have been arguing about it for centuries. When Iago is unmasked and asked why he practiced such treachery, he replies:

Demand me nothing; what you know: you know.
From this time forth I never will speak word.

He can't explain, because there is no logical explanation for his behavior. He makes an excellent villain, but he lacks an appropriate motivation.

Finally, the plot seems terribly unrealistic. Everything depends on sheer accidents and coincidences. Emilia finds the handkerchief and, instead of simply returning it to Desdemona, she gives it to her husband. He plants it on Cassio, and Cassio gives it to Bianca, who gives it back to him. Then Iago and Othello just happen to be present when Cassio displays the handkerchief contemptuously.

There are many other accidents and coincidences that play right into Iago's hands. The play lacks what they call "continuity" in Hollywood, meaning that one event should lead to another and the whole story should hold together with a logical cause-and-effect progression like a chain.

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