How could Othello be viewed as a domestic tragedy?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In so many of his dramas, Shakespeare is able to bring out the personal level of cruelty and elevate it into a thematic connection that is applicable to so many individuals.  Yet, it is in Othello where the domestic tragedy occupies so much importance.  Much of what happens in terms of the tragic content resides in the realm of subjective and the domestic realm.  For his own part, Othello suffers from the inability to recognize that the domestic is a realm apart and distinct from the public.  He transfers the insecurity and doubt that is in the public realm as both a warrior, not one of landed and established wealth, and a man of color in a predominantly White world into his own domestic realm.  Othello fails to understand that Desdemona may not be a replication of this social and political world.  Othello's own insecurity about his valences of difference might lie in a personal and subjective realm where psychological insecurity and doubt are left unexamined and unassessed. The results are cataclysmic in terms of how he approaches the domestic realm as an extension of the external.

For her part, Desdemona's silence and inability to recognize Othello's own internalization of external reality contribute to her own domestic tranquility.  Leaving the world of her parents and her own realm of security and support, Desdemona completely surrenders herself to Othello's world.  Yet, in doing so, she seems to leave her own voice behind and when she needs to speak out, she recognizes that there are few avenues for her to pursue in the process.  In this domestic sadness of silence, her fate is sealed, for she can no longer advocate for herself and have no one to advocate for her.  In both settings, Shakespeare constructs thematic and literary tragedy as an extension of the tragic conditions of domesticity that trap both Desdemona and Othello.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is possible to view this play as a domestic tragedy because it concerns the interactions between a husband and wife and how their view of themselves and each other develops during the course of the play. Thus this play could be viewed as a domestic tragedy because the action occurs in the domestic sphere, or in the location of the home. Even though there is a battle that is referenced, it is important to note that this does not appear on stage. The main focus is the relationship between Desdemona and Othello, and how other characters influence it, either deliberately or unknowingly. Note how the domestic sphere and the various complications it can yield are referenced early on as Desdemona has to answer her father's charges against Othello in Act I scene 3:

My noble father,
I do perceive here a divided duty.
To you I am bound for life and education.
My life and education both do learn me
How to respect you. You are the lord of my duty,
I am hitherto your daughter. But here’s my husband,
And so much duty as my mother showed
To you, preferring you before her father,
So much I challenge that I may profess
Due to the Moor my lord.

Desdemona has to acknowledge the two different claims that divide her loyalties as a daughter and a wife, but also she recognises that Othello now has the stronger claim. Such a quote makes it clear that this play is much more about family and relationships than it is about politics or war. The domestic tragedy therefore focuses on the relationship between a husband and his wife, and how that relationship copes with various emotions such as jealousy and envy. It is Othello's inability to cope healthily with these emotions that leads to his downfall, and makes this a domestic tragedy.