Othello – Terminology, Concepts & Links to Other Texts

Othello – Terminology, Concepts & Links to Other Texts

Tragic hero- Othello is a tragic hero. This means that he causes his own demise through his fatal flaw or harmartia rather than through purposeful wrongdoing. Othello’s can be seen as his jealousy when he thinks Cassio and Desdemona are in love, however it could also be said that his susceptibility is his true flaw. He says himself that he ‘loved not wisely but too well,’ which could mean that he loved Iago too well, loved himself too well and maybe even loved Desdemona too well as it was his fear of losing her that drove him to murder. At the end of the play he tries to remain noble and practically writes his own eulogy.

Jealousy- Jealousy is a fear of losing something that you value to another and is typically used in romantic situations like the one in Othello.Iago’s envy makes him angry with both Othello and Cassio so he uses jealousy to ruin both their lives. He convinces Othello that Cassio and Desdemona are in love. This play is where we get the expression ‘green eyed monster,’ in act 3, scene 3. Iago then warns Othello of the dangers of the monster, but never takes heed of his own advice.

Envy- Envy is a resentment of those who have things that you want, maybe material possessions or something else. Envy can lead to the envious person wishing misfortune or loss upon those whom he is envious of. In Iago’s case he is envious of Cassio for his promotion and his intelligence. He may be envious of Othello’s status and his more lowly existence in comparison or even Othello’s new found love and happiness with Desdemona.

Schadenfreude- When someone gains pleasure from the misfortune of others. This kind of pleasure is often the result of envy. We see this with Iago who hurts Roderigo for no reason other than as a part of his plan to hurt Othello, Cassio and Desdemona. He has little regard for anyone else at all and wishes only to sabotage the happiness of the other characters.

War- Othello is famed for his prowess at war, he is a warrior and this is how he has become a leader. The play’s action moves to Cyprus because Othello is the only man who can put a stop to war. Unfortunately his marriage is his downfall as he becomes so embroiled in jealousy and suspicion that he ends up dead and Cassio rules Cyprus instead because he was not flawed like Othello or Iago. Iago also has experience of war and this is one reason he feels he should have been promoted above Cassio, but Cassio has the intelligence.

Othello turns to his past military success when everything else is falling apart around him. At the very end of the play he reminds the onlookers that he killed a ‘malignant and a turban’d Turk/ Beat a Venetian and traduced the state,/ I took by the throat the circumcised dog,/ And smote him, thus.’ When he says ‘thus’ he stabs himself, so it is as if he is demonstrating how he killed in battle. His suicide becomes a gesture linked to battle rather than to guilt and love for his wife.


Links to Other Texts

If you’re doing Othello you might already be comparing it to other plays or texts.

For example you could look at women in other Shakespeare plays such as Macbeth. In both plays a woman drives her husband to kill, moreover both men are warriors, successful in battle. You could also compare ambition and envy as Iago and Macbeth are both driven by a desire to reach the top but in different ways.

You could read or watch another tragedy to see how the form is used with different plots or how the harmartia of different characters causes the heroes to fall. Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth or Coriolanus are all plays focusing on heroes with a fatal flaw. Romeo and Juliet is slightly different because you can argue that circumstance not personality is to blame for the tragedy.