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Othello as Tragic Hero From Hamlet, an ideal prince, and other essays in Shakesperean interpretation: In the matter of Othello and Iago, it cannot fairly be maintained that Iago was the sole cause of the calamities that befell Othello.
In general it must be said that there is no Shakespearean tragedy in which the responsibility for the deed of the hero and the subsequent tragedy can be shifted from him to another person of the play. Shakespeare no doubt did not have the conception of the influence of social forces that some modern dramatists display, for that is a conception belonging to the nineteenth century.
Professor Stoll may be correct when he says that "In no case does Shakespeare represent men as overwhelmed by anything so vague and neutral as social forces," but he is surely incorrect when he adds, "or as devoured by their own passions alone.
This "fatalism of overmastering passion," as it has been called by Professor Corson,2 is the distinguishing feature of Shakespeare's conception of man's relation to the world, and marks the culmination of the Elizabethan drama, and its superiority to the classical drama where men are overcome by external fate.
In the case of Othello, as ,of all the other tragedies, it is the passion of the hero that is the mainspring of all the action of the play that finally and certainly destroys the hero. There are two or three types of such passion in Shakespeare, according to their moral character, but all alike give rise to the action of the play and lead the hero to his fate.
Beginning, then, with this passion, it is the art of Shakespeare to place his characters under those conditions that will show the true nature of their passion and develop it to its fullness and to its fated end.
It is one of Shakespeare's supreme excellences that he realized that "every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lusts and enticed," and that every man's condemnation comes from the development of his own passions.
It was under the sway of this conception that Shakespeare brought Othello into his fatal conflict with Iago, for this drew from him all the hidden passion of his nature.
To make Iago the sole cause of the tragedy that befell Othello is to seek outside the human heart for the causes of human failure. The wonder is that Coleridge, philosopher and genius that he was, could content himself with an explanation that does such violence to a true moral psychology.
But Coleridge may have had a personal interest in laying the blame outside the soul of the one who is overcome by weakness or by fate. Othello, like all of Shakespeare's plays, is a drama of character, not a drama of intrigue. But only a very careful study of the leading topics of the play will make this clear.
The attempt to solve the moral difficulties of Othello has never been given up entirely, though quite recently two distinguished critics have taken "the moralists" to task, and have appeared to think that the chief excellence of the drama is in its "moral enigma.
They seem ready to reject alike what is common-place and common-sense. The names of these two eminent critics have carried more weight in some quarters than their theories have deserved, and some students have been too willing to give up the search for a true moral interpretation of the plays.
Others, however, dissatisfied with this complete moral scepticism of Shakespeare, and with this substitution of the critic's fancy for the poet's vision, have made attempts to find a larger moral meaning for the plays, and have tried to assign some kind of large spiritual principles in place of the plain moral principles it was thought necessary to abandon.
The suggestion has been made that in cases like that of Desdemona there is only an apparent defeat and nemesis, but that in reality there is a much higher spiritual vindication, and that the close of the play marks a complete spiritual triumph in which the human spirit remains "essentially unconquered.
But on the contrary there remains in each case, amid the very crash and vanishing of all earthly hope, a spirit that transcends common humanity as far as its suffering has transcended common experience, proving anew through poetry that the world of the senses is 'inferior to the soul. But, unfortunately, this kind of criticism makes a demand of us that no generation of theatre-goers or readers has ever been able to meet.
To picture Othello and Desdemona as in the end not failing but actually triumphing, as Professor Alden finds himself obliged to maintain, is to think of them as in the same class as the suffering Job, and as Romeo and Juliet. He says, "If the individual experience often seems to be at odds with everything but itself; if Job suffer for no reason such as can be stated in general terms; if Juliet and Romeo are the victims of the animosities of their parents The writer of "Job" explicitly declares that Job was a righteous man, and that his misfortunes were entirely due to the malignity of the evil one.
Neither were his misfortunes of the nature of moral catastrophes, as were those of Othello and Desdemona. In Shakespeare, as in the Bible, the misfortunes that are objective in their source are never moral in character.
Romeo and Juliet were undoubtedly "the victims of the animosities of their parents," or in other words were the victims of social conditions for which they were personally in no way responsible.
About their misfortunes, however, there is not the slightest suggestion of retribution, and as Carlyle long ago observed, their apparent defeat is really a moral victory. But it is very different with Othello and Desdemona, for there is an element of retribution in their misfortunes.
The play explicitly depicts them as the authors of all the elements of their social conditions that give rise to their conflicts and subsequent misfortunes. It should be remembered that Othello was not a son of Venice, but a foreigner, and moreover a foreigner of a different race and color, with all that means of divergence of mind and character.
Moreover, there was no conflict between Romeo and Juliet, for their love was perfect, but the conflict was between their united and unwavering love and the hostility of their families.
In the case of Othello and Desdemona he conflict becomes acute and finally fatal between husband and wife, and from this the play takes its character of a hapless mismarriage.
All these unsuccessful attempts to understand the drama come from long-continued but erroneous habits of interpretation. The plays have been treated as if they were historical documents and not works of poetic imagination. Historical documents have to be evaluated by the student, and often parts are judged to be unauthentic and hence of little or no value.
But literary products cannot be treated in this manner, for every word of a great poet has been elaborated with turious care and is of value to the whole, and cannot be ignored.
Some critics who regret that we have no external comments of Shakespeare upon his plays persistently ignore the numerous comments the dramatist has made within the plays.The University of Montana practices rolling admissions which means that you can apply at any time.
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From Hamlet, an ideal prince, and other essays in Shakesperean interpretation: Hamlet; Merchant of Venice; Othello; King Lear by Alexander W. Crawford. Boston R.G. Badger, In the matter of Othello and Iago, it cannot fairly be maintained that Iago was the sole cause of the calamities that befell Othello.
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Personal Narrative, essay about myself - My Passion for Art. This forgery, Christ and the Disciples at Emmaus, was completed in To produce it, van Meegeren studied seventeenth-century pigment formulas, incorporated volatile flower oils in his pigments to create hardness, and used badger-hair brushes (a single modern bristle embedded in the paint would give him away) on canvas recycled from an unimportant seventeenth-century painting.
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