Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Character of Othello

Introduction: As Swinburne has stated, Othello was the noblest man of man’s making. T.S Eliot, however, spoke unfavorably of him. The contentions on his character go on. However, he was a man of great stature and virtues despite his weakness, jealousy. Most of the critics have much contemplated on his character, because Othello is a complex character.

Bradley Versus Leavis: The contrasted viewpoints regarding Othello are further elaborated by Bradley and Leaves. Bradley takes Othello to be entirely blameless; he has to explain why any one should hate him so much as to destroy him. Unlike Leavis, he places the complexity of the play in Iago’s character. To Leavis, studying the inner reaches of Iago’s mind is purely a waste of time. Iago is simply a subordinate and a necessary piece of mechanism of the play and not more than that. Othello’s tragedy, to Leavis, is essentially caused by hi sown short comings -  by his egotism and by his love for Desdemona which is merely sensual and possessive and doesn’t not extend to any real knowledge  of who  and what is it that he is loving. To him, Othello’s habit of self-idealization, his simple heroic way of seeing himself in wide perspective, served him well enough in martial adventure, but could not fit him for the reciprocity of marriage, so that the tragedy is inherent in Othello-Desdemona’s relationship. When things go wrong and cracks build up, Othello’s weaknesses reveal to us which cause his catastrophe.
Othello’s Egotism and the role of Iago: Leavis takes an unfavorable view of Othello’s character. He is an egoist. According to his view, we see it in his callous treatment of Brabantio. Othello’s life has not been such as to allow him the luxury of fine discrimination and subtle consideration. He is unable to understand the typicality of human beings. He has lived in an atmosphere of war where second consideration or even a little wink of eye may cause the death of a soldier. So this life creates egoists. And Othello’s egotism is intense enough for Iago to plan his intrigue quite successfully. Bradley has quite a fantastic treatment of this theme and is closer to the heart of the play, because having this perspective of the play is to erase the emotional impact of the play. Bradley knows that the tragedy lie in the assassination of love by non-love. Iago was destroyed by the power he attacked, the power of love: and he was destroyed by it because he couldn’t understand it and he couldn’t understand it because it was not in him. 
Othello – a romantic character: The oppressive and fatal atmosphere of the play is only agreeable by the character of Othello who is romantic. The credibility and success of the play is closely connected with this character. Othello describes himself as: … One not easily jealous, but being wrought, Perplexed in the extreme.
The description is perfectly just. His tragedy lies in this. His whole nature was indisposed to jealousy and he was unusually open to deception. His racial temperament has its share in his tragedy. His wanderings in the vast desserts, his stories war and his exploits, his experiences of slavery and his participations in the war and battles make him the most romantic figure among Shakespeare’s heroes.  He is not only a romantic figure, his whole nature is romantic. He doesn’t have the meditative and speculative imagination of Hamlet, but is more poetic than him when we observe him making his most famous speeches throughout the play.
NaeemOthello’s Shortcomings: The romantic element is not the only cause of his catastrophe; his own shortcomings and susceptibility to deception play even a stronger role in his destruction. Hesitation and lack of initiative is impossible to him and he is in the habit of instant and on the spot-decisions as a result of his prolonged association with the warfare. He is not observant and is quite incapable of introspection. Emotion excites his imagination and possesses great openness and truthfulness of nature. He has little experience of the corrupt products of civilized life and is ignorant of European women. He is, by nature, the most vehement passionate when jealousy aroused in him. He is a man of self-control, but such aspects of his personality as jealousy and credulity shake this mountainous quality of the great general.
Othello’s Trust in Iago: Othello’s suspicion of Desdemona and the consequent suffering seems more pitiful when we find that Shakespeare depicts Iago as trustful and through in his trust. However, when Iago starts working on him, Othello questions him and wants a proof, though his believe in Desdemona’s fidelity has been shaken and shattered by Iago’s repeated attacks. But Iago has completely possessed Othello’s mind and he puts entire confidence in the honesty of Iago. Othello has even been convinced of Iago’s knowledge and wisdom of human relations and personalities and their nature. The whole picture painted by Iago and the warning from Desdemona’s father repeated by Iago makes Othello full of suspicious and facilitates him to be confided in by him. To Othello, it is only Iago, in the whole scenario of the relation game, who is completely faithful to him and who can be trusted in this. But at the same time, Iago is, ironically, the destroyer of Othello-Desdemona Relationship.
Othello’s Self-Destruction: Iago’s part in Othello’s tragedy must not be over-emphasized arrested for the Othello’s tragic end. He doesn’t destroy Othello, but merely awakens some latent traits and suspicions in him through which he may effect his own destruction. There are evils functioning in the world, but it is man who must avoid being trapped by them.  Before Iago provokes his passions, he means to corrupt his mind which may ultimately contribute to his self-destruction. Othello is easily taken in confidence by others. He loved Cassio, but his confidence in him was betrayed. He loved Desdemona and his love in her was also seemingly betrayed by her. Iago’s first insinuation in Othello’s mind was jealousy and his warning, O, beware, my Lord, of jealousy.  The poisonous suggestion from which jealousy actually springs up in the mind of Othello to cause his destruction.

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