Shamekia has taught English at the secondary level and has her doctoral degree in clinical psychology.
Who is Othello?
Othello is the main character in William Shakespeare's tragedy of the same name, a well-respected Moorish general in the Venetian army. A Moor is a native of North Africa.
The Venetian government trusts Othello as a soldier and puts him in command of an important voyage to Cyprus, where the Venetians defend themselves against the Turkish army. In spite of Othello's excellent reputation, racial differences make it difficult for him to live in Venetian society and cause problems in his personal life. For example, while Othello's white wife, Desdemona, finds her new husband's adventurous life and war service attractive, her father, Brabantio, thinks of him as an evil man who tricked Desdemona into secretly marrying him. Iago, Othello's antagonist, encourages these perceptions in Act 1, Scene 1, when he tells Desdemona's distressed father:
Even now, now, very now, an old black ram
Is tupping your white ewe. Arise, arise,
Awake the snorting citizens with the bell
Or else the devil will make a grandsire of you.
Arise, I say!
Here, Iago describes Othello as an animal and a devil taking advantage of an innocent woman, as well as a dangerous and polluted individual to be feared by society. As the target of covert racism, Othello feels insecure about himself, which eventually leads to his tragic downfall.
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Although Othello knows Desdemona loves him, he lets Iago, a vengeful soldier, manipulate him into believing she's been unfaithful. Iago is angry with Othello for promoting a soldier named Cassio to the position of lieutenant in his place. When Iago first informs Othello of Desdemona's alleged affair with his friend, Cassio, Othello becomes very emotional. Instead of confronting Desdemona or weighing Iago's accusations and circumstantial evidence with her love for him, Othello wrongly assumes she has been unfaithful.
Eventually, Othello strangles Desdemona in a fit of rage. After learning Iago lied, Othello, who understands he 'loved not wisely, but too well,' kills himself.
As a skilled soldier and general, Othello is brave, confident, smart and physically strong. Unfortunately, he is also a racial outsider, insecure about his Moorish background, emotionally out of control and naïve. Othello's insecurity is his fatal flaw, a weakness in his personality.
While a strategic thinker on the battlefield, Othello proves naïve in his personal life by trusting Iago with private matters. He's also a decisive man who treats his marriage like a battlefield.
Once Iago convinces the general that Desdemona has betrayed him, he acts swiftly to condemn and kill his wife. At the end of the play, Othello also proves himself an honorable man in that he accepts and administers punishment to himself by using his sword to commit suicide.
William Shakespeare's tragic play, Othello, is the story of a man who 'loved not wisely, but too well.' A skilled and powerful general from North Africa, Othello is both admired and rejected by society. When a vengeful soldier, Iago, tells Othello that his wife, Desdemona, has been unfaithful to him, the general's life begins to unravel. Instead of thinking clearly and examining Iago's information, Othello believes Iago's lies. As a result of his insecurity, or fatal flaw, Othello kills Desdemona and, overcome with shame, takes his own life at the end of the play.
When you are finished, you should be able to:
- Summarize Othello, by William Shakespeare
- Describe Othello's fatal flaw
- Explain how Othello's insecurity and naïveté lead to his downfall
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Othello: Character Analysis, Description & Sketch
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