In all tragic plays, there exists a tragic hero who must be a person of noble stature from which they can fall from. In Shakespeare’s Othello, the central character, Othello, can be seen as the archetypal tragic hero. All classical, Shakespearean tragic heroes follow the same criteria. At the outset, since tragedy involves the “fall” of a tragic hero, the character must have a lofty position to fall from, or else there is no tragedy, just pathos. Subsequently, through a series of influences or actions, the tragic hero must undergo a change of fortune and fall from high to low estate.
Finally, this fall from high to low standing must emerge on the account of his tragic flaw. To understand Shakespeare’s use of the word ‘noble’ we must first understand its meaning. The word ‘noble’ is used to describe someone who possesses outstanding qualities and is faultless, and is used to describe someone of high birth or exalted rank. Othello, at least at the beginning of the play, is noble in the sense that he has faultless characteristics however he is not noble in terms of birth.
This breaks the tradition of the tragic hero. If this is the case then Iago could also have been the tragic hero. He is noble as he is in a high ranking army position, like Othello, and his downfall is his fatal flaw of jealousy. He is on stage as much as Othello and towards the end of the play the audience seem to be more interested in Iago’s manipulation of Othello rather than Othello’s gullibility as it is his manipulation of Othello that causes both his downfall and Othello’s. Othello is noble in terms of his characteristics.
He is well educated, courageous and is well respected by others. This is shown most notably when he enters in 1:3. The Duke states that Othello is “Valiant”. Not only is the word “valiant” a synonym for noble but it also suggests that the Duke thinks very highly of him as a strong and powerful leader. He also states: “We must straight employ you/Against the general enemy Ottoman. ” This shows their loyalty towards Othello as they did not want to act on anything until their noble leader Othello arrived and told them what it is they should do.
During his speech, Othello states: “Rude am I in my speech” This is quite ironic as the way he says his speech shows that he is a well educated man. His speech is also written in blank verse. This type of presentation was very often used in Shakespeare’s plays when monarchs or very important people were speaking. The fact that Othello is almost speaking as a monarch and speaking in this type of prose seems to emphasise his nobility and makes it look as though he’s in a higher status than he actually is.
The Duke and Senators call Othello by his name, rather than “My Lord” which seems to show that they are reasonably close to each other and that they respect their high ranking, noble leader. In just about every speech that someone says relating to Othello, the word “noble” itself is mentioned or a synonym or phrase relating back to that word is mentioned which I feel was done deliberately be Shakespeare to highlight the whole idea of the tragic hero. Othello states that “her father loved” him, “oft invited” him and questioned the story of his life.
It seems as though Brabantio saw him as a noble and courageous man whom enjoyed his stories of the “battles, sieges and fortunes” that he passed. So much so that he allowed his only daughter to listen as well. Brabantio must have had a lot of respect for him until it came to him wanting to marry her, which he then objected to as he is not noble in terms of birth, race or colour and in Elizabethan times, men wanted to give their daughters away to the noblest and richest man they possibly could and these moors, who were very often merchants, were not seen as very noble at all.
The Duke believes that “this tale would win over” his daughter too which emphasises Othello’s respect and nobility further. It is Othello’s courage and nobility that Desdemona fell in love with so when Othello begins to lose this nobility, it is no wonder that their relationship begins to fall apart. In conclusion, the statement seems to be partly true in that this is Othello’s tragedy as he’s the tragic hero, who always ended up dying in the end, and is noble concerning his characteristics.
However, Othello’s downfall, attributes of a tragic hero, seem to be caused by Iago. Iago seems to be the one who falls and takes everyone else with him rather than Othello which seems to show that Iago also displays attributes of a tragic hero. In the latter part of the play the audience are also interested in what Iago is doing to Othello rather than what is happening to Othello. Therefore it could have quite easily been Iago’s tragedy.