To what extent does Shakespeare present catastrophe of Othello as inevitable
The play ‘Othello’ has derived from opposites and opposition, and many contradictions contained in the play are embodied in the tragic hero, this basic plot alone could have well been presented as a catastrophe and so it is almost certain that Othello could be seen as inevitable because this plot later on spirals out of control within a short timescale due to the fact that Shakespeare has deliberately compressed the timeframe down which makes the play almost too fast for the audience to take in, which demonstrates the catastrophe of Othello as inevitable because there is no time to think thoroughly and make wise decisions which leads to his own downfall.
The concepts from Aristotle are also evident throughout the play because the three main factors present are: the protagonist, who inevitably acts disastrous, the unities, in which the timeframe is tightly packed and limited and the catastrophe, in which the protagonist (Othello) and other main characters die, and so the sense of tragedy is reinforced as the play used all the required elements for a tragic play in Aristotle’s view.
At the very beginning in Act I Scene 1, Shakespeare makes Iago inform the audience that he will follow Othello to “serve my turn upon him” which instantly suggest that inevitably something deceitful from Iago will occur – this small comment is remembered intently by the audiences because their memory is refreshed when Iago creates his sinister plan during his own soliloquies – the audience may also notice that this mysterious “Moor” is not in the play until Act I Scene 2 so the audience again is open to opinions as there is no support for Othello’s side. There could be also a sense of inevitability from a different aspect because from Iago, he calls Othello a “Moor” which imply that Othello is black but also the stark contrast in “honest knaves” suggest that there is tensions between the ancient (Iago) and the protagonist (Othello).
After Brabantio has heard Iago’s crude description of Othello “tupping your white ewe”, he accuses Othello of bewitching his daughter but later on gradually accepts this and warns him that Desdemona may even deceive Othello as she did to him, this is remembered by Othello and ironically, later on he’s insistent that Desdemona has deceived him, which contrasts to his earlier reply to Brabantio saying he trusts his wife’s ‘faith’ unquestioningly – this therefore shows the inevitability of the incoming catastrophe towards Othello during the first act in a short timeframe, which makes it ever more shocking as the audience does not have time to digest the events properly.
Furthermore, the use of animal imagery may also cause social tensions because of Othello being black; he couldn’t really integrate with society properly as he simply wasn’t accepted, similarly nor could animals and so this comparison went hand in hand during the Elizabethan period – Even A. C. Bradley’s comment could be interpreted as supporting this view: ‘He does not belong to our world, and he seems to enter it we know not whence – – almost as if from wonderland’ which could mean he didn’t fit in during this time period and so inevitably, catastrophe occurred.
When the gentlemen announces that the ‘Turkish fleet’ has been destroyed by the tempest, there is almost a sense of joy from the audiences view as the danger is seemingly gone – but when Othello arrives safely in ‘Cyprus’, Shakespeare is reinforcing the point that everyone is safe, however if the storm was to be interpreted as a metaphor then it could mean that it is an illusion that the storm was gone, as the characters would be observed as being in the eye of the storm and therefore it could only mean that the characters was only experiencing the calmness before the actual storm – this point is fortified within Act II Scene 2, which highlights the upcoming destruction creeping up towards Othello.
Act II is therefore allowing the audience to have their own opinions on the two interpretations which contain distinct contrasting points. Also during this act Shakespeare begins to make the audience foreshadow the inevitability of the catastrophe to come for Othello when Iago involves Roderigo in his plan to discredit Cassio – Shakespeare has deliberately included this part into the play because just as the play starts to slow down he increases the speed again which causes the audience to become anxious as they know something bad will happen soon.
However there are some parts of the play which suggest that it was not seen as inevitable because up until Act III, most of Iago’s plans did not work against Othello or Desdemona but it did make the audience foreshadow the inevitability to come – which is probably why Iago begins to target different characters such as Cassio which does work as Othello’s close friend is manipulated by Iago in Act II Scene 3 – the audience would then begin to see the protagonist’s own hamartia which leads to more deaths of characters later on. Act III would consolidate the catastrophe of Othello as inevitable in the audiences mind because eventually Iago convinces Othello that his wife is in love with Cassio which came from a simple mutter from Iago: “Ha, I like not that. ” This would then turn into a long debate in which Othello comes to his own conclusion.
In spite of this, it is only during the beginning of Act IV that he truly see’s his “proof” in Bianca’s hand and believes that his wife has been unfaithful. From this, his own hubris overwhelms him to kill Desdemona and the audience can observe that the inevitable is close. Even though Desdemona pleas that she wasn’t unfaithful, Othello’s mind is already set and so in way this point would support F. R. Leavis as he claimed that Othello has a propensity to jealousy and possesses a weak character: “the stuff of which he is made begins at once to deteriorate and show itself unfit”, this causes the audience to feel that he may not be as noble as first thought. In contrast Dr.
Johnson declared that Othello was true to life and that he was “magnanimous, artless, and credulous, boundless in his confidence, ardent in his affection, inflexible in his resolution, and obdurate in his revenge”. The two critics both have their supporting points but even so, either point would see the catastrophe of Othello as inevitable as they all have their own tragic flaws. Some critics have said that this tragedy was not inevitable because his attributes indicate that he should be viewed as a hero, as does his customary mode of speech – Othello almost always speaks in verse and is a fine rhetorician, despite his apparent change later on.
However, some may object to this view as a black soldier marrying a white aristocrat was simply asking for trouble and that the killing of Desdemona would be reasonable in some respect by a Jacobean audience as they would of understood the weight Othello attached to his reputation, as a man’s honour was extremely important, in which his wife’s chastity was an integral part of it.
Shakespeare has strongly hinted the weakness in Othello when he greets Desdemona in Cyprus as his speech shows that he’s overwhelmed by his love – the audience may begin to feel that the rational soldier was transforming into a blind lover which highlights the danger that may happen. Even so, some may argue that it wasn’t inevitable because he did try to persuade himself that Desdemona was honest, even before murdering her in the final act but inevitably the tragic hero is pushed towards catastrophe by the ruthless ‘demi-devil’ (V. 2. 298).
Overall I believe to the full extent that Shakespeare does present catastrophe of ‘Othello’ as inevitable because the characters, structure and form used in this play all work together to highlight the inevitability of catastrophe such as Iago’s soliloquies which contain a great deal of dramatic irony of Othello which increases dramatic tension for the audience. The dramatic structure becomes an important role in the play as the outer world becomes insignificant to Othello as he becomes monomaniacal which raises concern within the audience. Furthermore, Shakespeare’s usage of blank verse and prose made it flexible for him to achieve specific effects, no matter what pace the play flowed at – this would then become a relatively simple task for him to create a play which would highlight the inevitability of catastrophe.
With all the techniques used, an example would be Othello during the beginning scenes speaking of himself in first and third person however after Act III scene 3 onwards, his use of pronouns such as ‘we’, ‘they’ and ‘I’ suggests to the audience his insecurities – Shakespeare has therefore slightly prepared the audience for the catastrophe that’s about to hit. Even though there are parts of the scenes that may object to the inevitability, it could be interpreted as being a ‘comforting’ scene whereby it would cause a shock to the audience as the catastrophe would be starkly contrasted to the ‘comfort’ scene, I would therefore believe that any scenes that maybe seen as denying the inevitability of catastrophe as a smokescreen for any actual problems arising which leads to a greater ending of a play.