A tragic hero, determined by Aristotle, must show a nobility and virtue of a certain magnitude however, their path to happiness should be ceased by their destructive vice (Harmartia- the flaw that eventually leads to their downfall). Peripeteia, the point where the characterâ€™s fortune changes, must evoke a state of pity and fear amongst the audience, and give above all, a didactic message.
The outcome of this characteristic should result in a complex but sole instigation of both the heroâ€™s Catharsis (a cleansing of emotion which is described by Aristotle as an effect of tragic drama on its audience) and Anagnoris when they reach their moment of realisation. It can be argued that Shakespeare fully abided by these rules in order to make a distinction between his charactersâ€™ prosperity and misfortune.
Fintan Oâ€™Toole (post modernist critic) argues that Othello â€œis not tragic, merely patheticâ€. However, Othello will be identified as a far greater tragic hero than Macbeth, illustrating how Shakespeare fully intended on creating a tragically heroic character such as Othello. As the play progresses, Othelloâ€™s monumental Harmartia is gradually revealed; his sense of inherent jealousy is implemented by Iago, the Machiavellian villain, and his gullibility makes him susceptible to it.
Once he becomes convinced that his wife Desdemona is unfaithful, his jealousy does indeed feed itself just as Iago ironically warns, â€œthe green eyed monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds onâ€ (Iago- Act 3 Scene 1), leading to the heroâ€™s monstrous behaviour. The apparent alliteration, â€œdeath and damnationâ€ (Act 3 Scene 3) and â€œwaked wrathâ€ (Act 3 Scene 3), reveals the great influence that Iago has upon Othello as his linguistic eloquence and his mental state rapidly collapse, resulting in both his use of evil imagery in language and in action, the murder of Desdemona.
The hubris, argued by Helen Gardner (in 20th century) â€œis heroic because Othello acts from inner necessityâ€, appearing to show Othelloâ€™s desire to remake the world into a better place, an act that is heroic â€œin its absolutenessâ€. This admission of ethical duty perhaps may have encouraged a contemporary audience to pity Othello as his act, although terrible in itself, is nevertheless wonderful in its own manner of righteousness. Othello therefore appears to be more honourable since his wrong doing was out of love and not of hatred, something for which Gardener seems to forgive Othello.
A contemporary audience would argue that gender also plays an important role in Othello as men were regarded as stronger and wiser, making it more forgivable of Othello. However, a 21st century audience would view women as equally as important as men, showing that Desdemonaâ€™s murder was underserved and unforgivable of Othello. Dr Johnson (1765) declared that Othello was a â€œvery useful moralâ€, as the protagonist shows how one can be stifled by naivete; the repetition of â€œhonest Iagoâ€, the external forces of evil, combine to cause Othelloâ€™s tragic manifestation and thus, his downfall.
Macbethâ€™s Hamartia is his lust for power that eventually and unsurprisingly leads into his downfall. Arthur Kirsch (1984) highlights Macbethâ€™s â€œemptiness of his desires and the insatiability of his aspirationsâ€. Macbeth becomes infatuated with the witchesâ€™ prophecy as he soon discovers how real it is, allowing him to be somewhat fixated on the idea of murdering the King and soon after, Banquo. â€œMacbeth does murder sleepâ€- the use of third person indicates the exponential deterioration of his mental state after killing an innocent King, as a result of his unquenchable thirst for power; essentially in itself more than one of the seven vices.
Both Iago and Macbeth in this case, are the embodiment of the vices, both jealousy and greed, as opposed to Othello, who is only influenced by the vice itself. J. A Bryant (1961) argues that, â€œMacbeth is a wholly negative character who possesses the capacity for good but chooses to commit evil insteadâ€, illustrating that his ulterior motive wasnâ€™t for the good or righteous, as opposed to Othello, but for the selfish rise to power, evidently making him less of a tragic hero; he merely chooses evil because it works to his own advantage rather than making the world into a â€˜betterâ€™ place.
Both a Shakespearean and a modern audience would believe that Macbeth, like the Devil, has willed himself into a desperate position whereby he is captive of nothing except the providence he chose to ignore. In fact, a further aspect of his Hamartia is arguably his supposed lack of masculinity that he is constantly belittled and ridiculed for by Lady Macbeth. The use of a rhetorical question in â€œAre you a man? â€ indicates her ability to manipulate him into believing that he is not â€˜strongâ€™ enough to murder.
This too, plays an important but yet, not as dominant, role in Macbethâ€™s downfall. The second element combined to create a tragic hero is Peripeteia where the downfall from a virtuous status to a catastrophic one is evident. Regardless of however many times Othello is referred to as the â€œMoorâ€ by Iago, a derogatory term used to highlight his race, a Shakespearean audience will still be amazed by his aristocratic virtue as he possesses the verbal eloquence to assert to the signiors in the rule of three adjectives as â€œpotent, grave and reverendâ€.
In Act 3 Scene 3 however, Othello makes more references to the â€œdevilâ€; a reflection of Iagoâ€™s evil nature being imparted upon him, as â€œgoats and monkeysâ€ are images that connote the devil. His eloquence of poetry in Act 1 is in stark contrast to his rather barbaric and politically incorrect behaviour in Act 3, particularly to a 21st century audience as his act of â€œstriking herâ€ (Desdemona) across the face is an incredulous act that is totally unacceptable to feminists now but may have been deemed as common or even deserved to a contemporary audience of the 16th century.
His affection dramatically changes towards Desdemona and it can be argued that Othello â€œallows manipulation and jealousy to lead to his self-destructionâ€- Tasha Kelley (2010) Othello simply cannot help the jealousy that he feels within him, no matter how much of an influence Iago is upon him. At this point, Othello is entirely convinced and absolute in the killing of his wife; the use of hyperbolic language in â€œIâ€™ll tear her all to piecesâ€ emphasises his sheer mercilessness since â€œallâ€ of Desdemona will be killed.
Unlike Othello, Macbeth changes rather early on in the play, and the only real evidence that the audience sees of his nobility is what others say about him. In Act 1 Scene 2 Duncan expresses, â€œO valiant cousin, worthy gentlemanâ€; the use of positive adjectives to describe Macbeth would give both a Shakespearean and modern audience a good impression of Macbeth even before he is revealed in the play.
On the other hand, current and contemporary audiences would also notice that the other characters in Macbeth are the ones who prove Macbethâ€™s honorary class, and not he for himself. After one consecutive scene, Macbethâ€™s Peripeteia is extremely abrupt that it can be portrayed as almost non-existent. â€œIf Chance will have me King, Why Chance may crown me, Without my stirâ€- immediately one gains the impression of his violent underlying tone that is implied by the use of the word â€œstirâ€, revealing to a contemporary audience that his destructive intentions are intrinsic.
According to Aristotle, there must be a clear distinction between the characterâ€™s prosperity and misfortune; Macbeth, as a tragic hero, does not condition himself to these rules religiously enough and it therefore, can be argued that his downfall is far too early on in the play for an audience to fully grasp his nobility. Whereas, Othelloâ€™s greatness is explored thoroughly for two whole Acts, allowing an audience of any time period, to understand that his noble qualities are innate.
A contemporary audience, for example, would understand the reason for Othelloâ€™s downfall much better than they would with that of Macbethâ€™s as the play enables him to develop as a character and thus, show his true intentions, which are in this case, to love and protect Desdemona. Alas, an alternative interpretation of Macbeth of a Shakespearean audience would be that he is an incessantly complacent man who, by all means, allows arrogance to corrupt his mind even in the first scene of the play.
The most famous of quotes where Macbeth visualises a dagger, represents his wavering resolve and lust for power that slowly descends into his madness. â€œIs this a dagger, which I see before meâ€¦â€Act 1 Scene 7, the use of a rhetorical question illustrates Macbethâ€™s hallucination of seeing an object that is clearly not there, which in comparison is a major downfall for someone who was deemed to be â€œvaliantâ€ at the start of the play.
Susan Snyder (1994) states that â€œthe play provides no answers to the questions it raises about the relative culpability of the witchesâ€™ equivocal predictions and Macbethâ€™s potential to commit murderâ€. Evidently, there is no real justification or distinction in Macbethâ€™s downfall other than his sick ambitious need for power. The third criterion that qualifies a tragic hero is Anagnorisis, where the protagonist acknowledges his/her own flaw that has led them to their downfall.
After all the accusations and trauma that Desdemona has been through, her last and most angelic words being, â€œCommend me to my kind lord- O, farewell! â€ This suggests that she is a saint for forgiving all that Othello has done to her and shows just how much she loved Othello; a contemporary audience would ultimately feel pity for her as she is not the one to blame. However, a different view of Desdemona and what she represents has emerged over recent years amongst modern audiences; feminist and new historic critics have
examined her character in relation to the society she moves in. Marilyn French (1982), explores the masculine and misogynistic value system within Othello, and despite Desdemonaâ€™s assertiveness in choosing her own husband, French emphasises that Desdemona â€œmust be obedient to malesâ€ and is â€œself-denying in the extremeâ€ thus when she dies she is a stereotype of female passivity. Once killing Desdemona, Othello begins to express his sincere remorse for his wrongdoing through the repetition of alliteration.
The use of alliteration in â€œCursed, cursedâ€ and â€œcold, coldâ€, Act 5 Scene 2, reveals how ashamed he is with himself for committing such a crime as he is emphasising it through the repetition of consonance sound â€œcâ€, and above all, goes closer to prove his tragic hero status. Through his two speeches, Othello is able to elaborate on the fact that he is wrapped with guilt; the rhyming couplet of: â€œI kissed thee ere I killed thee: no way by this, Killing myself, to die upon a kiss. â€ epitomises his Anagnoris as he realises his sheer love for Desdemona with what remains within him, a flare of eloquence.
In stark contrast, there is no real evidence of Macbethâ€™s Anagnoris, and in fact, he behaves rather arrogantly about the witchesâ€™ predictions because he believes that no real harm will happen to him. In Act 5 Scene 3, Macbeth expresses a very short speech in which no lamenting or mourning is apparent; â€œI have lived long enough; my way of life Is fallâ€™n into the searâ€ is but a mere acknowledgement of his circumstances rather than realisation of his tragic flaw. A Shakespearean audience would notice that perhaps Macbeth has not fully repented for his mistake and is therefore, in terms of Aristotle, not a true, classified tragic hero.
Macbeth is determined to continue fighting for his life whereas traditionally a tragic hero, such as Othello, should ultimately understand their downfall in exchange for their life. In Act 5 Scene 5, Macbeth does in fact have the verbal eloquence to express himself even in a state of supposed despair. The use of personification in â€œLifeâ€™s but a walking shadowâ€ reinforces the state of his ignorance to register his own wrong doing and therefore, both a modern and contemporary audience can advocate that they do not feel the same sympathy as they do for Othello.
Finally, the last criterion of a tragic hero is Catharsis; the point at which the tragic hero cleanses his heart and the audienceâ€™s too. Othello, despite all that he has been through, returns to the articulate and passionate man, and for that, an audience can feel as though the previous trauma of Desdemonaâ€™s death combined with his own wicked imagery is obliterated and washed from them. â€œAnd very sea-mark of my utmost sailâ€ is an example of how Othello is able to speak in iambic pentameter even in such a horrific mental state, reinforcing an audienceâ€™s perception of how truly noble and titled he is.
Most honourably, he is not afraid of killing himself in the name of love; he simply â€œkisses Desdemona, and diesâ€, making him appear as more of a tragic hero than Macbeth, who fights to live on. He leaves the audience feeling bereaved and pitiful because, despite his jealousy, he â€˜loved Desdemona too wellâ€™, a crime that was surely too harshly punished. Although, Macbethâ€™s death is rather less tragic and more heroic in the sense that he refused to kill himself by â€œfalling on my swordâ€; an audience would regard him as more honourable towards himself.
Before Malcolm kills him, he partly recognises his wrong doing in the little speech that he gives; â€œOf all men else I have avoided thee: But get thee back, my soul is too much chargâ€™d With blood of thine alreadyâ€. Irrespective of the fact that Macbeth didnâ€™t kill himself as he should have done, the imagery of â€œbloodâ€ reveals the extent of which Macbeth fights like a true soldier till the end. Unfortunately, as a modern audience, we cannot feel the same sympathy as we do for Othello as he neither recognises his flaw nor kills himself because of it; an imperative required for a true tragic hero.
Macbeth is a rapid play that does not allow the main protagonist to develop as a character and for that reasoning; Macbeth lacks many of the imperative qualities needed within a tragic hero such as Peripeteia and Anagnorisis. Without a single doubt, Othello is one of Shakespeareâ€™s greatest tragic heroes as fought for by Helen Gardner and Dr Johnson, regardless of Fintan Oâ€™Tooleâ€™s perception of Othello being â€œmerely patheticâ€. We can advocate otherwise that in fact Othello fulfils all four criterias of Aristotleâ€™s definition of a tragic hero.
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