Othello – A tragic Hero
Othello is one of the four famous tragedies by William Shakespeare written in 1603. The play has been considered Shakespeare’s most tightly constructed tragedy. In this play Shakespeare has made proficient use of different literary devices that well complemented the tragic theme of the play and supported the construction of the central character Othello as a tragic hero. He used literary devices including dramatic, situational and verbal irony, metaphor, climax and symbolism in the play. The blended use of these literary devices well contributes towards adding the essence of tragedy in the play as well as in its main character Othello.
Shakespeare has largely used the literary devise of irony in the play. The use of irony has played an important role in the play because it has added the essence of suspense in the play and also added tragedy to the Othello role by keeping him unaware of some important facts about her wife and Lago. There are three types of irony used in different scenes and situations of the play including dramatic, situational and verbal irony. There are many dialogues and situation affirming the use of irony in the play. For instance, the comments of Othello about Lago depicts the verbal irony because he speaks opposite to what he actually was like “O, thou art wise! Tis certain”(IV.I.87), “Honest Iago . . . “(V.II.88), “I know, Iago, Thy honesty and love doth mince this matter”(II.III.251-52).
These words talks about the opposite things about lago and depict the use of verbal irony in the play. Lago also tells many leis to Othello like My Lord, you know I love you (III.III.136) whereas in real he didn’t love Othello and was intended to make his life miserable. Shakespeare created situation irony at many scenes. For instance, Lago wanted to see Cassio dead but in the end of the play he was the only one to remain alive and all the other people were dead. Othello and Lago treated their wives horribly and killed them because of the misunderstanding that their wives were cheating them. However, in real the wives were not cheating but Othello remained unaware of the fact till the end of the play.
The most important example of dramatic irony is the play is the fact that Desdemona was innocent and the audience knew this fact but the characters of the play were unaware of this. The audience also know that that Lago is crooked and deceitful person but Othello didn’t came to know the truth about him and he continued to lie and scheming with him. Shakespeare also coined the metaphor of jealousy through a green eyed monster about which Lago warned Othello. O, beware, my lord, of jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on”(III.III.192). These lines not only tell about the metaphor but also about the verbal irony and show the tragic side of Othello character that he was warned by a person about jealousy who himself was jealous of him but Othello didn’t knew about it.
The play also used the literary device of climax. In the play the climax occurs at several places. Othello was convinced in the third scene of the first act that Desdemona was unfaithful. Othello becomes jealous and loses the self-control. His mind and judgement senses were also occupied with the jealousy thinking and he starts making wrong decisions about Desdemona. He overreacts and expresses his anger without sensibly analysing the trust behind the situation. Damn her, lewd minx! O, damn her, damn her! Come go with me part. I will withdraw To furnish me with some swift means of death. For the fair devil. Now are the my lieutenant (III.III. 475).
Later climax occurs again when he killed Desdemona and realized his mistake. He also killed his wife and in the end he has nothing but the feelings of regret and compunction. It is too late. `O Lord, O Lord, Lord! he smothers her”(III.IV.168). He then committed suicide due to his imprudent acts that he took after falling in the trap of lago. These scenes and dialogues reflect the essence of climax used in the play that added interest and attractiveness to the play and make the audience get involved with the play. At the same time, the climax also affirms the tragic end of the play and the main character who has nothing with him in the end but regret and reluctance.
There are several objects used in the play as a symbol like handkerchief and the willow song. The handkerchief was used to symbolize different things to different characters of the play. For Desdemona, the handkerchief was symbol of love of Othello whereas Othello viewed it as symbol of faith and chastity of Desdemona. Lago manipulated the handkerchief and convinced her wife to steal it and then Othello thought that his wife was unfaithful and infidel because he viewed the handkerchief as symbol of holiness and virginity. Trifles light as air Are to the jealous confirmations strong As proofs of holy writ (III.III.15).The song willow sung by Desdemona while preparing for bed also symbolizes the worried of a women betrayed by her lover that appears to be crazy person. The song symbolizes the unfaithfulness of men and women for each other and also tells about the women deserted by their lovers.
A poor soul sat sighing by a sycamore tree,
Sing all the green willow,
Her hand on her bosom, her head on her knee,
Sing willow, willow, willow (IV. III. 3)
The above examples clearly indicate that Shakespeare has used several literary devices in the play Othello. The use of these devices has effectively worked towards making the play a great tragedy. The use of literary devices like irony, climax and metaphor has also contributed towards making Othello a great tragic hero because due to irony he remained unaware of certain important facts and at the climax of the play he reached a tragic end having regret and distress due to his own wrong decisions, flawed thinking and misunderstanding.
The Pelican Shakespeare – Othello, Edited by Russ McDonald, Penguin Paperbacks, 2003