The Tragedy of Othello Analysis
The tragedy of a play lies not within the fact that the characters consciously succumb to their downfalls, but rather the gap between what they want to achieve and what fate provides them. The radical paradox of William Shakespeare’s Othello lies in the fact that love, loyalty, and honesty, which are of preeminent importance in the human condition, can bring one’s grave misery rather than lead them to their success. The true injustice is rather than falling into misfortune through their vices and depravity, the characters allow their virtues to overpower them, ensuing chaos. Cassio's virtues of chivalry and pride, Desdemona’s loyalty and open-heartedness, and Othello’s trusting nature, at last, become their shortcomings, transforming them into their own worst adversaries.
As Othello’s lieutenant, Cassio’s courtship and pride prove him to be honourable, yet it is these qualities that make him vulnerable to serve as one of Iago’s pawns in his scheme of destroying the characters. His behaviour towards women unwittingly imperils himself, with his inborn allure leading him to conduct acts of gallantry and courtesy which are open to misinterpretation of flirtation. As he watches Cassio touch Desdemona’s hand, Iago schemes, “With as little a web as this will I ensnare as great a fly as Cassio. Ay, smile upon her, do, I will gyve thee in thine own courtship” (2.1.168-170). Cassio’s courtship enables Iago to bring his interaction with Desdemona to Roderigo and Othello's attention, leaving them persuaded of "the affair" between them and paving the way for his collapse. Again, he allows his virtues to dominate him, with his chivalry taking precedence over his determination to avoid drinking and rendering him vulnerable enough to take part in a brawl that dishonours him. When Othello walks in on the brawl, he questions Cassio as to how he could “unlace [his] reputation thus and spend [his] rich opinion for the name of a night-brawler” (2.3.157-159). Although having good manners is critical, they lead to him disregarding his status and in return getting stripped of his lieutenancy and reputation. Now being primarily concerned with his newly-tarnished reputation, Cassio's pride leads him to seek Iago’s advice regarding the best way to reconcile with Othello. Iago counsels him to seek Desdemona’s help, knowing that “[as] she for him pleads strongly to the Moor, [he’ll] pour this pestilence into his ear” (2.3.264-265). Cassio’s high-regard for his integrity through his desperation to win back his sense of honour gives Iago another opportunity to further his plans and tie his downfall in with Desdemona’s. In the end, his inability to balance his vices with his virtues gradually ruins his reputation and all sense of pride, leaving him in a state of pity.
Similarly to Cassio, Desdemona's innocence and kindness towards her friends renders her blind to the manipulations around her, paving her deathbed. Her charitable heart drives her to push for Cassio’s reinstatement without asking for anything in return or considering whether there are ulterior motives involved. Unfortunately, Iago is well aware of her naive character and is excited at the prospect of turning “her virtue into pitch and [having]... her goodness makes the net That shall enmesh them all” (2.3-269-271). Thus, the combination of Desdemona’s loyalty and innocence allows her to be unsuspecting of Iago's machinations and fall right into his scheme of convincing Othello of her infidelity. Her virtuous character continues to lead to her demise as her innocence prevents her from recognizing Othello's weird conduct towards her concerning what it truly is, clueless of the incitements that mix his envy. Although she is aware of his strange behaviour, her love blinds her so much to the point “that even his stubbornness, his checks, his frowns—prithee, unpin [her]—have grace and favour” (4.3.19-20). Her naivety becomes a part of her undoing, putting all her faith and trust into Othello and believing that everyone will recognize her integrity and purity and therefore setting herself in the possession of her forthcoming destiny. In the end, Desdemona is the only one to blame for her death, as her good nature and utter faith in those surrounding her leaves her blind to the harsh reality of the world that not everyone may have good intentions.
The final character to fall victim to evil Iago is virtuous Othello, whose trusting nature permits him to believe Iago’s untruths and let obsession and jealousy devour him, inevitably prompting his destruction. In the wake of terminating Cassio, Iago takes advantage of Othello’s trust in his honourable character, enlisting lies to convince him of his wife’s infidelity. He first plants his seed of jealousy in Othello’s mind by convincing him that Desdemona has already been dishonest before, stating that “she has [already] deceived her father by marrying [Othello]” (1.3.289). Due to his regard and honour of Iago as a former military man, Othello rapidly believes the lies ‘honest’ Iago enlightens him concerning his wife and suspects that Desdemona has been deceptive in other areas of her life. The acquisition of Othello’s trust allows Iago to be exposed to all of his weaknesses and manipulate him into losing both his wife and reputation. He tricks Cassio into speaking about Bianca, a woman he is having an affair with, and enrages Othello through Cassio’s degrading comment towards Desdemona, stating “she is persuaded I will marry her / Out of her love and flattery, not out of my promise” (4.1.116). Cassio’s crude delineation of Desdemona convinces Othello of Desdemona’s infidelity and his jealousy pushes him to the point of killing her, forcing Cassio to overtake his role as general. Finally, he faces the harsh reality that his overpowering love for Desdemona costs him his one bliss and sense of self. He describes himself as “one that loved not wisely, but too well...like the base Indian, threw a pearl away” (5.2.360-363). He has nothing left to live for, throwing away the most valuable of pearls; his wife, and relishes in self-disgust. Once regarded as the most honourable men in Venetian society, Othello’s virtues cost him all that he holds dear, and his remorse leaves him with no option but suicide.
Undoubtedly, William Shakespeare’s Othello showcases the unfortunate tale of how one’s moral character can achieve one defeat, with Cassio’s devotion to his social and moral code, Desdemona’s guiltlessness and inordinate benevolence, and Othello’s credulous mindset paving their grave fates. Despite its time, the play beautifully captures the universal quandary of the human condition; both greatness and humility come from within and make every being vulnerable to destruction. In an unfathomably complex world built upon and supported by lies, it is trivial to have self-confidence and build a sense of self-esteem. Appearances are beguiling, and befriending the wrong individuals can change one’s perception of the entire world.