Tragic Characters in Othello

An analysis of Shakespeare’s tragedy, Othello.

This paper analyzes the Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice and discusses how Shakespeare does not approach racial stereotypes strictly in terms of the race discourse of the English Renaissance. The paper examines how against the backdrop of stock comic types, Shakespeare’s tragic characters emerge as complex yet painfully vulnerable to manipulation and stereotyping. The paper also discusses how to an extent, Othello acts as an Everyman, Desdemona his angel and Iago as the charismatic villain known as the Vice.
“The great Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice was first performed at the beginning of the reign of James I, who became the patron of Shakespeare’s acting company now called the King’s Men. For Othello Shakespeare adapted a single and unpleasant tales from Giraldi Cinthio’s Hecatommithi (1565) in which a nameless Moor duped into believing that his Venetian wife has committed adultery, murders her in a fit of jealous rage (DiYanni, Robert, Literature, 1999). Shakespeare’s play questions the social stereotype of the passionate Moor that Cinthio’s story confirms. Shakespeare moreover tests and explores the very notion of identity: how do individual’s histories and imaginations affect who they are? How does Othello’s eventful life – as soldier, former slave, black man, Christian convert, instrument of war, object of imaginative wonder and perpetual outsider in his adopted home of Venice – influence who he is? And how do his stories about his exotic past transform the ways in which his audiences perceive him and conceive of their own lives?”