The Transformation Of Othello Essay
TRANSFORMATION OF OTHELLO
In Shakespeare's play Othello the transformation of the main character Othello "the moor", both in terms of attitudes towards life and the state of mind he is in, is the main axis by which various types of other contrasts are worked up. In this play readers are ended up with a final where a respectful and strong general turned in to a weak person that is manipulated by the vicious plans of Iago, the "evil" character of the story. Different mappings of the symbolism throughout characters and their actions and the geographical or cultural features can be made by different persons.
Othello is, from the beginnings of the play, depicted as the figure who carries in his character and personal history the elements from the two different cultures. He is from Moorish origin who in the time of the play, the 17th century has been considered as a culture of barbarism by Europeans and thus by the Venetians. However his heroic successes on the battle field made his way to the highest ranks of the Venetian army as a general. Not only in terms of occupational success but he also won the heart of Desdemona, the daughter of Brabantio who is a high social status statesman, and they got married. Othello is a symbol of the possibility of success for a person from a different culture and especially from a culture which has been regarded as inferior both on the basis of scientific understandings of the time and the from the point of view of public. So in this respect I think he is symbolizing rationalism against the ignorant prejudices of European culture, a culture being the cradle of "Enlightenment". Iago's vicious plans and poisonous manipulations of Othello's feelings about his relationship with Desdemona carries the series of events to his murder of Desdemona. Although he has got a reasonable cause to do that it is surprising how easily he transformed from a...
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Othello's Character Development
A study of Othello's character developement from a respectable general into a jealous murderer based on four major extracts.
[u][b]Othello's Transformation of Character[/b][/u]
The character of Othello transforms during the course of the play from a respected and revered general to a fallen cynical and ?lascivious? shell of a man, due to the unfortunate sequence of events that transpire through both coincidence and Iago?s evil designs. The play is a tragedy, and as such it shows the protagonist?s fall from grace through a fatal flaw, and causes an unnatural transformation in his character. Here, I will explore Othello?s personality at its two extremities, at the start and end of the play. I will look at the transition that occurs through the four extracts that bring about this drastic change in his character.
What is most striking about Othello in the first act is his natural charisma and his skill in communicating with the Venetian elite. His speech is long and flowing, using complex sentences and courteous language to convey intelligence and sophistication. Although he may say, ??Rude am I in my speech,? it is false modesty. He uses flattering epithets when addressing certain figures within the court, such as:
?Most potent, grave, and reverend signors.?
This shows that, although his primary business as general is battle, he knows a lot about the way Venetian society works, and uses his knowledge to gain the favour of his peers, which is also shown by his discussions with the Duke. There is a lot of commas and semicolons in his speech to the Senate, which suggests that he is talking slowly, calmly, and carefully.
Othello also shows wisdom in his clear perception of people?s characters in the first act (a talent which will later fail him concerning ?Honest Iago?). He gives Brabantio a piece of good advice in the following quote:
?Good signor, you shall more command with years
Than with your weapons.?
This suggests his wisdom and experience, a worldliness the audience might expect from the travels his military position would have taken him on. Even in this stressful situation, with swords drawn at him and facing arrest, Othello keeps his composure and control of the situation. He embarrasses Brabantio in front of his men, disarming him of his authority and confidence, which ultimately relieves the tension of the scene considerably. He demonstrates his self-assurance which probably gained him respect and admiration from his men and the people of Venice.
Othello?s confidence is shown in other examples. In the second extract, his speech to the signors of the Duke?s court shows the clear and calculated execution of his speech. It flows almost poetically, and he makes sure his point is well understood by the men.
?That I have ta?en away this old man?s daughter,
It is most true; true I have married her;
The very head and front of my offending
Hath this extent, no more??
Othello admits to the whole truth in this quote. The audience learns earlier that his confidence lays in his importance to the State. He knows that he is needed, especially considering the present hostility from the Turks, as he is an excellent general. This could be perceived as mere self-assurance, or arrogance. According to Aristotle, the tragic hero must be neither completely good nor completely evil. Perhaps this actually is arrogance, which shows a flaw in his character; a character which, at this stage in the play, seems too good to be true. Also, the quote shows honesty, but that doesn?t necessarily mean Othello is an honest character. He could have been truthful in this instance because he was so sure that he would be acquitted. Also, his advice to the Brabantio could also be perceived as arrogance.
There is a void in between extracts two and three, where Othello?s character has undergone the dramatic transformation. There are lots of contrasts which show how Othello?s character has mutated: the tone becomes darker, the language is more metaphorical, and the punctuation is used to stagger the speech, all representing Othello beginning to lose control.
Contradicting his earlier statements, Othello later shows a naivety in Act Three when judging the character of Iago. He often calls him ?Honest Iago.? I believe that he sees through Brabantio?s character so well because he is not a Venetian himself, and so can look at their society detachedly. When it comes to Iago, they share a certain feral quality (shown in Iago?s scheming and Othello?s vengefulness), so perhaps Othello cannot judge him in the same manner. He also misjudges Cassio and his wife, Desdemona as a result of Iago?s schemes.
?O, that the slave had forty thousand lives.
One is too poor, too weak for my revenge.?
Here, Othello shows how easily he has been taken in by Iago?s deceptions. The ?slave? could refer to either Cassio or Desdemona. This quote also shows how he has become consumed by revenge. He believes that one lifetime of punishment for his traitors is not enough to sate his revenge. This does not agree with an earlier portrayal of Othello, who would have risen above such crudeness, such as in dealing with Brabantio. It shows a drastic change in his disposition caused by the exposing of his Achilles? heel. Also, it seems that Iago has made a lasting impression on Othello. Not only does Othello listen to and believe everything he says, he is also contemplating revenge much as Iago did at the start of the play.
Another contradiction is his composure shown in Act One, suddenly lost in Act Three. He says ?O, blood, blood, blood!? which shows his pure frustration being vented. His desperation is shown by the repetition, which also serves to bring the point home for the audience. By this point, he has lost control of the situation, contrasting with Act One, where he was always on top.
In earlier scenes, Othello takes great care in his speech. However, by now all pretences are thrown out the window. His sentences are short and confused, his speech erratic, and he does not take as long as before to explain his points. Previously, such as when talking to the gentlemen, he made sure there was reason behind his carefully-spoken words. Now he places blame and damnation on many people without justification.
?All my fond love thus do I blow to heaven.?
Here, the audience can see how he has condemned himself unnecessarily. In his current temperament, he is too blind to consider the other options. In the third and fourth extracts, he unwittingly sentences many of the people close to him to death.
?Yield up, o love, thy crown and hearted throne
To tyrannous hate. Swell, bosom, with thy fraught,
For ?tis of aspics? tongues.?
This quote portrays Othello?s bleak outlook on his situation. It reveals how he has made his love for Desdemona the most important thing in his life, and thus made it another fatal flaw with which Iago can bring him down. Whereas before, when it was beneficial that his love for Desdemona was his main priority in life, he now finds it a detriment, a trap that has brought him down (which is true, but not in the way he sees it). He also claims metaphorically that his chest is full of the tongues of asps, showing how his heart is poisoned by Desdemona?s betrayal. The swelling seems to represent to the audience the growing paranoia in his heart of Desdemona and her relationship with Cassio, and the descent of Othello?s character before his breaking point.
Emphasizing the drastic change in Othello is his sudden change in morals and his standing on many issues. One of these is witchcraft; another is his view on justice. In Venice, before the Duke, he expected a fair and just trial. He expected the infuriated Brabantio to give him a chance to explain his side of the story.
?The very head and front of my offending
Hath this extent, no more??
This is what he claims to the Senate: that he loves Desdemona, but was involved in no witchcraft. However, when Iago plants the seeds of Desdemona?s betrayal in Othello?s mind, he takes it in immediately. He sentences the woman he loves to death without question. He is enraged much as Brabantio was, but he has no-one to calm him. It is ironic that he so easily believed Iago?s rumours and took direct action based on them, when if he had done some inquiring first, he could have averted the whole tragedy. As shown here in the third extract, he dismisses his love and accepts that it has gone instantly without any qualms. It shows a transformation that has occurred in his mental health. The changing of scruples shows how his character has been warped by the influence of Iago, who has become his main confidant.
?Now I do see ?tis true. Look here, Iago,
All my fond love thus do I blow to heaven.
Through examining Othello?s character, I have come to the conclusion that his politeness and humility in front of the gentlemen of Venice was a fa?ade, which fell away when his situation became so desperate he could not hold it up. He tells of his dangerous adventures serving the Venetian Republic, which suggests that he has been exposed to the cruel, untamed side of the world. He tells of his experiences with cannibals and men with heads beneath their shoulders. These encounters must have had some lasting effect on him. He says to the Venetian gentlemen:
??little of this great world can I speak
More than pertains to feats of broil and battle.?
I believe that beneath Othello?s exterior lies a true character that is savage and wild, created through his experiences with the world. In The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare shows discrimination of another minority figure in Venice, this time the Jew, Shylock. However, for Othello, he chooses his protagonist to be a Moor. I don?t think either character is of his race out of coincidence. In Shakespeare?s time, Africa was seen as a wild land, and Othello represents a beast from there, that has had its true nature suppressed by the civilized Venice. With enough provocation, the fa?ade presented in Venice falls away, and the true Othello is shown, crude and uncivilized:
?Damn her, lewd minx! O, damn her, damn her!?
Here his background and experiences of savagery have shown their effect. He has dispensed of his polite language and dignity in the transformation, stripped of his outer civilized character, leaving just the animalistic core, venting his raw emotions offensive and unsophisticated language.
According to Aristotle, a tragedy should take place in one location at one given time. During the period when Shakespeare wrote Othello, Europe was undergoing a classical revival, and Elizabethan and Jacobean literature were greatly influenced by classic values like those of Aristotle and Euripides. In Othello, Shakespeare uses two entirely different locations, which I think he did purposely, to create a tragedy that doesn?t necessarily adhere to the Aristotle rules that were popular at the time. The play is set when civilized Christian Venice were leaders in the war against uncivilized barbarians such as the Turks. I think the drastic change of location from sophisticated Venice to war-torn Cyprus represents the equally-drastic transformation in Othello?s character. His courteous character seen in Venice has left, and instead a vicious and vengeful person has taken its place in Cyprus.
?Arise, black vengeance, from the hollow hell.?
He uses dramatic language as he begins to break down. His vocabulary and speech patterns seem to change gradually in the Cyprus setting. His language in Venice was rich and polite, and it did not contain the same cynical and metaphorical quality seen in extracts three and four.
Also supporting this seems to be relevance of witchcraft as a theme. In the distant location of Cyprus the possibility of witchcraft seems much more convincing, as the characters are cut off from the civilization they are used to, and more likely to have irrational thoughts. This point is illustrated in Othello?s position on the matter, and of his views that are distorted by his transformation. When Brabantio accuses Othello of using witchcraft to court Desdemona, he dismisses the idea straight away, as do the Venetian elite. Brabantio is enraged for his daughter?s betrayal, so witchcraft seems very believable to him. However, in Cyprus, Othello himself becomes accustomed to the idea when he thinks Desdemona is betraying him.
??I will withdraw
To furnish me with some swift means of death
For the fair devil.?
He describes Desdemona here as the ?fair devil,? suggesting that she is involved in some kind of witchcraft, and he announces his intent to kill her. This shows a major change in Othello?s character, as he is losing grip, and more capable of irrational thoughts which lead him to evil decisions.
I have tried to break some of the stereotypical images of Othello that were in my mind before starting the play: such as Othello as a good, heroic character; that he was a genuine civilized Venetian; that he was honest and assured, and rightly-confident in his decisions. I have tried to view him critically, neither as a good nor a bad character, but merely as Shakespeare?s tool for exploring his themes in a life-like form.
Othello is a polite character when conversing with the elite of Venice. He often shows wisdom and composure, but I am inclined to think these qualities have been acquired by him through living with the Venetians, and the savage nature seen in the third and fourth extracts is his Moorish nature coming to the fore. I think Othello shows arrogance in the first and second extracts, which could be another fatal flaw he develops which brings about his downfall. When his arrogance and blind self-sureness is removed by fears of Desdemona?s adultery, he descends into the rage that causes his downfall.
I have come to see Othello as quite na?ve by the third and fourth extracts. Although he is a good judge of character concerning the Venetians, this talent fails him when it comes to characters of his own kind, like Iago. He develops a desire for revenge, which would not be anticipated by the reader judging his character in the earlier scenes. He loses control of situations, shown by his erratic and emotional speech, and he becomes very condemning, which is a major change, as in the first two extracts he seems fair and just.
Othello changes his stance on witchcraft, and he is shown to become untrusting and unjust towards Desdemona. The transition in his character matches the change in locations. Orderly Venice is changed for tempestuous Cyprus, and Othello?s mind changes from assured and confident to confused and cynical. I have come to see similarities between him and Iago which develop during the play. They both pursue an act of revenge, and both become consumed by hate. I think that, due to the views of Shakespeare?s time, the character?s background as a Moor is significant in his transition.
Through the course of writing this essay my picture of Othello has changed dramatically, as I have realized that he is not as simple as he first seems. He is not necessarily good, honest, and well-groomed as shown in the first two extracts (but neither is he evil, emphasized to the audience by the true love he shares with Desdemona). I believe his transformation may not be a drastic change in his personality, but a return to his basic animal nature that is brought out to an extreme by Iago?s exploitations of his ?fatal flaws.?
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