Othello Is a Tragedy of Fortune
In William Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello we find a tragedy of fortune, in which the Moor falls from a great height into dishonor and disgrace. Let us dwell upon this theme in this essay.
H. S. Wilson in his book of literary criticism, On the Design of Shakespearean Tragedy, discusses the misfortunes in the play and the hero’s attitude:
But if a man is betrayed into destroying what he loves most, if he ruins himself through his own folly without understanding what he is doing or being able to help himself, and then is forced to look at just what he has done and acknowledge his fault, his misfortune is harder than most. There ...view middle of the document...
A song moreover, bringing to her consciousness the sheltered world in which she grew up, now balanced beside the world she chose. (132)
A tragedy of fortune involves the fall of a hero from a great height. From what height does the general fall? The answer is: From the height of personal nobility. Lily B. Campbell in Shakespeare’s Tragic Heroes describes the unquestioned nobility of the Moor:
From the first we hear the fact insistently repeated that he is a Moor, that he has thick lips, that Desdemona has chosen to go to his sooty bosom. Yet we are told that he is of noble birth, that war and adventure have bee his nurses, that he may be considered a barbarian and yet that the Venetian state has found him so valuable in action that he cannot be expelled, no matter what offence may be found in him. His vaunting has won him his wife; his actions have won him the confidence of the state. His noble nature is not questioned even by Iago. (152)
Some critical opinion allies itself with the categorization of the play as a tragedy of fortune. Helen Gardner in “Othello: A Tragedy of Beauty and Fortune” mentions how Othello satisfies the definition of a tragedy of fortune:
The ground plan of the tragedy of Othello is that of a tragedy of fortune, the fall of a great man from a visible height of happiness to utter loss. [. . .] It takes man out of the realm of natural causality, the steady course which birth holds on to death, showing him as the victim of the illogical, what can neither be avoided nor foreseen. To achieve its effect it glorifies human life, displaying the capacity of the human heart for joy and leaving on the mind an ineffaceable impression of splendour, thus contradicting the only moral which can be drawn from it: Vanitas vanitatum. (146)
From the text of the play a number of clues can be gleaned which round out the description of the general and impress upon the audience the true greatness of this individual who has led a rough life and yet advanced to the top. In William Shakespeare: The Tragedies, Paul A. Jorgensen describes the general in Othello:
Though scarcely the “barbarian” (1.3.353) he is called, the Moor is emphatically black, probably rough, even fearsome, in appearance, and a foreign mercenary from Mauritania in refined Venice. Though of royal blood, since the age of seven he had a restrictive, painful life, being sold into slavery and spending most of his life in “the tented field” (1.3.85).
His “occupation” (3.3.357), to a degree found in no other Shakespearean hero, is war. He can therefore speak of the great world little “more than pertains to feats of broil and battle” (1.3.87). But that he loves the gentle Desdemona, he would to have given up a life of unsettled war and his “unhoused free condition / … For the sea’s worth” (1.2.26-27). (58)
The audience sees the Moor in Scene 2 courageously face down the armed mob of Brabantio who come with drawn...