Five Questions on Othello

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Othello has a variety of strengths in his dual roles as a man and as a leader of men. Those traits for which he is most recognized in Venice are those that make him an excellent military commander. Othello’s generalship is greatly respected due to his expensive experience fighting against the Turks. He has been a career warrior for decades, accumulating many tales that he then conveys to Desemona, regaling her with “the battles, sieges, fortunes, / That I have passed.” (1.3.132-133) It is also certain that his military career has been one of significant success, as he seems sure that “[m]y services which I have done the signiory / Shall out-tongue [Brabantio’s] complaints,” even against such a serious charge as stealing away a valuable virgin from a Senator’s household (1.2.18-19). These “services” are what endear Othello so greatly to the Venetian Senate, but the means by which his victories were achieved are his personal virtues of leadership. One of these is Othello’s great self-control. He is always slow to anger, and does not take rash action when leading his men. In the audience’s first view of Othello as a leader, during his confrontation with Brabantio, Othello is not provoked by the angry father’s insults, instead calmly inquiring “[w]hither will you that I go / To answer this your charge?” (1.2.85-86) Brabantio has outright impugned Othello’s honor, accusing him of sorcery, and yet he stays his sword and those of his men. He respects the Venetian rule of law and due process and volunteers to go to a trial, demonstrating his control of his emotions and setting an example for his men.

Othello has a separate and distinct set of strengths as a man. He does not flaunt his achievements as a leader, being “unawed by dignitari...

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...]e is much changed” (4.1.268). Still groping for a logical explanation of this barbarism, Lodovico asks, “[a]re his wits safe? is he not light of brain?” (4.1.269). Once again Iago answers cryptically with the elucidating remark, “[h]e's that he is” (4.1.270). With no enlightenment forthcoming, Lodovico can only think that what he has heard of Othello had been greatly exaggerated. Apparently this Moor is not so great a man after all, and all that Lodovico has left to say is that “I am sorry that I am deceived in him” (4.1.282).

Works Cited
Bradley, A. C. Shakespearean Tragedy: Lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth. 2nd ed. London: Macmillan, 1905.

Shakespeare, William. “Othello, the Moor of Venice.” Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. Ed. Dana Gioia and X.J. Kennedy. 5th Compact ed. New York: Longman, 2007. 930-1038.
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