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Othello’s Heroism

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Othello’s Heroism

Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello treats the audience to considerable heroism, not only from the hero and heroine but also from unexpected characters.

Kenneth Muir, in the Introduction to William Shakespeare: Othello, explains how the consensus of the characters in the drama testify to the heroism of the general:

The testimony of all the main characters in the play is decisive. Brabantio loved him; Lodovico speaks of him as ‘the noble Moor’ ‘once so good’; Cassio, who has good cause to hate him, addresses him as ‘Dear General’ and speaks his epitaph: ‘he was great of heart’. The Duke declares that he is more fair than black. Montano is delighted to hear of Othello’s appointment as Governor. But the most significant testimony to Othello’s character comes from the one man who hates him. Iago confesses that the state ‘Cannot with safety cast him’ because ‘Another of his fathom they have none’. (29)

A character’s attitude toward the most fearful foe – death itself – is unquestionably a criterion for judging a heroic type from a non-heroic type. Helen Gardner in “Othello: A Tragedy of Beauty and Fortune” considers Iago’s wife Emilia to be a true hero of the play because of her fearless outlook on death itself:

Emilia’s silence while her mistress lived is fully explicable in terms of her character. She shares with her husband the generalizing trick and is well used to domestic scenes. The jealous, she knows,

are not ever jealous for the cause

But jealous for they are jealous.

If it was not the handkerchief it would be something else. Why disobey her husband and risk his fury? It would not do any good. This is what men are like. But Desdemona dead sweeps away all such generalities and all caution. At this sight, Emilia though ‘the world is a huge thing’ finds that there is a thing she will not do for it. By her heroic disregard for death she gives the only ‘proof’ there can be of Desdemona’s innocence: the testimony of faith. (145)

At the outset of the play Iago persuades the rejected suitor of Desdemona, Roderigo, to accompany him to the home of Brabantio, Desdemona’s father, in the middle of the night. Once there the two awaken the senator with loud shouts about his daughter’s elopement with Othello.
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