William Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello puts on exhibit an obvious hero and other not-so-obvious heroes. Let us examine them all in this essay.
The supreme type of hero in this play did not occur overnight to the playwright. Rather he slowly built upon one hero after another in his plays until his work culminated in the Moor. A. C. Bradley, in his book of literary criticism, Shakespearean Tragedy, describes the development of the Shakespearean super-hero in Othello:
And with this change goes another, an enlargement in the stature of the hero. There is in most of the later heroes something colossal, something which reminds us of Michelangelo’s figures. They are not merely exceptional men, they are huge men; as it were, survivors of the heroic age living in a later and smaller world. [. . .] Othello is the first of these men, a being essentially large and grand, towering above his fellows, holding a volume of force which in repose ensures pre-eminence without an effort, and in commotion reminds us rather of the fury of the elements than of the tumult of common human passion. (168)
The character’s attitude toward life is certainly a criterion for heroism. Is he heroic in what he does? H. S. Wilson in his book of literary criticism, On the Design of Shakespearean Tragedy, discusses the general’s heroic attitude in the final scene of the play:
In the final scene of Othello, the hero, with that utter lack of self-consciousness of self-criticism which is the height of human vanity, strikes a heroic attitude, makes an eloquent plea for himself, at the height of his eloquence stabs himself – and the innocent spectator feels a lump in his throat or dissolves in te...
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... of the play is a pleasant surprise.
Despondent Othello, grief-stricken by remorse for the tragic mistake he has made, acts heroically, following the example of Emilia. He stabs himself and dies on the bed next to the one he has wronged.
Bradley, A. C.. Shakespearean Tragedy. New York: Penguin, 1991.
Gardner, Helen. “Othello: A Tragedy of Beauty and Fortune.” Readings on The Tragedies. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996. Reprint from “The Noble Moor.” British Academy Lectures, no. 9, 1955.
Shakespeare, William. Othello. In The Electric Shakespeare. Princeton University. 1996. http://www.eiu.edu/~multilit/studyabroad/othello/othello_all.html No line nos.
Wilson, H. S. On the Design of Shakespearean Tragedy. Canada: University of Toronto Press, 1957.
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