In William Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello the audience finds heroism exhibited not only by the hero, the Moor, but also by other characters in the drama.
A. C. Bradley, in his book of literary criticism, Shakespearean Tragedy, defines a woman character, Desdemona, as a hero in the play from the very outset:
There is perhaps a certain excuse for our failure to rise to Shakespeare’s meaning, and to realize how extraordinary and splendid a thing it was in a gentle Venetian girl to love Othello, and to assail fortune with such a ‘downright violence and storm’ as is expected only in a hero. It is that when first we hear of her marriage we have not yet seen the Desdemona of the later Acts; and therefore we do not perceive how astonishing this love and boldness must have been in a maiden so quiet and submissive. (191)
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 ...
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...y 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)
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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