Free Essay: Comparing Heroism in Tess of the D'Urbervilles and Othello

Free Essay: Comparing Heroism in Tess of the D'Urbervilles and Othello

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Tragic Heroism in Tess of the D'Urbervilles and Othello      


In tragedy the reader often sympathizes and empathizes with the protagonist who attains "wisdom through suffering." Tess Durbeyfield, in Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles and Othello, in William Shakespeare's Othello are protagonists who elicit the sympathy of the reader as they suffer, act, and triumph over their antagonists, who are embodied by the characters of Alec D'Urberville, Tess' wealthy defiler, and Iago, Othello's amoral lieutenant. In both works the protagonists succumb to the pernicious influences of revenge, which are instigated by their antagonists and result in the deaths of the protagonists. Such tragedy in the protagonists' stories allows the reader to experience catharsis and realize the tragic heroism of Tess Durbeyfield and Othello.


Tess Durbeyfield, an innocent dairymaid with "innocent instinct towards self-delight," displays her character in her persistent devotion toward Angel Clare, her husband. Her suffering is evident in her defilement by Alec D'Urberville, a wealthy aristocrat, and in her separation from her husband. In the "First Phase" Tess is physically taken advantage of by D'Urberville who recognizes her innocence and vulnerability. Later, in "Phase the Third," she then falls deeply in love with Angel Clare, an affluent agriculturist. Tess soon alienates Angel by revealing her earlier encounter with D'Urberville.


Othello is an outsider and soldier who "loved not wisely but too well." His noble character is evident in his overwhelming fidelity towards his wife, Desdemona: "My life upon her faith," and the reader is quickly cognizant of the strong relationship between Othello and his wife. However, he is manipulated by Iago, his amoral lieutenant, and Othello's reality about his wife becomes twisted by Iago, who cleverly uses rhetoric to persuade him that his wife is disloyal. Iago informs the reader of Othello's transformation: "This may do something. The Moor already changes with my poison." Eventually, Othello is driven to murder his wife as a result of Iago's deception: "Get me some poison, Iago, this night. I'll not expostulate with her, lest her body and beauty unprovide my mind again. This night, Iago!"


At the conclusion of each work the protagonist reaches a realization of her/his actions and accepts the responsibility for the consequences. In the novel, Tess realizes how D'Urberville abuses her and the importance of Angel Clare, her husband, and therefore murders D'Urberville and begs Clare to accept her into his life again: "I could not bear the loss of you any longer- you don't know how entirely I was unable to bear your not loving me!" Tess accepts the consequences for her actions and accepts her execution: "it was as is should be.

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Angel, I am almost glad- yes glad." In the play, Othello experiences a consciousness in Act V, scene ii: "Are there no stones in heaven / But what serves for the thunder? Precious villain!" He then accepts the consequences for his actions and commits suicide: "I kissed thee ere I killed thee. No way but this, killing myself, to die upon a kiss."


Tess Durbeyfield, in Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles, and Othello, in William Shakespeare's Othello, are tragic heroes because they suffer, face great losses, and triumph in their attainment of wisdom. As they languish, act, and defeat their antagonists, they elicit the sympathy of the reader. The protagonists' acceptance of their actions (death) allow them to symbolically triumph. Their stories and consequential tragedies allow the reader to experience catharsis, as they identify with their suffering.
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