Aristotle’s criteria for a tragic hero is that the character: Comes from nobility, has a tragic flaw (caused by a simple mistake or a character flaw) which may be pride/hubris, undergoes a reversal of fortune (falls from high to low), has a downfall and recognizes his mistakes (in a catharsis or purgation of pity and fear). In Shakespeare’s play Othello it would seem that Othello fulfills this criteria except for his self-proclaimed tragic character, his tendency to be melodramatic and by over exaggerating his problems.
On the one hand it could be argued that Othello is a tragic character. Firstly, he is clearly shown to be corrupted by the scheming Iago who aims to take advantage of Desdemona’s (Othello’s wife) naivety and sentimentality to cause a rift between her and Othello. This can clearly be seen through the line, “So will I turn her virtue into pitch” as it shows that Iago plans to use Desdemona’s good nature against her, whilst at the same time “[He]’ll pour this pestilence into [Othello’s] ear” and in doing so, will make Othello believe that Desdemona and Cassio are having an affair when in truth nothing is going on. With his plans in place Iago spends much of Acts II and III corrupting Othello’s mind to the extent that by the end of the third act Othello is driven to losing it with the lines, “I’ll tear her all to pieces” and “O that the slave had forty thousand lives! One is too poor, too weak for my revenge. Now do I see ‘tis true. Look here Iago, all my fond love thus do I blow to heaven: ‘Tis gone!” It can be seen, therefore, that Iago has finally achieved his aim of framing Cassio and Desdemona together in Othello’s mind as instead of love for Desdemona, Othello’s thoughts have turned to nothing but savagery and hate. In this way it can be shown that Othello is a tragic hero as he is corrupted against his knowledge as his overwhelming trust in Iago (his character flaw – He says to Emilia, proceeding his murder of Desdemona, “An honest man he is” showing his trust has still not wearied) leads him to his downfall.
Further reasons to show that Othello is a tragic hero are that he falls from high to low status and suffers a breakdown of eloquence. These can both clearly be seen in the play as towards the start Othello is well respected and is very eloquent. These elements of his character can most clearly be seen in his response to Brabantio’s anger towards his betrothal to Desdemona. Instead of responding to Brabantio’s raised sword with violence Othello instead eloquently replies, “Good signior, you shall more command with years than with your weapons.” Also, in response to Iago telling him to be careful around Brabantio (as he has influence in the law) Othello merely replies, “My services, which I have done the signiory, shall out-tongue his complaints.” Through these words Othello has shown that he has done the state many years of service (He now holds the position of general in the Venetian army) and that he has confidence that this will allow him to prove his worth and loyalty to Brabantio. In this way, Shakespeare shows Othello to be of high status at the start of the play. At the end, however, both Othello’s status/rank and his articulation fall/break down dramatically. Leading up to his murder of Desdemona Othello’s eloquence breaks down. This can be seen when he is alone with Desdemona onstage and his stories from the beginning of the play return but in a much simpler form. This is noticed by Desdemona who says in response, “Why do you speak so startlingly and rash?” Also, Othello’s fall from high status to low status is confirmed following his murder of Desdemona. Lodovico says to him, “Your power and your command is taken off and Cassio rules in Cyprus.” Therefore it can further be shown that Othello is a tragic hero as suffers a fall from high to low status tying in with his breakdown of