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Character Analysis Othello - character traits of othello


Character Analysis Othello -character traits of othello

Character Analysis Othello
Othello is a combination of greatness and weakness, in his own words "an honorable
murderer" (V.2, 295). He is a general in the Venetian defense forces, and, although a
foreigner from Africa, he has won this post by excellence in the field of war. He has
courage, intelligence, the skill of command, and the respect of his troops. Under
pressure, he makes an inspiring speech. When the colony of Cyprus is threatened by
the enemy, the Duke and Senate turn to "valiant" Othello to lead the defense.
After many years on campaign, Othello has come to live in Venice, among the
sophisticated people of the city. Senator Brabantio has invited him to his home, and this
is a revelation to the soldier. He is dazzled by the comfortable life, the learned
conversation, the civilization. He appoints a student of military knowledge, Cassio, to be
his lieutenant. Suddenly he sees possibilities for himself to which he had never before
aspired.
Othello is an outsider who is intelligent and confident in military matters but socially
insecure. He leads an intense life, swinging between triumph and dread. He is different
from those around him, due to his origins and his life history, but he shares their
religion, values, and patriotism to Venice. More importantly, he is visibly different due to
the color of his skin, so he lives constantly among, but separated from, other people.
Whenever they look at his black face, however brilliant a general he is, he knows the
others are thinking "Yes, but he is not really one of us." Shakespeare presents this fact
in the dialogue and also in the staging of the play: Othello's is a black face among a sea
of white faces, and he is constantly referred to as "The Moor," a representative African,
while others go by their personal names and are seen as independent individuals.
When other characters call him "black," they refer to his face but also to the concept of
color symbolism in Elizabethan morality: White is honor, black is wickedness; white is
innocence, black is guilt.
Othello tells his life story to Desdemona, and she sees him through his words. The life
of early separation from home and family, followed by danger and adventure, is perhaps
the life story of thousands of men down the ages who become soldiers of fortune and
who end up as corpses in ditches at an early age, unwept, unpaid, and unrecorded.
Othello's achievement is not so much that he survived this unpromising life, but that he
survived it in such a spectacularly successful manner, ending up one of the most
powerful men in the Venetian defense forces.
On the field of battle Othello is skilled and triumphant; in the drawing room he is
reluctant until Desdemona takes the lead and encourages him to tell his life story. It is
Desdemona, as well as Othello, who turns the secret marriage into a social success
with her skillfully worded defense.
Othello feels that his marriage is at the pinnacle of his life: "If it were now to die, /
@'Twere now to be most happy, for I fear / My soul hath her content so absolute, / That
not another comfort, like to this / Succeeds in unknown fate" (II.1, 190-194). He is
triumphant in war and in love, the hero at his greatest moment. Such triumph, in a
tragedy, cannot last.
Othello is aware of the precarious nature of success and happiness. "But I do love thee,
and when I love thee not, / Chaos is come again" (III.3, 91-93). These are the words of
a man who knows chaos and believes himself to have been rescued from it by love.
Love for Othello puts order, peace, and happiness into his mental world, which would
otherwise lapse back into chaos. He has grown up in exile, slavery, danger, and
despair, now, as a professional soldier, he lives amongst chaos on the battlefield, but he
need no longer have it in his inner being, because he has love. Chaos is the old concept
of Hell, where everything is dreadful anguish, and Desdemona is the angel who has
rescued Othello with her love.
When faced with the prospect of managing love and marriage, Othello's inexperience
undermines his confidence. Iago finds it easy to drive Othello to jealousy and think that
Desdemona loves another man because he already feels that her love for him is too
good to be true. Othello sees Cassio as the man most Venetian women in Desdemona's
position would like to marry and, therefore, as the man she would turn to if she ceased
to love her husband. In a way, he is waiting for the dream to come to an end, for
Desdemona to decide that she has made a mistake in marrying him.
Othello's insecurities are so close to the surface that a few words of hint and innuendo
from Iago can tear the confident exterior and expose his fears, desires, and tendency to
violence. Othello cannot stand uncertainty; it drives him to destroy his sanity. However,
once he makes a decision, he is again the military man, decisive in action. Iago has only
to push Othello to the belief that he has been betrayed, and Othello does the rest,
judging, condemning, and executing Desdemona.
Fate is cruel to Othello, like the cruel fate of ancient Greek tragedies. Like the Greek
heroes, Othello can confront this fate only with the best of his humanity. In his final
speeches, Othello brings again a flash of his former greatness: his military glory, his
loyalty to Venice, the intensity of his love, and his terrible realization that, by killing
Desdemona, he has destroyed the best in himself. No man has full control over his life,
but a man can judge himself and perform the execution and die with his love.

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