The Character of Othello
Shakespeare's Othello is not simply a play which embodies the conflict between insider and outsider. The paradigm of otherness presented in this play is more complicated than the conclusion, "Othello is different; therefore, he is bad." Othello's character is to be revered. He is a champion among warriors; an advisor among councilmen; a Moor among Venetians. Yes, Othello is a Moor, but within the initial configuration of the play, this fact is almost irrelevant. His difference is not constructed as “otherness.” Othello, by his nature, is not an “otherized” character. Besides being the dark-skinned Moor, Othello varies in no real way from the other characters in the play. Further, Othello and Iago can be seen as two sides of the same destructive coin. With Iago as a foil and subversive adversary, Othello is not faulted for the indiscretions he commits. It is the invention and projection of otherness by various characters in the play, especially Iago, which set the stage for the tragedy of dissimilarity which is to ensue.
Continually confronted with his difference, and apparently associated inferiority, Othello eventually ingests and manifests this difference in a violent rage against the symbol and defining emblem of his otherness, Desdemona. Yet, who is to blame? Which character is redeemed through our sympathy so that another can be condemned? Othello, the dark-skinned murdering Moor, himself. The separation of his otherness from explicit and innate evil contrasted with Iago's free-flowing and early-established taste for revenge and punishment, alleviates Othello from responsibility. Surely, Othello has wronged and is to be held reprehensible--with his death--but even this is a self-inflicted injury rather than a punishment which is judicially meted out, unlike what we are led to believe Iago will suffer.
In Shakespeare’s tragedy of Othello, we see Othello move through a character progression as he becomes consumed with Iago’s connivings and fabrications. He is introduced as a tragic hero whose stories of hardships endeared him not only to his new bride but his new father-in-law as well. Even Brabantio who throws many slanderous insinuations of Othello’s use of witchcraft and drugs to seduce Desdemona into his “cunning hell,” (1.3.102) was once charmed and by this simple man who bows to his reputation in the face of a character challenge. “Her father loved me; oft invited me . . ./Still questioned me the story of my life/From year to year, the battle, sieges, fortune/That I have passed.” (I.iii.127-30)
The affliction of Othello’s character is furthered by Iago’s emphasis upon Othello’s simplicity and honesty which is sharply contrasted with Iago’s skillfully-crafted towers of lies and bejeweled misrepresentations. Othello may be a simple man with rude speech and strong arms, but he has been engaged in redeemable pursuits for Venice for the past seven years. Despite the rumblings of...