Tragedy in Shakespeare’s Othello in Relation to Aristotle’s Definition

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Aristotelian tragedy in Shakespeare’s Othello

“Tragedy,” says Aristotle, “is an imitation [mimesis] of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude…through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation [catharsis] of these emotions.” Ambiguous means may be employed, Aristotle maintains in contrast to Plato, to a virtuous and purifying end.The classic discussion of Greek tragedy is Aristotle’s Poetics. … The writer presents “incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to interpret its catharsis of such of such emotions” (by catharsis, Aristotle means a purging or sweeping away of the pity and fear aroused by the tragic action).In Poetics, he wrote that drama (specifically tragedy) has to include 6 elements: plot, character, thought, diction, music, and spectacle


William Shakespeare’s Othello takes place in 16th-century Venice and also Cyprus. Othello who is a noble black warrior in the Venetian army that secretly married a beautiful white woman called Desdemona who is the daughter of a prominent senator named Brabantio. When he eventually finds out and is completely furious he decides to disown Desdemona.

Iago has a secret jealousy and resentment towards Othello because a soldier named Lieutenant Cassio has been put in front of him and also suspects that Othello has been cheating with his wife. Waiting on revenge, Iago plans a devious comeback to plant suspicions in Othello’s mind that Desdemona has been having an affair with Cassio. He decided to start a street fight which Cassio is blamed for, and is then dismissed from his post by Othello. Desdemona takes up Cassio’s case with her husband, which only increases his suspicions that the pair are lovers.

While all of this is happening Iago manages to find a treasured handkerchief from Desdemona that was given to her by Othello. He somehow gets the handkerchief on Cassio so that Othello sees it and he finally concludes that the possession is proof of the affair. Due to the jealousy, he orders Iago to murder Cassio. Then Othello decides to strangle Desdemona. Immediately afterwards her innocence is revealed, and Iago’s treachery exposed. In a fit of grief and remorse Othello kills himself and Iago is taken into custody by the authorities.


Othello: – The play’s protagonist and hero. A Christian Moor and general of the armies of Venice, Othello is an eloquent and physically powerful figure, respected by all those around him. In spite of his elevated status, he is nevertheless easy prey to insecurities because of his age, his life as a soldier, and his race. He possesses a “free and open nature,” which his ensign Iago uses to twist his love for his wife, Desdemona, into a powerful and destructive jealousy

Desdemona: – The daughter of the Venetian senator Brabantio. Desdemona and Othello are secretly married before the play begins. While in many ways stereotypically pure and meek, Desdemona is also determined and self-possessed. She is equally capable of defending her marriage, jesting bawdily with Iago, and responding with dignity to Othello’s incomprehensible jealousy

Iago: – Othello’s ensign (a job also known as an ancient or standard-bearer), and the villain of the play. Iago is twenty-eight years old. While his ostensible reason for desiring Othello’s demise is that he has been passed over for promotion to lieutenant, Iago’s motivations are never very clearly expressed and seem to originate in an obsessive, almost aesthetic delight in manipulation and destruction.

Michael Cassio: – Othello’s lieutenant. Cassio is a young and inexperienced soldier, whose high position is much resented by Iago. Truly devoted to Othello, Cassio is extremely ashamed after being implicated in a drunken brawl on Cyprus and losing his place as lieutenant. Iago uses Cassio’s youth, good looks, and friendship with Desdemona to play on Othello’s insecurities about Desdemona’s fidelity.

Emilia: – Iago’s wife and Desdemona’s attendant. A cynical, worldly woman, she is deeply attached to her mistress and distrustful of her husband.

Roderigo: – A jealous suitor of Desdemona.

Young, rich, and foolish, Roderigo is convinced that if he gives Iago all of his money, Iago will help him win Desdemona’s hand. Repeatedly frustrated as Othello marries Desdemona and then takes her to Cyprus, Roderigo is ultimately desperate enough to agree to help Iago kill Cassio after Iago points out that Cassio is another potential rival for Desdemona.

According to Aristotle, the tragedy is an imitation of a serious and complete action (mimesis) within incidents involving fear and pity towards the characters or the events. Expressed with an embellished language, the play should be in a form action, and not narration played by necessarily characters.

He sees that tragedy is higher and more philosophical than history, which simply tales and tragedy dramatizes what may happen “what is possible according to the law of probability or necessity” as Aristotle said.Aristotle listed six fundamental parts, namely plot, characters, diction, thought, spectacle, melody which determine it quality. Aristotle gives emphasize and high importance to the plot, which he defines as “the arrangement of events”. That means the way incidents are presented by having a beginning, middle and end. We notice according to the principle mentioned here before that Shakespeare’s Othello closely matches the Aristotelian concepts by having such similar arrangement.

The story started in Venice where the events took place when Othello married Desdemona, the daughter of senator Brabantio, with whom she fell in love. Then the story moves Cyprus where the climax and the end occurred, because Othello was called there to fight, being a graded officer of the army, and the villain Iago managed to make him behave that his wife, Desdemona betrayed him and he killed her. The end of story was when Othello realized that he was wrong and had been manipulated by some people he used to trust killed himself.We notice that the plot of Othello is similarly linked to the Aristotelian notion and concept of tragedy in the way the plot is arranged by Shakespeare.

Character in Aristotelian concept of tragedy has the second place in importance. The character will support the plot throughout his personal motivation which interacts with the events producing fear and pity to the audience. The audience must feel sympathy towards the protagonist; he should incarnate virtue and a good moral sense


Cite this paper

Tragedy in Shakespeare’s Othello in Relation to Aristotle’s Definition. (2020, Sep 17). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/tragedy-in-shakespeares-othello-in-relation-to-aristotles-definition/



Does Othello fit Aristotle's definition of a tragic hero explain?
Yes, Othello fits Aristotle's definition of a tragic hero as he is a noble and virtuous character who experiences a downfall due to a tragic flaw, his jealousy. His downfall results in his own death and the destruction of those around him, including his wife and friend.
How is Othello A Aristotelian tragedy?
Othello is a Aristotelian tragedy because it contains all of the elements of a tragedy including a tragic hero.
In what ways does Shakespeare's Othello conform to Aristotle's characteristics of tragedy?
Othello is a play about a tragic hero, written by Shakespeare. The play conforms to Aristotle's characteristics of tragedy, including the fall of a great man from a high position.
Is Othello a tragedy according to Aristotle?
The theme of jealousy is present throughout the play as a destructive force that causes characters to act in irrational ways. The green-eyed monster is often to blame for the play's tragic events.
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