Is Othello a Tragedy?

According to Aristotle’s fourth century B.C definition of tragedy, tragedy is “an imitation of high importance, complete and of some amplitude; in large language enhanced by distinct and varying beauties; acted not narrated; by means of pity and fear affecting its purgation of these emotions”[1]. Since then, the tragedy in a play has been measured by this definition and some characteristics put forth by Aristotle. One of Shakespeare’s plays by the title Othello, the Moore of Venice, brings forth such characteristics. However, it still strikes debates as to whether it should be categorized as a tragedy or not. This discussion explains that Othello, the Moore of Venice is a tragedy.

Whether watching it for the first, second or the umpteenth time in whichever version, this play brings forth the same themes of faithfulness, love, jealousy, suicide, murder, betrayal, anger/rage and vengeance, amongst other themes. The acts of the play are both in Venice and Cyprus during the Renaissance period. Othello, a Moorish general has just married Desdemona, the love of his life without her father’s consent (eloping). Lago, Othello’s ancient friend and the villain of the play is not happy about the appointment of Michael Cassio as lieutenant in his place. For this reason, he decides to plot a revenge action against Othello. As revenge, Lago manages to convince Othello that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio. Letting anger and jealousy overcome him, he kills his wife despite her pleas of being faithful then Emily falls victim of the scenario and Othello kills himself due to guilt. Lago receives punishment for his actions.

According to Aristole’s definition of a protagonist in a tragic play, he/she should be of a high estate[2]. This means that he should be powerful and of high social status so that he should fall from happiness and power as a result of his actions. In this play, Othello is the general of the Venitian army although he is not from a royal family as in most Shakespeare’s tragic plays. He is respected by the people even though he is of African origin and is referred to as brave, valiant and noble by others. On top this accomplishment; he has married a senator’s (Brabantio) daughter. This is another characteristic of most of the heroic characters in the tragic novels. With these acquisitions, the fall of the protagonist (Othello) becomes more effective especially to the audience.

[1] William Francis Garrett-Petts, Writing about Literature: A Guide for the Student Critic, (Ontario, Canada: Broadview Press, 2000), 57.


[2] X. J. Kennedy & Gioa, Dana, Literature: an introduction to fiction, poetry, drama, and writing.

(New York, NY: Pearson Longman), 2007. 9

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