Year 12 Othello and Tragedy

1. What do you understand about the ‘tragedy’ genre?

2. How is Othello a tragedy?

Starting points for your research:



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12 Responses to Year 12 Othello and Tragedy

  1. Florence Fry says:

    1. A tragedy is a genre used to refer to a play, drama or book that focuses on a hero/heroine that suffers a hardship throughout the plot, whether their suffering is caused by people around them or the hero’s actions himself. A tragedy focuses on the fragile nature of the central character and often ends with an unfortunate revelation of an event. The plot often contains deception, misunderstanding and manipulation which all add to the hero/heroines actions, ending most often in tragic (hence its being a tragedy) events. However, a lot of tragedies have alongside the misfortune a positive outcome, whether it being a certain realisation or a revelation within other characters, and in some cases a revelation within the heroine, without there being a death.

    2. ‘Othello’ is one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies, alongside others including Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and King Lear. We know that Othello is a tragedy because it focuses on Othello, the hero, who is manipulated by Iago throughout into thinking his wife is unfaithful. This matches the convention of a tragedy in that Othello is vulnerable already because of the colour of his skin and the misconceptions that come alongside that. It ends with misery in that Othello brutally murders his wife for no just reason, and then he kills himself. It could be said that there is a positive outcome at the end of the play in that Iago is proven to be the cause of this tragedy and his true colours are revealed to the other characters. In this case, there are many deaths in the play which match the conventional plot of a tragedy.

    by Flo 🙂

  2. simonebadham says:

    1. What are the conventions of a tragedy?
    A conventional tragedy displays the fall of a hero/ heroine as a result of a villains evil plot, often stimulated by jealousy. More often than not, the hero/heroine is orchestrated, by the villain, to unknowingly carry out actions that will later lead to their own misfortune in the play, thus making it appear to the other characters that the consequences that arise are merely products of the hero/ heroine’s narcissistic choices. An intense sense of dramatic irony frequently arises from the audience due to the fact the audience are the outsiders and are constantly aware of the villains plans and the way in which he plans to implement them. The dramatic irony of a tragedy is the primary device in which play writes use in order to allow the audience to enjoy the traditional vulnerability of characters a tragedy boasts, without guilt.
    2. How is Othello a tragedy?
    Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’ fits into the tragedy genre as it encompasses all of the criteria needed, including the traditional 5 act structure.
    ‘Othello’ boasts its own villain, Iago, accused of motiveless malignancy by audiences but as ‘Honest Iago’ by Othello himself , who steers the play according to his plot to destroy Othello’s marriage. Iago channels his professional jealousy into Othello for him to form possessiveness over Desdemona and to pick at Othello’s insecurities and plant the seed in his mind that his wife has been unfaithful.
    The idea that the villain targets the hero and unravels his vulnerabilities matches the convention of a tragedy, as well as the many deaths which are the aftermath of Iago’s plan. The fact that he shows no remorse for the trouble he has caused and how he offers no explanation as to why he did it when he is caught shows, to the audience, how he is a classic villain who is in allegiance with the devil.

  3. Jess Uren says:

    The tragedy genre, centres on dramas where a character is brought to personal ruin or destruction due to their own actions, or actions displayed by the antagonist of the stories. This genre usually tells the story through action rather than narrative. It begins with the hero displaying a flaw, however, throughout the story through manipulation/deception the hero does not realise the destruction this has caused until it is too late then often a dramatic scene climaxes with death/breakup/misery. However, in some cases a tragedy can bring about a positive ending as a tragedy’s action is meant to fill the audience with fear and pity, however, at the conclusion of the action the audience is meant to leave the theatre uplifted and enlightened about the drama’s unfolded events.

    Othello is regarded as one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies. It not only includes death of many characters; Desdemona, Emilia, Othello… the storyline also centres around Othello, who is a well respected officer, being manipulated by Iago due to the fact of his insecurities, and therefore leaving his morals behind and transforming throughout this story to a cold blooded murderer as he kills Desdemona without any evidence of her betrayal. Furthermore, the story finishes with Iago, the antagonist, still living whilst he has killed most of the main characters off physically and mentally, exaggerating the tragedy and unfairness of this play.
    Jess Uren

  4. Issie Buckley says:

    The predominant feature of a play which falls under the ‘tragedy’ genre is the turmoil and downfall of a noble hero or heroine; which is usually the central character. The character in question is often attempting to achieve a purpose or goal; however they experience implications and misfortune which causes them to refrain from proceeding with a usually noble act, and often leading them into serious peril and, ultimately, death. Not all tragedies result in the death of the main noble character, however plays which include death or extreme events are usually more successful in appealing to the audience, and create a stronger impact. A villain is often apparent in tragedies, to assist the hero or heroine’s downfall, and to create feelings of sympathy and pity from the audience. Tragedies evoke such strong emotive responses in the audience due to the complete innocence and naivety of the main character; the change in fortune which they undergo is not a result of any real wickedness or evil, but simply a significant mistake.

    Perhaps one of Shakespeare’s most famous and popular tragedies is ‘Othello’. ‘Othello’ incorporates many of the common features of a typical tragedy; it can be argued that Shakespeare’s scheming, seemingly heartless Iago is the greatest and most extreme villain in the entirety of theatre. Iago is the central vice character of the play, and it is by complex, unpredictable trickery and an intricate web of lies in which he plunges the once innocent Othello to his peril, and ultimately, his suicide. However, ‘Othello’ sustains the audience through its intelligent complexity and slight twist on the tragedy genre. Unlike a conventional tragedy, the ‘hero’ of the play (Othello), was not a total saint, as he was an incredibly controversial character to a Jacobean audience, due to his race. Because of this, the audience’s prejudices leave them almost sympathizing with the villain; it is certain that the morality of the play is not clear or one-sided. By the tragic end of the play, the audience is not provided with an obvious loyalty to a character; Iago has proved his villainous ways, and Othello has unleashed his jealousy and paranoia, and most importantly, he has murdered his innocent wife, Desdemona. An 18th century audience may have felt an inclination to pity Desdemona; however she had committed the unconventional act of marrying a black man, also against her father’s will. A 21st century audience would most likely side with Emilia, as feminism and women’s rights are clearly established in modern society, and with this in consideration, Emilia seems the most noble and heroic character. The play ends with the main villain, Iago, leaving the scene almost unharmed in comparison with the characters which he has manipulated. This is a distinctive feature of a tragedy; the villain expresses no remorse and escapes the brutal peril which the ‘heroes’ undertake.

  5. Lucy Scott says:

    1) How is Othello a tragedy?
    A tragedy is a specific genre of a play, which involves the noble protagonist who encounters limits whilst trying to reach a goal. The hero usually falls partly due to some weakness of character, or blind error, in addition to the actions during the play. This can either be through actions of the heroes’ own, through some tragic misunderstanding, or the work of a mutinous villain.
    A conventional tragedy usually evokes an involuntary alliance from the audience with the villain due to the powerful sense of dramatic irony created by the villain sharing his plans with the audience. A tragedy typically involves a revelation of the heroes’ at the end about human fate, destiny, and the will of the gods. Aristotle defines this sort of recognition “a change from ignorance to awareness of a bond of love or hate.” It is not necessary for the tragic hero to die at the end of a tragedy but they must undergo a change in fortune.
    2) How is Othello a tragedy?
    Othello, the “noble hero” is taken as a title for Shakespeare’s tragedy because as The Compact Bedford Introduction to Drama states, “older tragedies take the name of the tragic hero or heroine as their title”
    Othello is the hero being controlled by Iago throughout, and is led to believe his wife has cheated on him, which is, unbeknownst to him, not the truth but simply a situation orchestrated by the villainous Iago.
    Such a situation ties in with the setting of a tragedy, because the audience form an alliance with Iago through his soliloquies and begin to feel pity for the others, and indeed fear for what events are still to come. The dramatic irony is created and accentuated through Othello, and indeed the other characters referring to “Honest Iago”.

  6. Orla Kearns says:

    1. What do you understand about the tragedy genre?
    The tragedy genre is one of the world’s oldest literary structures. Traditionally, tragedies revolve around a character (usually the hero or heroine) that is brought to personal ruin or destruction, often through their own failings or actions, or due to the actions of others- and regularly involving fate. Tragedy was established as a genre by ancient Greek playwrights and in later years was used by writers such as Shakespeare as the basis for their plays. Dramatic irony often arises from tragedies as the audience become an unwilling accomplice with the villain of the play in whatever event has been plotted, which is often influenced by jealousy. Tragedies often follow a plot of confusion instigated by an antagonist, often out of jealously. Additionally, many end in the deaths of the main character/s.

    2. How is Othello a tragedy?
    ‘Othello’ is one of Shakespeare’s four greatest tragedies, the others being King Lear, Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth. It has many characteristics of a tragedy: firstly it conforms to the traditional five Act format of a tragedy; then Othello is deceived by Iago into thinking that Desdemona is unfaithful because Iago is jealous and bitter; and additionally the play ends with the death of many of the protagonists (Othello, Desdemona, Emilia). Despite the obvious unfairness and sadness of the story, it has a small positive outcome in that Iago, the antagonist, is found to be guilty of such manipulation. However, his subsequent lack of attrition and/or reasoning when confronted about his actions does demonstrate to the audience that he is a typically evil villain who is not to be sympathised with.
    Orla Kearns

  7. Nicole Fullalove says:

    What are the conventions of a tragedy?
    Tragedies are stereo-typically stories of which end in distress, for example a death of an important/liked/the main character etc. The definitions of a ‘tragedy’ are; An event causing great suffering, destruction, and distress, such as a serious accident, crime, or natural catastrophe.
    A play dealing with tragic events and having an unhappy ending, esp. one concerning the downfall of the main character. This can often leave a satisfaction with the viewer as they have built a dislike for the character or it can bring an unhappiness to the audience as there has been a connection built between the character(s) affected by the tragedy and the audience.

    How is Othello a tragedy?
    Shakespeare’s Othello is a tragedy because it deals with tragic events; Desdemona is accused of what she has not done and the love is ruined by her lack of evidence, however, there is no evidence that she had been disloyal. Also, the murder and death of Desdemona and Emilia is tragic, they were both very powerful and strong women, which as a female in the audience, i developed a connection with. This means that Othello has an unhappy ending which is another convention of a tragedy. Although at the end of the play Othello’s actions and irrational thinking may be frustrating, the fact Othello commits suicide also gives an unhappy ending which makes it a tragedy.

  8. Grace Allum says:

    1) The genre of tragedy refers mainly to tragic drama, where human suffering is presented through the central character, called a tragic protagonist, to the audience. The characters suffering or misfortune is not accidental and is usually brought about by a scheming opponent, who is also a main character. The central character usually has a recognised flaw in which other characters use to their advantage in working against them, causing a tragic outcome. The use of a hero/heroic figure as the central character creates a devastating/tragic ending as it focuses on their downfall from being noble to undignified. Traditionally, the plot will have five parts: the exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and the denouement, causing the scene to change multiple times. Tragedies are known for using dramatic irony to create suspense throughout the storyline as it emphasises the distressing conclusion. Themes of jealousy, manipulation and love are traditionally presented within the genre of tragedy as ordinary people can understand and sympathise causing the ending of the plot to be unfortunate.

    2) Othello is one of Shakespeare’s most well know tragedies alongside Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet. The tragic protagonist is Othello, in which the play is typically named after him, emphasising the importance of his character as well as making the play more tragic. The character of Othello is presented as a noble orator in Act 1 Scene 3 where he challenges the preconceptions of a ‘Moor’ by his well mannered speech. However Othello is shaped by Iago as he convinces him that Desdemona is unfaithful, turning him into a vicious villain. Shakespeare’s focus on Othello as a noble ‘Moor’ gives the audience a reason for his downfall as he is seen negatively from the start. Someone may interpret the play as a tragedy due to the ending of no justice, as Iago is the antagonist, directing and controlling the plot in order to produce a tragic ending. The fact that Iago gets away clean with his scheming could be considered as a tragedy in itself as it results in the death of Desdemona, Emilia and Othello.

    Grace Allum

  9. Bryony Pearce says:

    For the genre of tragedy, Shakespeare tends to follow a simple pattern. Firstly, the hero or heroine must be essentially flawed in some way, and this flaw will eventually lead to their demise, whether by their own actions, or usually by an external villain or force. This tragic hero must also in some sense be good and honest originally, and by some mistake is lead into misfortune either by a moral misjudgement or by a villain- however the hero himself is neither villain nor flawless. The tragedy itself is centred on this hero/heroine, and the deception, manipulation and misapprehensions which unfold unto them by the villain or some evil spirit. Where the tragedy ends with the revelation of the mistake of the hero and often their death, they sometimes end with a positive outcome alongside this misery in the form of a revelation/realisation for the other characters, which normally links the beginning to the end, so you have a cyclical effect, and a sense that life returns to as it previously was.

    Othello perfectly fits into this recipe for a tragedy as firstly, it is centred around the demise of Othello- the hero- through the manipulation of the villain Iago, who sets false proof in Othello’s mind that his wife is cheating on him. Also, to a contemporary audience, besides his jealousy which today would be seen as Othello’s main fault, his race would also count against him as their was gross racism embedded into society, which would have meant Othello would have been seen as suspicious, and given to sudden violent fits of passion. Despite this, at the beginning if the play, Othello is constantly referred to as “Valiant” which shows he at least begins with a strong moral compass, and is brave and honest which are highly regarded qualities, meaning Othello can never be said to be a villain. Just like a normal tragedy, Othello ends with despair as firstly Othello kills Desdemona his wife, then the villain Iago kills his own wife when she realises Iago’s evil schemes and finally Othello kills himself on the revelation that Iago fabricated Desdemona’s unfaithfulness. In this sense it ends like a normal tragedy as Iago’s plot is unveiled to the rest of the characters and is punished and so the play ends back where it started, however unlike a normal tragic play, Iago’s motive remains a mystery and so there is no revelation in its entirety, which further emphasises Iago’s status as a heartless villain in league with the devil. The number of deaths and sense of pointlessness to these deaths cement Othello in tragedy.

    Bryony Pearce

  10. Hannah says:

    1. A tragedy is generally defined as a play that ultimately ends in the misfortune of the protagonist, death often features in this misfortune. The downfall of the hero or heroin is often due to a flaw in their morals or a weakness of character. Originating in Ancient Greece, a tragedy relies heavily on ideas of fate, the Gods and fortune. By the ending the protagonist usually has a revelation of some sort. This revelation is generally due to a reversal of opinion or preconception within the plot. In some tragedies the unfortunate consequences are also caused by an antagonist as well as a fault of the hero. A plot line like this often features elements of deceit and relies heavily on dramatic irony to form the atmosphere of the production.

    2. Shakespeare’s “Othello” didn’t fit with the conventional tragedy at the time it was written. At the time, tragedies mainly depicted the fall of a noble, important figure with repercussions for many people. Contrastingly, “Othello” portrays the downfall of a single character with repercussions only through a limited amount of people. However, Shakespeare creates Othello to be a valiant, well-respected character by making him a general. This gives Othello enough status to cause the tragic consequences within his small community. The antagonist in this production is presented in the form of Iago. He creates very strong dramatic irony by appearing as honest to everyone except the audience. This really strengthens the atmosphere of the play and makes the ending ever more tragic when the truth is finally revealed and Iago shows no remorse. The death of Desdamona, Emilia and finally Othello really shows his character as a stereotypical villain.

  11. Livia Finnamore says:

    (1) In a conventional tradgedy the hero suffers from intentional misfortune, typically due to their vulnerability. It is not compulsory for the hero to die at the end but must undergo a change in fortune, it is also said that the hero may achieve recognition about destiny and fate. The hero suffers from the actions of a villain who aims to cause a downfall in the hero’s fate at his own benefit, whilst dramatic irony results in the audience knowing of the villains intentions which enhances the empathy of the audience towards the hero due to his naivety.

    (2) Othello suits the genre of tragedy as the demonic villain, Iago, plans to create a devastating fate for the hero, Othello, as his vulnerability as a foolish outsider in a world of war and being of alternate race to the other characters in the play causes him to believe Iago’s lies and falls victim to his scheming ways. Othello’s demise is a result of his belief that his wife, Desdemona, is unfaithful however fits the genre of tragedy as he comes to realise that his ‘honest Iago’ was not as true to Othello as he seemed – however it was too late as his anger and rage had already lead to his murder of his wife, Desdemona.

  12. Freya Swabey says:

    1. The definition of a tragedy in the English dictionary is: an event causing great suffering, destruction, and distress, such as a serious accident, crime, or natural catastrophe. When referring to a play as being a tragedy, it often infers that one event will lead to the destruction of the protagonists life and the deaths of many of the most favoured characters in the play. This genre was used often by great play-writes, in particular, Shakespeare, who wrote tragedies such as Romeo and Juliet, Othello and Hamlet. Tragedies are often used to highlight the vulnerability of humans and how suffering can often be brought to them through human and divine actions. However, not all tragedies end in complete sorrow as some often have more satisfactory outcomes, despite the tragic events which have occurred earlier in the play.

    2. The play Othello, written by William Shakespeare, very much suits the definition of tragedy. It includes a sinister villain, who sets out to destroy the protagonists life with only their own interests at heart and for their own personal gain. In the play Othello, the villain is Iago, the bitter, sly “friend” of Othello, the protagonaist. He sets about his deceitful plan by planting the idea that Desdemona, Othello’s wife, is unfaithful in marriage into Othello’s head.This ends in the tragic final act where Othello kills the innocent Desdemona, learns the truth of what Iago did from Iago’s wife, Emilia and ends the play by killing himself out of guilt for killing Desdemona. However, Othello did not conform fully to the tragedy description as it was only centred around a few people and it had no greater effect upon a large population.

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