Othello by William Shakespeare: A Sympathetic Character

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Every work that was penned by William Shakespeare – one of the greatest writers of all time – is unique in its own way: they all have their own specific culture, atmosphere, and, of course, characters. For instance, Othello – a tragedy supposedly written in 1603 – is considered to still remain popular due to the protagonist’s characterization: he is as much a traditional hero as he is a unique one. In general, Othello is a complex character who seems to be woven from contradictions: on the one hand, he is a figure respected by everyone – a brave, smart, and noble leader to the Venetians. On the other hand, Othello is an outsider who is insecure and prone to manipulation and eventually turns out to be a murderer. All of that does not necessarily generate unequivocally positive feelings towards the protagonist and make one worry about and feel sorry for him. However, Othello – so easily duped by Iago and so violently cruel to Desdemona – still remains a sympathetic character for the readers due to his humanity and vulnerability.

Madness, to which the news of his wife’s infidelity leads Othello, is a truly terrifying sight. His hate towards what Desdemona has done reaches a critical point: he decides to kill her. Granted, it is a questionable verdict: even if she was unfaithful, is it still too harsh of a punishment. However, she was not – and Desdemona becomes a victim of Othello’s temper, who, in his turn, becomes a victim of Iago’s deception. Roy and Haque note that Othello is not a jealous person by nature – it was evident to everyone around him, including Desdemona (26). That makes it all the more terrible to realize that he has only gone mad due to the ‘evidence’ presented by Iago being convincing enough. Moreover, Iago’s manipulations are incredibly subtle – without one certainly knowing that the person means to do harm, they are impossible to recognize. Othello does not suspect anything and trusts someone he considers his friend unconditionally – thus the horrible outcome. While what Othello does to his wife can barely evoke any sympathy, him being the victim of his duplicitous ensign certainly does.

Nevertheless, even the way Othello approaches Desdemona’s murder speaks about the deep love that he has for her. Roy and Haque state that it is evident from him saying that he does not want to shed her blood or leave scars on her skin – that is, harm her in an ugly way (33). Even though Othello is disgusted with his wife due to the thoughts Iago planted in his head, he still does not want to see her body – the one he loves so dearly – mutilated. It is as if Othello fights with himself – he is certain that Desdemona has to die but is not happy about it and enjoys neither the thought of killing her nor the process itself. He cannot even strangle her to death – she manages to say a few words before dying; Othello’s hands must have been shaking.

The internal conflict of the protagonist might leave someone indifferent due to the cruelty of his act – but he is not a cold and soulless killer and evidently struggles. Those who struggle almost always evoke sympathy, especially if they are as characters are as multifaceted as Othello. Moreover, Othello kills himself eventually, which is usually regarded as an admission of guilt and desire to repent. Even heroes in literature are victims of complicated fate, unfortunate circumstances, and evil people – just like readers in real life, which is why art causes such an emotional response.

Work Cited

Roy, Himadri Sekhar, and Ziaul Haque. “The Mad Othello: A Psychological Perspective.” IOSR Journal Of Humanities And Social Science (IOSR-JHSS), vol. 23, no. 1, 2018, pp. 26-35.