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Othello – It Ranks High or Low?

Othello – It Ranks High or Low?

William Shakespeare’s tragic drama Othello has been given high marks by some critics and low marks by others. Let us elaborate on this problem in this essay.

In the volume Shakespeare and Tragedy John Bayley explains why the modern audience feels so exasperated when viewing this play:

But Othello is not freed by this sense of his own situation: he has been caught in it as if in a snare. And instead of being freed by the hero’s consciousness of things, and sharing it with him, we are forced to stand outside Othello’s delusion. The play grips us in its own artifice of incomprehension. And for most onlookers, nowadays, the sensation seems to be more exasperating than it is either thrilling or painful. (200-201)

The feeling of exasperation on the part of the audience is not universal. Lily B. Campbell in Shakespeare’s Tragic Heroes explains the factor that made Othello significant among the tragedies of its time:

The Moor goes to the task of killing his wife in the name of justice;

Thy bed, lust-stain’d, shall with lust’s blood be spotted.

And in the second scene, the scene of the murder, he cries again as he looks upon the sleeping Desdemona and kisses her:

Oh, balmy breath, thou dost almost persuade

Justice to break her sword!

It is this insistence upon the passion which makes men try to take the place of God, and by private revenge execute the laws of God that makes Othello significant in the tragedy of its time. Othello sees his acts as the expression of justice, worked out in the most perfect balance of deed and punishment. (172)

If the justice aspect of private revenge gave the play popularity then, what gives it fame today? Othello would appear to have a beauty about it which is hard to match – thus ranking the play high. Helen Gardner in “Othello: A Tragedy of Beauty and Fortune” touches on this beauty which enables this play to stand above the other tragedies of the Bard:

Among the tragedies of Shakespeare Othello is supreme in one quality: beauty. Much of its poetry, in imagery, perfection of phrase, and steadiness of rhythm, soaring yet firm, enchants the sensuous imagination. This kind of beauty Othello shares with Romeo and Juliet and Antony and Cleopatra; it is a corollary of the theme which it shares with them.

Destiny, Fate, Free Will and Free Choice in Oedipus the King – The Paradox of Free Will

A Paradox: Oedipus’s Free will in the Play Oedipus Rex

William Shakespeare once wrote, “Who can control his fate?” (Othello, Act v, Sc.2). A hero and leader must acknowledge above all else his honor, and the pride of his image. In ancient Greek beliefs, a hero was a man who stood taller than the rest; he was able to better any conflict. He did this not for himself or for any token award that may be given to him, but for the security of his fellow man. Physical strength and superior wit are the two major characteristics of a hero. These characteristics may be destined; but the use of them to help his fellow man is will. Sophocles’s short play Oedipus Rex is a tale of a hero’s ascent to King and tragic fall. The young Prince Oedipus leaves his home in Corinth and arrives at Thebes, only to find that the town is cursed by the Sphinx. After solving the riddle given by the Sphinx, the blight is lifted, and the town declares Oedipus as their new leader and King. After a long rein Oedipus’s ruling comes to a heartrending fall. Through his journey, we as readers are able to see the perils and obstacles facing the hero. Yet we are never sure if the voyage was predetermined by the gods, or whether Oedipus alone is responsible for his actions? Greek beliefs show Oedipus’s realization of the truth and horrific blinding can be thought as a direct consequence of his actions taken from free will.

Oedipus is a hero. Oedipus makes an unaided choice to follow his destiny, (A destiny that he imagined for himself) to become a man that has no fear and will pursue justice at any cost. The choices made by Oedipus makes him a touching character and not merely a puppet of the gods. This can be more clearly seen in the quote of Oedi…

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…egardless he pays no attention and hard-headily continues his investigation.

My own good Snaps my patience, then; I want none of it. (55)

From the above quotes and text it may be projected that indeed Oedipus was a man of free will. To conclude, the life and path of Oedipus can be looked at as his own. His intensions and thoughts throughout the entire play were nothing but pure. My old lacrosse coach, a man that has been through what seems the worst in life once said,”10% of life is given to us, and 90% is what we do with it.” Oedipus was a hero and had the ability to carve his own trail, though his persona of the hero made it easy to fall into many of the traps he fell in to. Regardless, to look Oedipus’s life as a predetermined story demoralizes the morals and heart of this play.

The greatest griefs are those we cause ourselves (Oedipus Rex Pg. 65)

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