Heroic Virtue in Othello Essay

1932 Words 8 Pages
Heroic Virtue in Othello

William Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello puts on exhibit an obvious hero and other not-so-obvious heroes. Let us examine them all in this essay.

The supreme type of hero in this play did not occur overnight to the playwright. Rather he slowly built upon one hero after another in his plays until his work culminated in the Moor. A. C. Bradley, in his book of literary criticism, Shakespearean Tragedy, describes the development of the Shakespearean super-hero in Othello:

And with this change goes another, an enlargement in the stature of the hero. There is in most of the later heroes something colossal, something which reminds us of Michelangelo’s figures. They are not merely exceptional
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(58)

A character’s attitude toward the most fearful foe – death itself – is unquestionably a criterion for judging a heroic type from a non-heroic type. Helen Gardner in “Othello: A Tragedy of Beauty and Fortune” considers Iago’s wife Emilia to be a true hero of the play because of her fearless outlook on death itself:

Emilia’s silence while her mistress lived is fully explicable in terms of her character. She shares with her husband the generalizing trick and is well used to domestic scenes. The jealous, she knows,

are not ever jealous for the cause

But jealous for they are jealous.

If it was not the handkerchief it would be something else. Why disobey her husband and risk his fury? It would not do any good. This is what men are like. But Desdemona dead sweeps away all such generalities and all caution. At this sight, Emilia though ‘the world is a huge thing’ finds that there is a thing she will not do for it. By her heroic disregard for death she gives the only ‘proof’ there can be of Desdemona’s innocence: the testimony of faith. (145)

At the outset of the play Iago persuades the rejected suitor of Desdemona, Roderigo, to accompany him to the home of Brabantio, Desdemona’s father, in the middle of the night. Once there the two awaken the senator with loud shouts about his daughter’s elopement with Othello. In response to the noise and Iago’s vulgar

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