Imagination and Virtue in Othello

Othello is a tragedy. But what qualities does it possess to qualify it as such? The key difference between comedy and tragedy is the ability to reconcile and tolerate the inevitable foibles of the human condition. In Othello nothing is tolerated, and nothing is reconciled. Instead, Iago provides the spark and fuel to ignite a fire that ultimately consumes all the characters. While Iago's responsibility for what occurs is undeniable, however, the subsequent events would not have been possible had a social structure enabling such a consuming fire not already been established. The tragedy of Othello occurs when the supposed virtue of the principal characters unravels into evil, enabling Iago's plan to flourish. That virtue, however, was already unstable before Iago's intervention.

Immediately before committing suicide, Othello likens himself to "the base Indian" who threw a pearl away (5.2.356). This is significant because at this moment, Othello is recognizing himself as the ignorant barbarian that Venetian society always believed he was. Another potential phrasing of the line, based on the folio, is "Judean," replacing Indian. By likening himself unto a Jew rather than a barbarian, there is a...

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