Othello is a play written by William Shakespeare in around 1600.
The play shows a lot of differences and similarities with ancient Greek tragedies. Aristotle, an ancient Greek philosopher and scientist, was a very important spokesman of Greek dramatic criticism and he wrote a study, Poetics, on Greek dramatic art. He set conventions for the Greek tragedies, which Othello both conforms to and deviates from in the form of structure, the tragic hero and the language and diction.Firstly, the structure of Othello both conforms to and deviates from the conventions of a Greek tragedy. The structure used in Othello resembles the dramatic arc, a 5-act dramatic structure. It consists of five parts, or acts. A Greek tragedy usually conforms to a set of five conventions. The beginning of Othello, the exposition in the dramatic arc, very much resembles the beginning of a typical Greek tragedy, the prologue.
Both the exposition and the prologue give background information on the play. In a Greek tragedy, the prologue is spoken by one or two characters, whereas in Othello, the beginning is told by multiple characters. So the introduction of Othello does deviate slightly from the conventions of a Greek tragedy. The parodos in a Greek tragedy is the entry of the characters or group, and the song sung by the chorus. There is no parodos in Othello, as it did not include a chorus. The episodes, in which the story is told, are separated as the rising action, the climax and the falling action in Othello. The rising action in Othello is the part in which Iago tells the audience about his plans to split up Othello and Desdemona and get Cassio fired from his position. The climax is the part where Othello believes Iago’s lies and he vows that he will not stop until he has his revenge.
The falling action is the murder of Desdemona. In a Greek tragedy, the episodes are partly sung, which is not the case in Othello. There are also no stasima, choral odes, in Othello, as it did not include a chorus. The exodus and the dénouement are both the final concluding scene, but this scene includes a reveal in the Greek tragedy, which is not always tragic. Othello ends in a downer ending, a very dramatic ending. The structure of Othello conforms to the conventions of a Greek tragedy in the prologue and the episodes, but it deviates from the conventions of a Greek tragedy slightly in the prologue, as well as the parodos, the stasima and the exodus.
Secondly, the hero in Othello conforms to the tragic hero in a Greek tragedy. According to Aristotle, a tragic hero has five characteristics. The hero in the play Othello is Othello himself. Aristotle said that a tragic hero should have an hamartia, a tragic flaw that causes the downfall of the hero. This tragic flaw in Othello is the fact that he is very gullible, very jealous and he also makes very quick judgements. It is very easy for Iago to persuade Othello into believing him.
This tragic flaw leads to a very rapid downfall, resulting in Othello killing his wife and eventually also killing himself. The purpose of this hamartia is to evoke a sense of pity in the audience, they fear the outcome of the story. This feeling of pity and fear is called the catharsis.This feeling makes the audience want to watch the play until the end, to see what the outcome is. In act III, scene iii, Iago tells Othello that Desdemona is cheating on him: “What sense had I in her stol’n hours of lust?” This part in the play is the anagnorisis. The tragic hero makes a critical discovery, even though the audience knows it is a lie, Othello is convinced that Desdemona cheated. Hubris, the fourth characteristic, is excessive pride or self-confidence, the hero overestimates his or her capabilities.
Othello’s pride is damaged from being convinced that Desdemona is cheating on him, which eventually results in him murdering her. After this tragic scene comes the nemesis, the last characteristic. The nemesis is the punishment that cannot be avoided, which is caused by the protagonist’s hubris. This punishment in Othello is his realisation that Desdemona was in fact innocent, resulting in his suicide. The purpose of this was to show that behaving immorally resulted in being punished. The hero in Othello conforms to the tragic hero in a Greek tragedy in the hamartia, the catharsis, the anagnorisis, the hubris and the nemesis.Lastly, the language and diction in Othello conforms to the language and diction of a Greek tragedy. According to Aristotle, diction is the “expression of the meaning in words”.
He says the diction in a play should be clear, by using language of the daily life, but it should also have unusual language to emphasize certain important sections. In Othello, the characters all speak clearly, but at certain points, the language is more ambiguous. In act III, scene iii, Iago uses vague language while speaking to Othello. By asking Othello questions, such as “Why, how now, general?” and “Is ‘t possible, my lord?”, he obligates Othello to answer these questions himself. That is how Othello starts believing that Desdemona is cheating on him, though there was no proof.
The language that is used by Othello also stirs emotions and empathy in the audience, as his diction shows that he is very confused: “By the world, I think my wife be honest and think she is not.” It evokes a sense of pity in the audience when they see Othello struggle with his emotions. Aristotle also said that the language should have rhythm and good harmony. In Greek tragedies, this rhythm and harmony was mainly presented by the chorus, whose role it was to comment on the play.
Othello does not include a chorus, however the characters do speak in verse. Often, every second syllable is stressed, such as in the following sentence in act III scene iii: “Farewell the tranquil mind, farewell content.” This creates a rhythm in the language used, which strengthens the message of the scene. The language and diction in Othello conforms to the language and diction of a Greek tragedy in the clear language, the ambiguous language and the rhythm in the words used.To conclude, Othello conforms to the conventions of a Greek tragedy in the structure, mainly the exposition, resembling the prologue, and the rising action, climax and falling action, forming the episodes.
The hero in Othello conforms to the tragic hero in Greek tragedies, as it includes hamartia, catharsis, anagnorisis, hubris and nemesis. The language and diction used in Othello conform to the language and diction in Greek tragedies, as it uses clear language throughout the play, alternated with ambiguous language to stir the audience’s emotions. Shakespeare also uses rhythm in the language used. Othello mainly conforms to the conventions of a Greek tragedy, resulting in a play that evokes pity, fear and awareness in the audience.