Othello and tragedy

According to Aristotle, what tragedy depicts The downfall of a noble hero or heroine
What makes a tragedy A combination of some fatal flaw in the hero’s character, and the gods/fate conspiring against them
Where the dramatic form of classical tragedy referred to by Aristotle derives from The tragic plays of ancient Athens
What happens to a hero in a classical tragedy They would struggle against overwhelming fate
What happens to a defeated hero in classical tragedy His defeat would be so noble that he would win moral victory over the forces that destroy him
What a classical tragedy would do to an audience Evoke pity and terror in the audience
How a catharsis in a classical tragedy affected the audience It was a washing clean of the soul, which left the spectator trembling but purified
Aristotle’s classical unities The tragic unities of place, time and action
What the classical unities are This is where the whole tragedy would take place in a single location, e.g. a house or a city
How a classical unity took place It would happen during the course of one day, and would be a single story, without sub-plots
How Shakespearean tragedy compares to classical tragedy Compared to the strict rules of classical tragedy, Shakespearean tragedy is a more relaxed genre
How Othello compares to other tragedies Othello observes the spirit of Aristotle much more than Hamlet
How Othello observes the classical unity of place Apart from Act I in Venice, it is located entirely within the fortress at Cyprus
How Othello doesn’t observe the classical unity of time Logically, the play covers an unspecified time lapse of, presumably 2-3 weeks
How Othello does observe the classical unity of time However, it proceeds, more or less, by major scenes through the hours of the day
Examples of Othello’s observation of the classical unity of time Venice – the elopement after midnight, the Senate meeting at dawn. Cyprus – the morning storm
Other examples of Othello’s observation of the classical unity of time Cyprus – afternoon landings and developments, drinking party in the evening, murder at nighttime
How Shakespeare’s use of time can show some observation of the classical unities While not everything happens on the same day, the impression given is of an abstract day unfolding
How the plot observes the classical unities The plot is fairly unified, focusing on Othello and his fate
How the play refers to other characters/events It deals with other people and events only in so far as they are relevant to this focus
How Othello compares in Shakespeare’s references to classical tragedy Othello is about as near as Shakespeare gets to classical tragedy
How Shakespeare wrote his tragedies of love Romeo & Juliet/Anthony & Cleopatra were written from an imaginative standpoint, before their time
The heartbreaking conflict in Shakespeare’s tragedies of love What humans need to/deserve to/could be and what the time/place they live in condemn them to be
How Shakespeare presents his characters caught in the conflict He makes it clear that there’s nothing to stop humans putting an end to such tragedies
How the characters/the audience can get out of this conflict By changing the world that produced them and changing themselves in the process
Shakespeare’s characters in his tragedies of love Characters who can’t come to terms with their world
How Shakespeare’s characters in his tragedies of love represent humanity They reveal the capacity of humans to be radically different from the way their world expects
How these particular characters are defeated They end up defeated by the intolerable predicament in which they are trapped
What this predicament represents The product of a society whose authority can be resisted/contested
What the characters in his tragedies of love prove That the way things had to be for them is not the way they should be, not how they have to go on
The differences in Shakespeare’s tragedies His tragic protagonists, their fictional universes, and their tragic fates are amazingly diverse
How Shakespeare’s tragic protagonists are similar Every one is doomed by having been cast in the wrong role, in the wrong place, in the wrong time
Another similarity between the protagonists Every one of them becomes a stranger in the world where they had once felt at home
How the protagonists’ identities are similar They become a stranger to the person that they used to be, or thought they were
How the tragedies change each protagonist Throughout, they reveal their potential to be another kind of person in another kind of world
How the tragedies catch up with each protagonist They will tragically never live to see this potential to change realised
Othello’s main plot point A black man from Africa, and an upper-class, white woman from Venice fall in love and elope
How Othello and Desdemona go about their marriage Undaunted by the hostility their interracial marriage inevitably incurs
How Othello and Desdemona act With a sublime utopian naivety the play invites us to admire
How Othello and Desdemona act about their marriage They act as if they already dwelt in a world of which we in the 21st century can still only dream
The world in which Othello and Desdemona act as if they live in This is a world in which such marriages have the unquestioned right to be left in peace to flourish
How this world is ruined They attract, in the shape of Iago, the lethal hatred of a racially prejudiced, patriarchal society
How Othello and Desdemona affect society Their love threatens to undermine the foundations of this society
A.C. Bradley’s description of Othello A “faultless hero”
The first rule of Shakespearean tragedy Must have 5 acts
The second rule of Shakespearean tragedy Must end in the death of the protagonist and tragic hero
The third rule of Shakespearean tragedy Must contain the paradox of disappointment – a hope that’s thwarted/an ambition that’s frustrated
How A.C. Bradley saw Shakespearean tragedy characterised By the “tragic flaw”
What the “tragic flaw” is The internal imperfection in the hero that brings him down
How the hero is brought down by his “tragic flaw” His downfall becomes his own doing

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