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Essay The Breakdown of Sympathy for Othello

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Some critics discuss the breakdown in sympathy for Othello during the 20th Century. Do you agree that this is the case and does it apply to Giovanni? As defined by Aristotle in his analysis of tragedy, an audience must experience a sense of catharsis to be affected by a tragedy, meaning it is key that sympathy is felt for the tragic hero or the tragedy will be ineffectual. What makes Othello a successful tragedy is the way that Shakespeare establishes pity for Othello throughtout the play, even in his lowest moments as a character, and it is the lack of this in Tis Pity She’s A Whore that means the audience loses any sense of pathos by the end of the play.

F. R. Leavis discusses the breakdown of sympathy for Othello, arguing that ‘Othello is too stupid to be regarded as a tragic hero’. Other critics also argue that Shakespeare ‘fully exploits the unique cultural opportunity to develop a more complex and sympathetic representation of black experience’ [The Noble Moor – Othello and Race in Elizabethan London, Roger Lees], implying that the sympathy that a contemporary audience would have felt for Othello was based oncultural context, given that the audience were predominantly white. However, it could be argued that it cannot just be the cultural context to Shakespeare’s audiences that has allowed Othello to become one of his most renowned tragedies; if this were the case, the play would have lost all critical interest by the 18th Century. It is Shakespeare’s use of the conventions of tragedy in attributing Othello with hubris that, although making it hard to empathise with at times, in the...


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...as almost all the blame for the tragic turn of events can be put on Iago. Othello’s reactions to Iago’s torments cannot be blamed for the tragic ending; a reaction cannot be soley to blame for a problem that has a cause, which in this case, is Iago. Giovanni, on the other hand, I find hard to sympathise with, because of his sometimes underhand use of logic to defy the conventions of his society and to justify his incestuous actions. Also, any sense of sympathy I may have felt for Giovanni before he killed Annabella was lost completely when he felt no remorse for his actions, making him what I felt to be a very unpleasant character, warranting very little sympathy for his situation.



Works Cited

The Noble Moor – Othello and Race in Elizabethan London, Roger Lees
Noble Othello?’ AS-A Level English Literature ©Philip Allan Updates
York Notes AS & A2 Othello


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