As with all of Shakespeare’s plays, Othello has a hero and a villain, the tried and tested formula for a winning story for thousands of years. Othello is our hero and Iago our villain. The big difference between most hero and villain stories is that Iago is a lot more close to home than any other villain we have witnessed in, let’s say, modern movies, such as the Marvel/DC universes. My favorite part of such stories is seeing how the ‘hero’ will cope with the pressures of the tragedy that is about to unfold. Shakespeare’s heroes tend to tip over the dramatic edge, but that is what we must expect.
Take Othello as our main example. In Act 1, Scene 2, Othello defuses the situation between himself and Barabantio by pointing out that the Duke would not be happy if his leading general was missing from a meeting. He is showing these attackers that he is a nobleman, and uses his words to good effect in the face of danger. “How may the duke be therewith satisfied,/ Whose messengers are here about my side….To bring me to him?”
However well Othello may be able to deal with threats from abroad or from other men, he cannot identify the threat of Iago, his supposed best friend. This is the fatal flaw of many of Shakespeare’s heroes. A new threat emerges and they become consumed by it. Othello’s downfall is the skill of Iago with his words and his utter determination to bring about his downfall. “I hate the Moor;/ And it is thought abroad that ‘twixt my sheets/ He’s done my office. I know not if’t be true;/ Yet I, for mere suspicion in that kind,/ Will do as if for surety.” Iago does not need that much of a reason to hate Othello, only that he was supposedly passed up for a promotion by ‘The Moor’. He is bent on Othello’s destruction.
As the play progresses and Iago puts his plan of Desdemona’s ‘infidelity’ into action, we see Othello steadily lose the war of wits. He does not suspect Iago at all due to his ‘friend’s’ skill with words. Othello has lost his ability to defuse situations and grows more jealous with each passing conversation with our villain. He can only speak in short sentences to Iago and is just angry with Desdemona with no concrete evidence against her. The stage directions in Act 4, Scene 1 show that he falls into a trance after Iago blatantly lies and says that Desdemona and Cassio lay with each other. “With her, on her, what you will.” He has fallen to the folly of all of our heroes. He became so consumed with the wrong version of events that it destroyed him, his marriage and his reputation. There was no greater dishonor for Othello than to besmirch his reputation. He rose up through the ranks as a Moor and led the armies against invaders. He is proud of all of his achievements in Act 1, Scene 2, when he says, “My parts, my title and my perfect soul/ Shall manifest me rightly.” All destroyed because of a jealous villain and thus becoming jealous himself.
In superhero movies, the world is inevitably saved. Othello let the villain win a final victory before losing himself.