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Othello As Domestic Tragedy Essays

In so many of his dramas, Shakespeare is able to bring out the personal level of cruelty and elevate it into a thematic connection that is applicable to so many individuals.  Yet, it is in Othello where the domestic tragedy occupies so much importance.  Much of what happens in terms of the tragic content resides in the realm of subjective and the domestic realm.  For his own part, Othello suffers from the inability to recognize that the domestic is a realm apart and distinct from the public.  He transfers the insecurity and doubt that is in the public realm as both a warrior, not one of landed and established wealth, and a man of color in a predominantly White world into his own domestic realm.  Othello fails to understand that Desdemona may not be a replication of this social and political world.  Othello's own insecurity about his valences of difference might lie in a personal and subjective realm where psychological insecurity and doubt are left unexamined and unassessed. The results are cataclysmic in terms of how he approaches the domestic realm as an extension of the external.

For her part, Desdemona's silence and inability to recognize Othello's own internalization of external reality contribute to her own domestic tranquility.  Leaving the world of her parents and her own realm of security and support, Desdemona completely surrenders herself to Othello's world.  Yet, in doing so, she seems to leave her own voice behind and when she needs to speak out, she recognizes that there are few avenues for her to pursue in the process.  In this domestic sadness of silence, her fate is sealed, for she can no longer advocate for herself and have no one to advocate for her.  In both settings, Shakespeare constructs thematic and literary tragedy as an extension of the tragic conditions of domesticity that trap both Desdemona and Othello.

It is important to be very clear about definitions when responding to this question. A domestic tragedy is a sub genre of tragedy that is distinguished from other forms of tragedy by the action involving middle or lower class individuals who are not important figures in society. The first domestic tragedies were actually written during the English Renaissance period, with critics agreeing that the first example of this form was entitled Arden of Faversham, first performed in 1592, which featured the murder of a middle class man by his wife who was unfaithful.

Based on this definition, it is very difficult to argue that Othello is actually a domestic tragedy. Othello is an important figure in Venetian society and he marries the daughter of an important dignitary. This play therefore appears to be much more of a classical tragedy in terms of corresponding to the guidelines for a tragedy as dictated by Aristotle, who argued that tragedies must concern important, aristocratic figures. The only way in which this could be questioned would be through analysing the figure of Othello as an outsider, who simultaneously belongs but also is restricted from belonging to Venetian society. This is something that Othello himself draws attention to in his final speech:

Then must you speak
Of one that loved not wisely but too well,
Of one not easily jealous but, being wrought,
Perplexed in the extreme; of one whose hand,
Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away
Richer than all his tribe; of one whose subdued eyes,
Albeit unused to the melting mood,
Drop tears as fast as the Arabian trees
Their medicinable gum. Set you down this,
And say besides that in Aleppo once,
Where a malignant and a turbaned Turk
Beat a Venetian and traduced the state,
I took by th’ throat the circumcised dog
And smote him thus.

Othello, just before killing himself, speaks with such eloquence and reminds the audience of his prowess in battle, but at the same time identifies himself with the "turbaned Turk," also identifying himself as an outsider and a potential enemy of the state. Othello is therefore not the normal figure for a classical tragedy, as he is not an aristocratic member of society; however, it is clear that he is not middle or working class and his death does impact Venetian society of which he is a part, however tenuous that claim of belonging is. In conclusion, this makes it very difficult to support the view that this play is a domestic tragedy.

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