How does Othello fit the role of a romantic hero?


Shakespeare does not take great measures to present Othello as a hero; Othello is given the ultimate position of nobility in the play and that itself characterises him according to the Aristotelian version of the ‘tragic hero’. However, Shakespeare is very intricate in presenting the duality between Othello’s personalities – his militarist and romantic side, where Shakespeare builds Othello’s romantic aspect much more carefully.

Othello is a soldier and that much has been highlighted throughout the play, from even when he hadn’t first entered the stage. It becomes very clear that Othello is a character to be respected, for even though Iago is the ultimate antagonist and seeks to destroy Othello, it was only because he wasn’t favoured by Othello to be considered his lieutenant, almost like a classic Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ plot where Satan goes against God, despite being his most devoted Archangel, because God preferred humans over him. Apart from Roderigo, every single one of the character respect Othello as a fervent hero, even Brabantio who accuses him of using black magic to win over his daughter, used to invite Othello to his house to listen to his war stories, ‘Her father loved me, oft invited me, / Still questioned me the story of my life / From year to year – the battles, sieges, fortunes / That I have passed.’ Othello is valiant and would give anything for his country, even when the Duke calls him to attend to the Turkish war against Cyprus, he goes despite the night being his and Desdemona’s wedding night. This presents how Othello couldn’t separate his marital duties with his militaristic duties, and identifies how Othello’s romantic aspect was still in need of nurturing which Shakespeare does, where after the Cyprus war, in Act 2 Scene 1, we are revealed to Othello’s most romantic side.

Othello is not affluent in romantic nature, as his love for Desdemona was built purely on stories, ‘She loved me for the dangers I had passed, / And I loved her for she did pity them’, and hence the romantic aspect was lost. Othello prominences his duties of war much more than his duty as a husband, and thus when his battle against the Turks are won and his militaristic duty is completed, he returns as lover to Desdemona, ‘If after every tempest come such calms, / May the winds blow till they have wakened death…’ This time is probably the first and only time they share these heightened affections, where they are completely ‘well-tuned’ as it’s their first kiss after marriage. Yet, even in this scene of devout love and affection, Othello’s warrior side still acts in the background, where he had just come from war and had lived in this dangerous situation and therefore, death is on his mind, ‘If it were now to die, / ‘Twere now to be most happy, for I fear / My soul hath her content so absolute / That not another comfort like to this / Succeeds in unknown fate’. Someone who knows the transiency of life thinks happiness is so precarious and short-lived that he will live without it, and thus his love is not fully formed, and rather vulnerable to which Iago takes his advantage.

Shakespeare, however, does not allow Othello to perceive marriage through sexuality, which leaves out a boulder in creating the romantic aspect of Othello where he hadn’t consummated his marriage with Desdemona. Moreover, Iago’s introduction of Othello and Desdemona’s marriage in the Act 1 Scene 1, itself creates a rather obnoxious picture of Othello as a lover, where Iago characterises Othello with animalistic imagery through which the audience begins to perceive Othello’s affectionate side in an adverse manner, ‘an old black ram is tupping your white yule’, ‘You’ll have your nephews neigh to you; you’ll have coursers for cousins and jennets for germans’ ‘sooty bosom’. The description of Othello’s private life becomes corroded through the narration of a man as villainous as Iago, and therefore, Othello’s love life is demeaned even before it plays on stage, contrary to Othello’s soldier life which is heightened even before Othello comes on stage.

Despite the factor of love being the chief element that brings the fall of Othello and Desdemona, it’s more the fact that Othello’s love for Desdemona was not wholly nurtured that brought them their downfall. Shakespeare blockades the love of Othello to take form and thus we can identify a clear reason as to why Othello was consumed by jealousy, where Othello hardly spent enough time with Desdemona to grow proper fondness and had no experience whatsoever with ideas of love as he had always lived a soldier life. It is only at the denouement that we see the full force of love take over Othello as he realises that the woman he had killed was innocent, and he finally transforms into a lover, dying with the last act of love, ‘I kissed thee ere I killed thee. No way but this, / Killing myself, to die upon a kiss.’ Shakespeare restricts completeness of Othello’s love only to reveal it in the end in the most ultimate moment of both pathos and love.

Othello being a romantic hero is a rather arguable topic as the concept of love doesn’t fully develop within him until the end. His character as a warrior plays a much more significant role than his character as a lover, almost overshadowing the latter. Shakespeare does not allow a single moment of comic relief within the play and perhaps that is why it was necessary to restrain Othello’s ultimate portrayal of love until the very end.





















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