William Shakespeare's Othello
Every artist needs a subject to draw inspiration from—an idea to develop into a masterpiece. Leonardo da Vinci had Madame Lisa to portray in paint. The Beach Boys had Rhonda to render in rhyme. And William Shakespeare had one of one hundred stories written by Giraldi Cinthio to help him create his masterpiece, Othello. Each artist creates his own interpretation from his source. Shakespeare transformed the core of Cinthio’s story into a tragedy. A tragedy is drama which depicts “a public struggle between larger-than-life protagonists and universal forces” (Glossary 175). A tragedy also involves a “hero’s suffering and his consequent moments of tragic insight or knowledge” (McJannet 1). Each subtle change, which Shakespeare adapts from his source, serves to turn an ordinary tale into an extraordinary tragedy.
The changes Shakespeare makes create a “larger-than-life protagonist.” In Cinthio’s work, the Ensign falls in love with Disdemona. The Ensign tries every means available to woo her, yet he fails in every attempt. The Ensign “imagined that the cause of his ill success was that Disdemona loved the Captain of the troop” (Cinthio 137). As a result, “the love which [the Ensign] had borne the lady now changed into the bitterest hate, and…he devoted all his thought to plot the death of the Captain of the troop and to divert the affection of the Moor from Disdemona” (Cinthio 137). Cinthio’s plot does not center on Othello, it is powered by Disdemona. Shakespeare makes a key change when creating his play. Shakespeare makes Othello the clear protagonist. Iago’s plotting revolves around Othello. Not only does Othello pass Iago over for a rightly deserved position, but “it is thought abroad that ‘twixt [Iago’s] sheets / [Othello]’as done [Iago’s] office (1.3.378-379).” Both factors motivate Iago to hate Othello, and consequently Iago plots Othello’s demise—not Desdemona’s. Othello is the clear target of the trickery, ergo—with a small change—the protagonist is created.
In addition to the creation of a protagonist, universal forces must be at play to warrant a tragedy. It is within the dialogue that Shakespeare identifies the involvement of fate. Elizabethans believe that changes in the affairs of man transcend to the moon and stars. Under such beliefs, Othello surmises, “Methinks it should be now a huge eclipse / Of sun and moon, and that th’ affrighted globe / Should yawn at alteration (5.2.98-100).” Likewise, a change in nature can affect the human entities below. For, “it is the very error of the moon [when] / She comes more nearer earth than she was wont / And makes men mad (5.2.108-109).” When the moon is out of place, and approaches too near earth, it makes men crazy. Thus, through the dialogue, Shakespeare acknowledges that universal forces are at play.
In order to have a tragedy, the main character must have a tragic flaw, or make a tragic error. Shakespeare makes changes which...