There is no true distinction between a hero and a villain, as there is no clear distinction between what is right and what is wrong. A hero can become a villain; a villain can become a hero. Right can become wrong, wrong can become right. Thus, with this in mind, it can be said that Othello is portrayed as a hero and a villain in different parts of the play. He did what he thought to be the right actions, which unfortunately brought about the wrong consequences. The extent in which Othello is portrayed as a villain or hero are explored through the themes of jealousy, manhood and honour, as well as the theme of self-identity.
The theme of jealousy is explored in the text The Tragedy of Othello through Iago manipulating Othello into believing that Desdemona is cheating on him. Through jealousy, Othello became the barbarian, the “black ram”, or a “Barbary horse” (I. i. 117-118) that he is described as by the general population; he becomes a villain whom everyone assumed he is. However, one can question whether he is the true villain or not? He was under heavy influence from Iago, and hence one may also question to what extent is Othello the villain in this case?
Othello is considered a villain in this case because he killed an innocent women; however if we look at it from his point of view, then it can be considered that what he did was due to his over affection for her, and also due to him being misled by Iago. Othello, in this case, cannot be considered to be a villain, but rather a manipulated tool. One may also argue that Othello’s resultant actions were over the top, and unnecessary. However, is it right to justify Othello as a villain based on actions he did due to the manipulating of Iago?
One can see the love which Othello displayed to Desdemona; through his speech “If heaven would make me such another world/of one entire and perfect chrysolite/I’d not have sold her for it” (V. ii. 145-147). All the more, because he loved her so, he was an easy target to be manipulated by Iago. Therefore, one can only consider Othello a villain to the extent that he was a mere pawn, used by Iago. One can also allude that Othello was a tragic hero, because he did what he thought was correct, or what he thought was necessary; but by doing so, he in turn lost his loved one.
Jealousy is indeed “the green-eyed monster” (III. iii. 166) which destroyed Othello. Secondly, in the theme of manhood and honour, Othello can be portrayed as a hero. His military reputation won him Desdemona’s love, and earned him the trust which the Venetian government placed upon him. Othello is a hero within the army, his military exploits were renowned, and through that, general population was able to overlook the fact that he is a moor. Cassio’s line “Reputation, reputation, reputation! / O, I have lost the immortal part of myself/and what remains is bestial” (II. iii. 51-253) suggest that honour and reputation played an important role in the play. The importance of reputation is also illustrated through Iago’s line “But he who filches from me my good name/robs me of that which not enriches him/and makes me poor indeed” (III. iii. 159-161) Even in his dying hours, Othello did not want to relinquish his reputation, uttering the words “I have done the state some service, and they know’t” (V. ii. 339) This shows that Othello wants to die as a hero, a renowned soldier, as oppose to a failed general who murdered his wife. This case illustrates Othello as a tragic hero yet again.
Othello had every right to live and die as a renowned general, as oppose to a “circumcised dog” (V. ii. 355) Othello was a hero, unfortunately he was mislead by Iago. Lastly, the theme of self identity showed Othello as either a hero or a villain. Othello was portrayed as a soldier and general right from the start of the play, when he was sent to Cyprus. However, as the play unfolds, it can be seen that Othello began to get his military life mixed up with his love life. As Othello tries to desperately cling on to his soldier part of himself, his husband side, his love side, has crumpled.
At the start of the play, Othello had the security of his identity as a renowned soldier. However as the play wore on, when the war ended, and his soldier-self was not needed, he needed to find the same security in his love life; and he thought he had it. However, when his love life collapsed, he still searched for that security in his military life; as can be seen through his speech: “Farewell the plum’d troops and the big wars That make ambition virtue! O, farewell, Farewell the neighing steed and the shrill trump, The spirit-stirring drum, th’ear piercing fife, The royal banner, and all quality,
Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war. ” (III. iii. 353–359) Othello is a hero from the point of view of his soldier side. His military exploits has earned him an identity, a reputation within the army. However, if one view him from the point of view of a loving husband, his identity got crushed by Iago; the person whom Othello thought he was got taken away, and what was left was a villain, seeking vengeance. However, in his final speech, Othello appear to have found his identity. He made references to “Arabian trees”, “Aleppo”, “malignant and a turbaned Turk” (V. ii. 51-353), reminding him that he was once a renowned general, and also that these feats helped him to win over Desdemona. Othello appeared to have regained his dignity, and hence our respect for him, and he died a hero’s death, reminding us that he has “done the state some service” (V. ii. 339). Thus through Othello finding his identity, one can see that Othello’s changes through out the play. In conclusion, one can see that in different parts of the play, Othello can be portrayed as either a hero or a villain, based on the themes of jealousy, honour and reputation, as well as the search for identity.