Archetypes in Othello

In this article you will learn about the archetypes in Othello by William Shakespeare, the famous play containing various archetypes commonly seen in literature throughout the ages.

What are the Archetypes in Othello?

Othello is the archetypal tragic hero, a man with numerous heroic qualities but whose flaws – his gullibility, anger and desire for vengeance – ultimately lead to both his own downfall and that of those around him.

Had he used his characteristics and energies for positive ends he could have achieved great ends, but instead his focus on negativity led him to the ultimate archetypal fall from grace.

In Iago Shakespeare has created a cunning and manipulative archetypal villain, willing to exploit the flaws he sees in others to achieve his goals and desperate for power.

His self-centred view of the world makes him willing to destroy all of those around him in order to achieve what he wants.

Othello and Desdemona are archetypal star-crossed lovers, destined by fate to be together but doomed both by the character flaws of Othello and the actions of others to tragedy. T

heir different racial backgrounds also acts as a barrier which they must overcome to be together, but one which will ultimately help to tear them apart. Desdemona is the archetypal innocent, one with a naive and optimistic view of the world who wants to believe the best in everyone despite evidence to the contrary.

She embodies goodness and honesty, but as a result is doomed to die due to the actions of others.

Cassio is the archetypal scapegoat, blamed for the evil doings of others (Iago) and used by Iago in order to manipulate Othello.

Othello Book Summary

  • Iago is furious that Othello has promoted Cassio over him and vows revenge.
  • Iago persuades Rodrigo to tell Desdemona’s father Brabantio that she has left to marry Othello, a marriage he opposes as Othello is a Moor.
  • Brabantio confronts Othello but the Duke, convinced by Othello and Desdemona of their love, allows the marriage.
  • Iago gets Cassio drunk and gets him to fight Rodrigo in the street.
  • Othello strips Cassio of his promotion.
  • Iago then sets out to convince Othello of Desdemona’s unfaithfulness.
  • He encourages Cassio to get Desdemona to plead his case with Othello, Iago then suggesting that Cassio is her lover. Mad with jealousy, Othello promotes Iago and enlists his helps to hill Cassio and Desdemona.
  • Iago plants Desdemona’s handkerchief in Cassio’s possession and he gives it to his mistress Bianca.
  • On seeing this Othello takes it as proof of Cassio’s affair with Desdemona and publicly reprimands his wife.
  • Iago manipulates Rodrigo into attempting to kill Cassio but Cassio wounds him, before Iago stabs Cassio in the leg. Othello believes Iago has killed Cassio and he goes to kill Desdemona.
  • Iago accuses Bianca of injuring Cassio, kills Rodrigo and sends his wife Emilia to tell Desdemona what has happened.
  • Othello reaches Desdemona first and she professes her love and innocence before he smothers her, living only long enough to declare Othello’s innocence to Emilia.
  • Emilia realises Iago’s guilt and defends Desdemona to Othello, who tries to kill Iago.
  • Iago kills Emilia and flees but is found and taken away. Othello condemns himself and commits suicide.

Othello Archetype Examples

  • Tragic Hero
  • Villain
  • Innocent
  • Scapegoat
  • Star-crossed lovers

Want more literary archetypes?

Go check out our extensive list of archetypes in literature to find out more about the characters seen in literature throughout the ages.

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