Does Shakespeare intend for us to see Othello as a man of honor who, although he brings horror into the world, in the end, redeems himself? Perhaps – although the answer to this question is far from unambiguous. Certainly, we see Othello as a man who is fundamentally concerned with acting honorably. Certainly, we see him as a foil to Iago, a man whose only loyalty is to himself and not to any higher calling. In the end, Othello is redeemed, although not entirely. He shifts from being a hero at the beginning of the play to a villain too, in the end, a tragic hero, a man who has been redeemed but also transformed. Shakespeare reminds us throughout the play that as a black man who enters the white world, the destruction that Othello causes even unintentionally must still be laid at his feet because of his original trespass. Thus while he is in the end restored in part to his original stature, he remains diminished from the man we saw in the first scene.
Othello’s sense of honor is his most defining attribute, and while it may be tempting to see this sense of honor as undermined by the passion he feels for Desdemona (and even more by the passion he feels when he imagines that he has betrayed her) he is more undone by honor than by passion. Othello cannot imagine that others will not act honorably since he himself would never do so. He is blind to the possibility of dishonorable action.
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