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. This ambiguity that lies at the heart of Othello’s character is summed up in Desdemona’s handkerchief – that white cloth spotted with red that Shakespeare no doubt intends to evoke the blood-spotted marriage bed. The handkerchief, with its mixing of chastity and sexuality, naivete and experience, concealment and revelation, is a symbol of the complex ways in which Othello is both lost and redeemed in the play.
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.
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