Tragic Endings: A Comparison of Othello and Hamlet
Not all literature stories have a happy ending. Typically, most stories tell of heroes who found divine favor and had a happy ending, such as finding the love of their life, happy marriage, and happy death. However, authors often twist the plot to present a more realistic ending other than the ideal one. Such is the case in the stories of Othello and Hamlet. Both of the main characters are faced with a crisis that demands they make sound decisions, often having to use physical force to protect themselves (Golden 142). The two characters have a few successes, but their lives end tragically amid confusion and having killed people severally. They are mostly victims of circumstances that they had no control, hence, this paper will compare and contrast the heroes of Othello and Hamlet.
Influence and Tragic Mistakes: Analyzing the Characters of Othello and Hamlet
The characters' actions and decisions are influenced by outsiders, which account for the tragic end of the stories. Without the interference of other forces, they were likely to make sound decisions, but it is not the case. In Hamlet, the king's son is influenced by a ghost who tells him that Claudius, his uncle, is the killer of his father, the former king. Although he doubts the spirit at first, he sets out on a mission to prove the accusation. Hamlet, the prince, is still mourning the death of his father, so the revelation causes him to act desperately in a bid to get the facts on his father's death. He pursues the mission with so much energy that the people around him think he is mad (Shakespeare 4). If the ghost had not appeared to him, he would be convinced that his father died from natural causes. The ghost tells him that his father was poisoned the ear by his brother, who wanted to take control of the kingdom. The fact that Claudius married the king's widow immediately after his brother's death assures Hamlet that indeed Claudius is guilty of the king's murder (Snyder 25).
Hamlet, therefore, sets a scene in a play to depict the same happenings: a king being poisoned in the ear, which causes his death. He makes sure Claudius is in for the play, which is a moment to look at his reaction when the scene happens. If he reacts negatively, Hamlet would consider him the murderer. True to his speculations, Claudius is furious and storms out of the room (Shakespeare 5). That marks the start of Hamlet's revenge mission. He is also angry at his mother for marrying the man who killed his father, but he does not direct his anger at her. Instead, he holds a soliloquy where he talks of his deepest feelings, through which he lets the reader into his deepest thoughts and feelings, coupled with plans to kill Claudius. Were it not for the ghost, Hamlet would have believed his father died, and all the conflict in the story would not have happened (Brower 70). The discovery caused him to kill a person he thought was Claudius, cost him his two friends, his mother, and his own life. No challenges would change his decision to kill Claudius as revenge. In the end, he manages to kill Claudius but also dies shortly after due to poisoning.
In the same way, the happenings of Othello are also centered on the main character being influenced by Lago. Lago manipulates Othello such that he makes costly mistakes. Othello's life is quiet and normal as he serves his country until he gets married to Desdemona. Her father does not approve of the marriage, therefore makes steps to reverse it. He follows Othello to a senate meeting, hoping to be back up against Othello, but the leaders approve of the marriage instead (Shakespeare 5). He, therefore, decides to use Lago, who also hates Othello. Lago's hatred for Othello stems from Othello choosing Casio as lieutenant instead of Lago. The tragic end of the story and the mistakes Othello makes are centered on this hatred. Lagos feeds Othello with lies about Desdemona having an affair with Casio. He places Casio in scenarios that make the myth look true. For instance, there is a scene where he occupies Othello by asking him to assist him in inspecting some buildings, while he coaxes Casio to talk to Othello's wife. Although Casio had no ill intention by talking to Desdemona, the story gets twisted (Golden 148). During the conversation, Casio begs Desdemona to speak to her husband on her behalf and request him to restore Casio's position of lieutenant. Casio had lost his job after Lago made him drunk then sent Roderigo to provoke him, and Casio ended up killing Governor Montano accidentally. As punishment, he was demoted from the position (Shakespeare 7). When Lago presented a chance for him to speak to Desdemona, he was delighted with hope, not knowing it was a trick.
Lagos goes to incite Othello against Casio, which ultimately leads to disaster. Lagos, which the help of Emilia, gets hold of Othello's handkerchief, which he plants in Casio's room as "evidence" of cheating (Golden 149). When Othello learns of the incidence, coupled with the convincing done by Lagos, is sure his wife is unfaithful. In the end, he kills her, only to discover later that Lago was lying about her affair with Casio. Othello is devastated, but his actions cannot reversed. The story ends with Lagos being charged, but that does not rectify the harm he has caused (Brower 70).
Nevertheless, the two main characters in the two stories react differently to the factors around them. The prince does not believe the ghost instantly and seeks a second opinion from his friend. He also waits for the re-appearance of the ghost to confirm the same. He even goes ahead to place the act in a play, to confirm suspicions before he starts his revenge mission. Contrary to that, Othello does not seek a second opinion or consult with anyone on Lago's words. Even when Desdemona pleads with him and explains that she has no affair with Casio, he does not sit to rethink his actions. In the end, Hamlet serves justice by killing his father's killer Claudius, but Othello kills his innocent wife, only to discover that she had been accused of falsely.
The Role of Outsiders and Decision-Making in the Tragic Endings of Othello and Hamlet
The Hamlet and Othello end in a non-typical ending of most stories, with the main characters influencing the end. Their decisions, made solely or as influenced by others, make a tragic end to the stories. Both of the characters' decisions are influenced by others, although the characters react differently to the information they get. The reaction determines whether justice is served or not.
Brower, Reuben Arthur. Hero & saint: Shakespeare and the Graeco-Roman heroic tradition. Oxford University Press, 1971.
Golden, Leon. "Othello, Hamlet, and Aristotelian Tragedy." Shakespeare Quarterly 35.2 (1984): 142-156.
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Simon and Schuster, 2003.
Shakespeare, William. Othello. Vol. 6. Classic Books Company, 2001.
Snyder, Susan. The Comic Matrix of Shakespeare's Tragedies: Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear. Vol. 5339. Princeton University Press, 2019.
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