The Tragic Hero in Othello and The Godfather


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“Stories are the most important thing in the world.” (Philip Pullman) It is through the power of stories that connects our thinking to our heart and shape our world. Good morning teachers, I am here today to pitch to you how Coppola’s “The Godfather” constructively enhances students’ conception of the narrative of tragic hero in Shakespeare’s “Othello.” From a 17th century play to American art cinema, “Othello” and “The Godfather” explores the tragedies that exist in societies, many characteristics unfortunately still relevant today.

There are three fundamental components guided by Aristotle’s “Poetics” that will help us distinguish how the narrative of tragic hero is reshaped from “Othello” to “The Godfather.” The ideal tragic hero is a character of noble prestige and prominence. Secondly, the tragic hero is an imperfect character with a proneness to make mistakes in discernment. Finally, the tragic hero has a fatal flaw, hamartia, that inevitably causes his/her downfall.

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By inspecting Aristotle’s representation of an archetypal tragedy, one can perceive the artistic traits of “Othello” that conveys a definite interpretation of a tragic hero. The play presents the human nature of infidelity and human suffering to its fullest form, as shown through this quote. “green ey’d monster” effectively symbolizes the jealousy that will essentially undo Othello’s mentality and marriage. Not only does Othello exemplify heroism through his noble stature, but he also demonstrates his fatal flaws, exemplified through his soliloquy before committing suicide; with “then must you speak of one that loved not wisely but too well, of one not easily jealous but, being wrought, perplexed in the extreme.” These flaws, his earnestness of Iago and enviousness of Desdemona, illustrates Shakespeare’s understanding of the flawed nature of humanity during the Renaissance period. As Othello acknowledges his resentment, he draws solicitude and pity from the readers, constructing him as an archetype of a tragic hero.

In examining “The Godfather,” Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino, is an exceptional example of a contemporary reiteration of a hamartia character in modern-day film. When we first meet Michael, he is a son of a dominant New York family despite having no association with his father’s crime syndicate. This is evident in the scene when Michael says, “That’s my family Kay. It’s not me.” His hamartia is his devotion to his family and his sense of duty, doing whatever it takes in order for his family to win. The intimate close-up shot between Michael and his father highlights the defining moment for Michael’s life. As he utters, “I’m with you now,” Michael solidifies his commitment to his family. With their hands clenching together with a smile of his father’s face, this symbolizes the transition of power of Michael becoming “The Godfather.” Michael’s attributes as a tragic hero does not attain to the embodiment Aristotelian conceptualization. His descend isn’t death like Othello. His descend, however, is philosophical. A story of a man slowly losing his humanity step by step and becoming a monster he never wanted to be.

Remarkable storytelling captivates audiences with its meaningful plot through the use of universal concepts which have been demonstrated in the tragedy of “The Godfather” and “Othello.” These texts show how the narrative of a tragic hero can be reimagined in the contemporary world through different mediums, while utilising Aristotelian elements. From myth to cinema.

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