Who is responsible for the tragedy in Othello? Is it the insecure, noble Othello? or the conniving, cleaver Iago? To answer this question one has to define what the tragedy in Othello is. It can either be defined as the downfall of Othello or as the feelings of fear and pity that the audience feels. The initial question of who is responsible for the tragedy in Othello is a bit vague, and once we have a definition of tragedy to work with then we can make an argument.
In one way, tragedy can be defined as the downfall of Othello. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that Iago is the evil mastermind who is manipulating the other characters in the play to do his will. He gives Desdemona’s handkerchief to Michael Cassio for the singular purpose of having Othello see Cassio in possession of the handkerchief. Once Othello sees Desdemona’s handkerchief in Cassio’s possession, Iago hopes that Othello will think his wife is cheating on him. The handkerchief situation was a large reason why Othello killed his wife and eventually killed himself. Iago also sows the seed in Othello’s mind that his wife is cheating on him. The handkerchief exasperates this, and Iago tricks Othello. Iago causes Othello’s downfall in this way. Yes Othello is very gullible and easily influenced, but had Iago not brought the idea of an unfaithful wife to Othello’s mind no tragedy would have occurred.
In another way, tragedy can be defined as the feelings of pity and fear evoked by the characters in the play. By this definition, Othello would be responsible for the tragedy in Othello. Why? Firstly, Othello fits all the Ancient Greek criteria of being a tragic hero thus his downfall evokes fear and pity in his audience. Secondly, the downfall of Othello is quite simply a sad story that one has to read or see to fully understand. Othello was a man who had reached a very good place in society, just married, and was well respected. But his life crumbled underneath him because a man he thought he was friends with manipulated him. That’s a tragedy right there.
So who is ultimately responsible for the tragedy in Othello? It all depends how one defines the terms.