Title Cassio's Tragedy And Shakespeare's Use Of Minor Characters Assignment Analyze A Play (Othello) In Terms Of A Minor Character's Relation To The Plot

964 words - 4 pages

Shakespearean tragedies rarely contain blameless characters. The characters whose lives get turned upside down usually either deserve it, or they directly contributed to their downfall by holding onto some flaw or vice. This is always true for his tragic heroes, but what about his minor characters? They usually suffer just as much as the main characters. They usually exhibit character flaws. The difference is that they are rarely responsible for their own downfall; their circumstances come about from things outside of their control. Othello's Michael Cassio is an example of such a character. He is shown as a good man with minor flaws whose suffering is orchestrated by people and events that he has no say over.Cassio is a character with many strengths and very minor faults. He is presented as a man who is loyal, trustworthy, respectful and good natured. His loyalty and love for Othello are illustrated many times over. In the beginning of Act II, he is shown as fraught with worry for Othello's safety. A gentleman remarks "he speaks of comfort touching the Turkish loss, yet he looks sadly and prays the Moor be safe." (II, 1, 30-32) When he is demoted for fighting, he does not mourn his state for selfish reasons like the loss of his prestige, but because it has tarnished his reputation and has caused a rift between himself and Othello.In contrast, his flaws are minor indeed. It can only be said of him that he is flirtatious, sleeps with a prostitute and cannot hold his drink. What is telling, is that these "flaws" are lesser versions of real tragic flaws. It isn't said that he sleeps with other men's wives, he is simply familiar and friendly with them. He sleeps with a prostitute, Bianca, yes, but he isn't shown as a man who frequents brothels on a continuous basis. Indeed, he is such a good man that Bianca falls in love with him. He cannot hold his drink, but he isn't a drunk. He knows his limits and usually stays well within his boundaries. None of these aspects of his personality are grievous enough to be considered true tragic flaws, and it isn't because of these weaknesses that his tragedy occurs. It occurs simply because Iago has decided to make him the instrument with which to bring down Othello that he ends up suffering.Cassio is not an active participant in the plot, but rather an innocent bystander. Iago uses Cassio to drive Othello into madness and Cassio never knows what is going on. Had Iago not caused a rift to arise between Cassio and Othello, Iago's plan may never have worked. Not only because Cassio would not have to meet with Desdemona in an effort to win back his place with Othello, but also because if Cassio were still Othello's friend and confidante, than Othello would have had his good advice and honesty there to guide him. By separating the two friend's Iago put himself in a position to be the only voice Othello could hear. Cassio's removal was of great importance to Iago.However, this importance was not because of who Cassio was, but rather, because of where he was: at Othello's right hand. This is a vital difference between Shakespeare's minor characters and major characters. Othello's demise comes about because of who he is; because of something deep within his self. Cassio's fall comes about simply because of what he is; Othello's friend. He isn't brought low because of a flaw or mistake, although he does make mistakes that help the process along (mainly drinking the second cup of wine when he knew he shouldn't). This is a crucial difference. Had another general been in Othello's place, Iago's plan may not have worked because the plan itself played up to some many things that were inherently Othello. However, had a different soldier been in Cassio's position, the plan still would have gone off, because his downfall was based wholly upon outside circumstances. It simply served to further Iago's real desire, the downfall of Othello.In the end, Cassio suffering is redeemed somewhat. Othello is told the truth and Cassio is given back the offices that had been stripped from him. However, this somehow fails to make up for the heartbreak he suffered over Othello's rejection of him, nor would it seem to ease the pain he would feel at the passing of his friends. While the persecutions he suffered directly at Iago's hand are redressed, he still suffers because of events he had no hand in. In some ways, it makes his suffering almost worse than Othello's.Cassio is a perfect example of how Shakespeare deals differently with minor and major characters. With Othello we understand why the things that happened happened, and, even more, we see how he could have made them end differently. Cassio never has those chances and is undeserving of the fate that was given to him. Shakespeare uses his minor characters as crucial elements to further the plot, but does not give them an active role in creating it. They are simply victims of fate, circumstance, and the playwright's whim.

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