Within the course of this essay I will be discussing how Shakespeare presents the flaws that characters portray in his play “Othello” and similarly how Robert Browning does the same in his poems “Porphyria’s lover” and “The Laboratory – Ancien Regime”. I will show how Othello’s pride leads to his down fall and how Shakespeare uses figurative language to illustrate downfalls as well as flaws. Also, I will express how flaws are used by Browning to give a clear structure about the poem. These two different methods often change the entire meaning and course of the pieces.
In most of Shakespeare’s tragedies, he tends to make his characters flawed to help develop the narrative. Othello is the main character in the play and his pride, mistrust and misjudgment is what leads to his downfall. A main flaw here is that Othello is too trusting, especially in the wrong person. Shakespeare uses dramatic irony in Othello and this is when the audience knows something which characters in the play do not. The main reason Shakespeare does this, is so that the audience understands the characters thoughts, motivations and then predict what will happen next. Othello demands “Ocular proof” of Iago and when Iago feels threatened, he questions Othello by saying ” Is’t come to this?”. Here Iago challenges Othello about their friendship and uses it to his advantage. In this part of the play, we understand that Shakespeare uses dramatic irony to lead up to Othello’s flaw. From this we can see that Othello turns to violence in order to resolve matters when he is skeptical and by Shakespeare using dramatic irony, this supports the flow of the narrative.
In Porphyria’s Lover, the main flaw is his mental instability and this is shown not only because of the fact he killed her, but also because of the way he killed her. The entire poem is in iambic tetrameter and in one large stanza which one could be interpreted as a very rapid thought. The narrator almost speeds over the murder claiming “No pain felt she; I am quite sure she felt no pain.”, although he mentions it repeatedly but more implicitly the other times. By the poet rushing in these few lines, it almost feels as if the character does not see that he has done a bad thing, because he does not reflect or have a second thought on his actions. There is some religious context throughout most of his poems as Robert Browning grew up to become an atheist and you could almost say that he developed his hatred for religion and this is shown where he says “And God has not said a word!”. I think the reason he says this is to have a go about the morality people have after doing something wrong and then asking God for forgiveness or maybe God punishing a person & in this case “he has not said a word!”. Most of his poems have a very dark and grim setting, which is usually a religious setting. In The Laboratory, the potion is made in a cathedral, In Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister, the entire dramatic monologue is set in a monastery etc. I think Browning does this intentionally does this to portray the church in a negative aspect.
A massive flaw that has it’s part in ‘Othello’ is Jealousy and this is a central theme in the play. This is a main flaw that almost changes the whole story line because I believe if jealousy did not feature in this play then the story line would be different. One of Iago’s traits is his way of manipulating Othello without him knowing, and it’s his jealousy that motivates him. “Beware of jealousy, It is the green eyed monster that doth mock the meat it feeds on”. Here Shakespeare personifies jealousy and compares it to an evil creature, the “Green eyed monster” that mocks the powerless prey before it slowly kills and feeds on it. In this case Othello is the victim falling prey to Iago’s genius plan. What he’s putting into context here is that he is mocking Othello to his face and the moor does not know this. Iago is comparing jealousy to something else to convince himself that jealousy is not a flaw of his and his motives are possibly quite responsible.
As well as in ‘Othello’ In the Laboratory – Ancien Regime, Jealousy is another flaw in this poem. The character here is jealous about her lover cheating on her. She doesn’t waste time and has already started to develop a poison in the “laboratory” to kill her boyfriend. “But to light pastille and Elise with her head and her arms and her hands, Should drop dead”. Automatically the first thing that appears is the repetition of “and” and no use of punctuation. Enjambment is used here by Browning and in a poem, it can affect the pace of the text and this can change the mood of the speaker and makes the readers question to why Browning is not using punctuation.
Othello must be manipulated if Iago wants to succeed. The final flaw that I’ve noticed in Othello is Iago’s deceitful nature. This is shown as he can be both a hypocrite while he lies to Othello in his face. “Men should be what they seem. Or those that be not , would they seem none”. The literal meaning of what Iago says is that honest people should not seem honest and this is quite outlandish coming from the “villain” in the play. Dramatic Irony is used here and this time what it does is almost makes us feel sympathetic towards Othello as we can see he is being lied to and slowly being lead do his downfall. This is Iago’s deceitful nature as a flaw being used against Othello.
Finally again in the Laboratory – Ancien Regime. “Pound at thy powder”. Browning intentionally used alliteration to emphasize the actions and this makes it sound much more sharper, making the poison sound far more worse. Assonance is used when the words ‘powder’ and ‘pound’ are used, they have repetition of vowels within words. This certainly is done purposely to attract the audience’s attention to that particular event within the poem. Conclusively from this quotation we can see the character’s flaws are anger. Browning uses this flaw to justify what she’s doing in the poem and that her anger has driven her to making this poison.
I’ve come to the conclusion that, Browning presents flaws for his characters to justify the actions the characters take in the poems and that Shakespeare presents flaws in Othello to justify the downfall of Othello and how significant these flaws are to his downfalls.