The characters of Othello, from Shakespeare's play Othello, and Anakin Skywalker, from George Lucas's Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, both experience very tragic events in their respective stories. However, neither of them truly qualifies as a tragic hero. According to Aristotle, in order for a character to be considered a tragic hero, he must meet certain criteria. While both Othello and Anakin have some of the attributes of a tragic hero, they lack others.
The first feature of a tragic hero, according to Aristotle, is that he is of noble stature. Both of these characters fit this criterion. They are both prominent and well-respected members of their respective societies with high-level connections in the government. Othello commands the military might of Venice. He has risen through the ranks from slavery to general. He has attained the respect and admiration of the people from a completely strange and alien society. Millicent Bell says, "The stranger with an exotic, almost mythical otherness has acquired a place within the order of Venice by his own efforts on behalf of a colonial empire" (1-2). Further, Hermann Ulrici says, "Othello, as painted by Shakespeare, is truly the noble excellent character he seems, and not one of mere conventional virtues" (3). When the island of Cyprus is attacked by the Ottomans, the Duke of Venice immediately summons Othello and sends him to defend the island. The Duke tells Othello, "Valiant Othello, we most straight employ you / Against the general enemy Ottoman" (1. 3. 48-49). Othello is definitely of noble stature.
Anakin Skywalker, like Othello, has also risen up from slavery to a prominent military role. He is a young Jedi Knight who is secretly seeing a female senator and has a close relationship with the Chancellor of the Republic. His relationship with the Chancellor allows him to become the youngest person to sit on the ruling body of the Jedi, the Jedi Council, despite the objections of other influential Jedi. The character Yoda responds to Anakin's appointment by saying, "Allow this appointment lightly, the Council does not. Disturbing is this move by Chancellor Palpatine." Although Anakin is young, he is already a famous war hero who once rescued the Chancellor from a kidnapping attempt and has killed one of the leaders of a rebel group.
Next, Aristotle says that the tragic must have a flaw that brings about his fall. Othello and Anakin each have personality flaws which are exploited by their enemies to bring about their fall. Othello is extremely insecure. He has risen from slavery to the high position he now holds, but he still feels inferior to those around him. As Millicent Bell writes, "Othello seems to suffer the insecurity of someone who has crossed the racial line yet feels reproved for it when his white wife is reclaimed by her social and racial world in her supposed affair with Cassio" (7). She implies that although Othello is a social equal to those in the Venetian aristocracy, he is still a Moor, and therefore an outsider and an inferior. He has taken a noble Venetian woman as his wife to improve his standing only, seemingly, to have her stolen away by one of her own kind. This would reinforce the idea that he is somehow inferior to the native Venetians. Othello himself implies that he is inferior when he says, "Rude am I in my speech, / And little blessed with the soft phrase of peace" (1. 3. 81-82). He later reinforces that statement when he says, "Haply for I am black, / And have not those soft parts of conversation" (3. 3. 263-64). He makes these statements even though his speech throughout the story is just as eloquent as any other character, if not more so.
Anakin, just like Othello, is also a flawed character. However, instead of feeling inferior to his peers as Othello does, Anakin clearly feels superior. He is consumed by hubris and vanity. When told that he would join the Jedi Council but not be made a Master, he immediately became angry and felt insulted. In his anger he remarked, "How can you do this? This is outrageous, it's unfair. How can you be on the Council and not be a Master?" Throughout the movie, Anakin displays his arrogance, which is reinforced by the manipulative chancellor. The chancellor fools Anakin into believing that he can prevent the death of his lover, Padme.
Aristotle further says that the tragic heros fall should be brought about by his own actions. Othello's downfall is entirely due to his own actions. He was too willing to believe Iago's accusations because of his own insecurities. Despite having no real proof of any wrongdoing other than the words of Iago, he becomes very hostile to Desdemona. He even strikes her in public and later calls her "that cunning whore of Venice that married with Othello" (4. 2. 89-90). Thus Othellos actions directly lead to his downfall.
In Revenge of the Sith, Anakin is also responsible for his own downfall. His pride and anger cause him to kill his superior and betray everything he has sworn to protect. He does this to protect the chancellor because he believes that the chancellor is the only person who has the ability to save Padme from the prophetic visions he has been having of her death. After committing this murder, he can redeem himself by killing or apprehending the chancellor, but instead he decides to give in completely to him and help him destroy the Jedi. Later, when confronted by Padme and his master, Obi-Wan, his anger and feelings of betrayal cause him to kill Padme, the very person he sold his soul to save.
Finally, Aristotle says that the tragic heros punishment must be just. In Othello, the punishment does fit the crime. Othello murders his wife for a crime she has not committed without any tangible proof. He condemns her without ever catching her in the act of betrayal and without having any real evidence. He even takes some pride in his crime when he says, "She's like a liar gone to burning hell! / 'Twas I that killed her" (5. 2. 129-30). The fact that he kills himself after murdering the woman he loved is no great surprise to anyone. It is a suitable solution to Othello's predicament. Immediately after Othello's death, Cassio says, "This did I fear, but thought he had no weapon; / For he was great of heart" (5. 2. 360-61). Othellos suicide balances his murder of his wife.
In Revenge of the Sith, however, Anakin definitely deserves punishment for what he has donehe murdered his superior, took part in the massacre of his peers, killed the woman he loves, and allowed a brutal dictator to take poweryet his only punishment is to live with his crimes. Even this, however, is no real punishment. With the exception of killing Padme, he does not see anything wrong with what he has done. He describes his actions by saying, I have brought peace, justice, freedom, and security to my new Empire. So Anakins fate does not balance the scales of justice.
In neither story is there any kind of redemption for the characters. Although Othello does see that he was wrong and makes an eloquent speech about how he himself has been wronged, he still is not redeemed. The fact that he then kills himself prevents any further redemption. His wife is still dead and he has done nothing to pay for his crime. Anakin does not have even the slightest bit of remorse. By the end, he feels nothing but anger. Although he feels regret for killing Padme, he still helps the evil Emperor. The film ends with Anakins standing side by side with the man on whose behalf he has committed all his crimes. If the entire saga is taken into account, there is redemption at the very end when Anakin kills the Emperor to save his son, but this still does not come close to redeeming him completely.
Although both Othello and Anakin Skywalker show some of the elements of the Aristotelian tragic hero, neither meet the definition completely. Both lack some of Aristotle's features of a tragic hero. The characters do not suffer more than they deserve, and neither of them is truly redeemed.
Bell, Millicent. "Shakespeare's Moor." Raritan 21. 4 (2002): 1-14. Literature Resource Center. Web. 17
Shakespeare, William. Othello: The Moor of Venice. Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry,
and Drama. 9th ed. Ed. X. J.Kennedy and Diana Gioia. New York: Pearson, 2005. Print.
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Dir. George Lucas. Twentieth Century Fox, 2005. Film.
Ulrici, Hermann. "Criticisms of Shakspeare's Dramas: Othello." Shakespeare's Dramatic Art And His
Relation to Calderon andGoethe. Trans. A. J. W. Morrison. 1846. 183-91. Literature Resource
Center. Web. 17 April 2006.