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The Hamartia

The Inferiority Complex

 Othello, by William Shakespeare tells the story of an African American general and his ultimate downfall. The play revolves around Othello, who was a skilled warrior and military strategist and his white wife, Desdemona. Desdemona falls for Othello despite his color and the wishes of her father, and this leads to her death. Othello is tricked by one of his warriors, Iago, for Iago's personal gain, to believe that Desdemona is cheating on him. The thought of this occurring drives Othello to the brink of insanity, causing him to not only kill his wife in his anger, but himself as well. It is clear through many instances in Othello that the reason for Othello's demise and murder of his wife is due to an inferiority complex.

According to the Marriam-Webster dictionary, an inferiority complex is defined as: "an acute sense of personal inferiority often resulting either in timidity or through overcompensation in exaggerated aggressiveness". According to Alfred Alder, this inferiority develops due to an internal need within a person to feel superior. As soon as there is any form of interruption, or denial of this superiority, one can lapse into strong feelings of inferiority, eventually leading to an inferiority complex. Othello falls under this definition well, as initially resulting from his difference in color from his peers and comrades, Othello develops a low self-esteem, always feeling the need to justify his rank or actions. He then proceeds to overcompensate for this inferiority with "exaggerated aggressiveness" resulting in the death of his wife. He refers to himself as himself as "Rude am I in my speech, and little blessed with the soft phrase of peace…and little of this great world can I speak…" (Othello 1.3.84-86). Othello himself thinks lowly of his own status and intelligence level, even when asked to explain how he managed to marry Desdemona. He states how he has "little of this great world" he can speak of, despite his many travels and accomplishments. He sees himself solely through the eyes of his rank, stating, "My parts, my title…shall manifest me rightly" (Othello 1.2.32). Othello is claiming that the only thing that redeems him as a person, makes him acceptable in society are "his parts and his title". When one lowers themselves to just their rank, there is no doubt it can lead to eventual inferiority in the other areas of his life.

Not only does Othello view himself as inferior, but there are many instances of explicit racism and degradation of Othello throughout the play. Such constant humiliation can have an effect on a person and eventually create a distressing sequence of thoughts, becoming habitual. Othello is constantly called a "Moor" by his comrades, a low term for someone of African descent, and other such degrading terms. Desdemona's father, in doubt of a true relationship between his daughter and Othello, says that Desdemona fell in love with "that which she feared to look on" (Othello 1.3.101). He claims that there must have been sorcery involved, or there is no way that she would have fallen in love with "the sooty bottom" (Othello 1.2.73) of Othello. Hearing such things can have an effect on a person, and according to Alfred Adler, repeated humiliation can indeed create an inferiority complex.

The constant discrimination from his friends and peers eventually has an effect on Othello. Upon the revelation of Desdemona's supposed affair, Othello proclaims "Farewell the tranquil mind! Farewell content! Farewell the plumed troop, and the big wars that make ambition virtue! O, farewell!" (Othello 3.3.357-360). It can be inferred from this that Othello placed much of his self-view and self-esteem in the context of his relationship with Desdemona. He bids goodbye to "his tranquil mind" and his rank, "the plumed troop". Through the loss of his relationship with her, he supposedly believes he loses his masculinity and rank, sending him into levels of insanity. This trauma eventually leads him to murdering his wife. Othello admits to himself, because of what others have told him, that his coloring is a setback and a disgrace. He says that now, "Her name, that was as fresh as Dian's visage, is now begrimed and black as mine own face" (Othello 3.3.396-398). Othello is admitting that to society, his face connotes dirtiness, untruthfulness, guilt and most importantly, inferiority.

The culmination of the racial and personal stress, Othello's inferiority results in "exaggerated aggressiveness" in the form of the death of his wife. After murdering her, Othello says, "Speak of me as I am / Nothing extenuate, nor set down aught in malice. / 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" (Othello 5.2.402-406). He blames his actions not on the fact that he was jealous, which would intimate that he had a serious character flaw that others do not, and simply states it was due to the fact that he "loved her too well". He is ensuring that he still looks good in the eyes of others, and that his beloved reputation has not been lost when blood was shed.

It is even possible that the sole connection between Othello and Desdemona for Othello was purely to increase his feelings of self-esteem and self-security, proving to himself that this improbable love and affection was solely based on his stature and success. He says Desdemona "loved me for the dangers I had passed, and I loved her that she did pity them" (Othello 1.3.171-172). He states that he loved Desdemona purely for the fact that she loved and respected the "dangers he had passed". He does not love her for her beauty, charm or personality, but for the fact that she has the ability to reduce the sense of inferiority he experiences.

It is clear to see through many instances in Othello that Othello did indeed suffer from some form of an inferiority complex. Through the relentless critics and snubs, Othello's self-esteem takes a sharp decline. He then begins to see himself in the light of others, as a low, unimportant African American male. He sees himself solely in terms of his rank, intertwined with his unlikely romance with Desdemona. This eventually leads to his attempt to remove these feelings of inferiority by overcompensating his strength and position, culminating with the death of his wife and his suicide. It is clear through many instances in Othello that the reason for Othello's demise and murder of his wife is due to his inferiority complex.

Works Cited

Farooqi, Saif. "Life And Psychology." INFERIORITY AND INFERIORITY COMPLEX, 28 Feb. 2009,

Shakespeare, William. No Fear Shakespeare: Othello. Sparknotes, 2003.

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