The tragedy of learning nothing

In Lectures on Shakespeare, the poet W. H. Auden offers this insight about Shakespearen tragedy, in general, and Othello, in particular:

The big figures in Shakespeare’s tragedies do not learn anything – that is the ultimate tragedy of Shakespearean tragedy. Othello says in his last speech,

Soft you; a word or two before you go.
I have done the state some service, and they know’t.
No more of that. I pray you, in your letters,
When you shall these unlucky deeds relate,
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
Perplex’d in the extreme; of one whose hand,
Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away
Richer than all his tribe; of one whose subdued eyes,
Albeit unused to the melting mood,
Drop tears as fast as the Arabian trees
Their medicinal gum. Set you down this;
And say besides, that in Aleppo once,
Where a malignant and a turban’d Turk
Beat a Venetian and traduced the state,
I took by the throat the circumcised dog,
And smote him, thus.

Othello learns nothing, remains in defiance, and is damned. He cannot think why he did what he did, or realize what was wrong. His thoughts are not on Desdemona at all. He just recalls he did some service to the state, and he ends by identifying himself with another outsider, the Moslem Turk. He has no realization of why he was jealous. It’s easy for us to see that Othello and Desdemona should not have married, but he never does.

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