Tag Archive | F.R.Leavis


The title of F.R.Leavis’ critique on Othello itself depicts the entire critique. The main title of his critique “Diabolic Intellect and the Noble Hero” suggests the Bradley’s point of view of analyzing Othello, which according to Leavis is sentimental approach towards Othello. Leavis accused Bradley and other critics who supported Bradley’s point of view for not being objective. And thus he called them sentimental and their critique “Sentimentalist’s Othello”.

According to Leavis, because of the collective opinion about Othello, it essence suffers. He says that “relevant discussion of its tragic significance” (p.136) is the result of extrinsic approach i.e. “character-analysis”. Leavis himself was liberal humanist and that’s why he accused Bradley of using extrinsic approach. In spite of the fact, that Bradley also proved his points by giving examples from the text.

Leavis called Bradley’s criticism on Othello “extravagant in misdirected scrupulosity” (p.136) and accused Bradley for lacking knowledge. The reason Leavis assume of misunderstanding by Bradley is that Bradley didn’t fully understand the text, therefore the evidence he give lacks ‘weigh’ (p.136). Bradley’s wrong interpretation of text was due to the lack of understanding of words on text, which happened due to him being sentimental, and that’s the reason he excessively ‘misdirected’ (p.136) the quality of moral integrity in Othello.

Leavis disagree with the Othello being centre of the play “Othello”. According to Leavis, displacement of Iago (which is for Leavis is the centre of Shakespearean tragedy) by Othello is also the result of Bradley being sentimental. He proved his point by quoting from Bradley’s essay that,

Iago’s plot is Iago’s character in action.” (p.137)

For Leavis, it seems like Bradley himself is not aware of the significance of ‘Iago’s character in action’, as for Leavis, the play itself is Iago’s character in action.

The reason Leavis suggest behind this is that Bradley is unaware about Othello’s character in depth. He just considers Iago as a ‘necessary piece of dramatic mechanism’ (p.138). On the contrary, if we treat Iago as a centre according to Leavis, then Othello would be considered as a ‘necessary material and provocation for a display of Iago’s fiendish intellectual superiority” (p.138). In any case, both of the characters are necessary to set the play in action.

Leavis proved Bradley of being sentimental by proving his counter argument from the same text given by Bradley, to prove his own point. Leavis says that Othello was essentially flawed. Iago just provoke that ‘essential element’ (p.139), which was necessary for his success. So in a way Bradley’s too innocent and faultless Othello was according to Leavis essentially faulty. That’s the reason Othello responded to Iago in a manner, Iago wanted him to respond. And thus its Othello’s ‘readiness to respond’ (p.140) which make Othello a tragic play, not Iago’s diabolic intellect.

Leavis proved his point of ‘Othello being essentially faulty’ by quoting from Othello as well as Bradley’s own text. Leavis says that Othello’s trust on Desdemona was partial from the beginning, if we consider Othello under Bradley’s words;

His trust, where he trusts, is absolute.” (p.140)

Also, Othello is represented as a middle aged man in a play, and according to Bradley Othello is ‘of a great openness and trustfulness of nature’ (p.140), but still he didn’t trust Desdemona.

Leavis suggest the reason behind Othello’s distrustfulness about his wife Desdemona’s character and faithfulness is because Othello was essentially ‘self approving self-dramatization’ (p.142) and an emotional person, which didn’t work in his relationship with Desdemona.

The main point which Leavis tried to prove in the entire essay is that it’s not merely Iago’s devilish tricks which cause the tragedy in ‘Othello’. Othello himself was essentially faulty and not too innocent, as the way Bradley depict him. That’s the reason Leavis uses the term “Bradley’s Othello” and claim it to be different from the “Shakespearean Othello”, the traits of Othello which Leavis define in his essay.

Leavis also accused Bradley for being sentimental and in the entire essay he uses the terms like ‘Bradley’s Othello’ (p.136), ‘sustained and sanctioned perversity’ (p.138), ‘preconception’ (p.139), ‘idealizing’ (p.148), ‘betray certain misgivings’ (p.153), to make the reader themselves sentimental, and when it comes to bring forward his own opinion, Leavis uses the terms, ‘the plain fact’ (p.138), ‘it is plain’ (p.145), ‘the text is plain’ (p.144) to show that the text of Othello is so simple. If Bradley had been objective, he would have noticed these points.

According to liberal humanist approach, the job of the criticism is to interpret the text, to mediate between it and the reader. Bradley’s analysis of Shakespearean writing is considered authentic and valid. Therefore, the interpretation which he did of Othello was also considered sustained and sanctioned. Bradley’s reader also treats Othello, the way Bradley has treated. But according to Leavis, the Othello which Shakespeare wanted to depict is entirely different from what Bradley’s followers perceive. To prove his point, Leavis himself became too sentimental and deviate from his thesis, when he starts discussing the purpose of Othello being poetic.

Every person has his own way of interpreting text. It’s not possible to kill your thinking pattern and become entirely objective; the way Leavis wanted Bradley and other critics to be. The point which Leavis proved is very true, but the way he targeted Bradley from the beginning till end suggests that Leavis himself is emotional or so called ‘sentimental’, which contradict with his own point of being objective. Or else he would have put forward his analysis in more descent way, i.e. without taunting Bradley.