Sophocles’ Oedipus and Shakespeare’s Othello are the two plays that were written in different eras: the former in the Ancient Greece, while the latter in the Renaissance Europe. These two works share a good number of similarities and also some differences. Both plays are quite exciting though filled with inauspicious pains and agonies that befall the major characters finally when the plays end. However, a critical analysis of the two works reveals that different situations occasioned the tragic falls of King Oedipus and Othello. While Oedipus’ was mainly due to the work of gods, Othello’s downfall was primarily a self-inflicted one.
To begin with, the plot of these plays is based on the unimaginable tragedy. Tragedy in this context is where the major character is faced with extreme pain and sorrow, or is enduring devastation either because of moral fault, tragic mistake, or inability to cope with a hostile status quo. Similarly, the major characters in the plays, namely Oedipus in Oedipus the King and Othello in Othello, are in desolate situations and suffer much distress, because they are unable to cope up with the harsh state of affairs they have gotten themselves into. Notably, these two tragic heroes went through different tragedies, but some similarities still exist between their circumstances. With these tragic faults, they could have still fallen based on the prophecy that was made over the life of Oedipus though he ignored it, and Othello’s ignorance on his contender’s plan and determination to destroy him in some way no matter the cost. The tragedies occurred because the main characters made their specific decisions which played a role in their destinies.
Othello and Oedipus were both renown because of their self-worth and distinct personalities. The former had a lofty career whereas the latter had his respect gained by birth and his deeds. Oedipus was the son of a royal family; King Laius and Queen Jocasta of Thebes. A prophecy had been made by a seer when the character was born that he would kill his father, King Laius, and so the boy was left alone to die with his feet tied in the Cithaeron mount range. His was rescued only when a shepherd arrived and took him to King Polybus of Corinth who adopted him. Having been brought up nobly, he grew up with a right attitude which was also reflected in his deeds. When he finally arrived in Thebes, a young and vibrant man, he found a sphinx terrorizing citizens of Thebes by posing a riddle to each passerby, and no one managed to unravel the right answer. Fortunately, Oedipus managed to explain it and got rid of the Sphinx from that city. The citizens appreciated him by making him the king, and later he unknowingly married Queen Jocasta, his mother. It shows how he fell into a tragic situation without his knowledge (Roberts, 2013; Anae 2013).
Othello, in his turn, was only noble by his deeds. He served in the position of a General in the Venetian army. Though a black Moor and seen as barbarian, he was still accepted by the Venetian people, since he had a reputable position in the military. He became famous but still lacked belonging to any nobility, and so in defending this, he said: “I fetch my life and being from men of royal siege” (Shakespeare, 2005, 1.2.20-21). His nobility was a product of his career and rank, but not as a result of heritage. His contemporaries showered him with praises as “brave Othello” (2.1.37). They added that Othello “commands like a full soldier” (2.1.35-36). As expected for a real tragic hero, both discussed characters possessed nobility, and this dignity was the defense shield that concealed and protected their weaknesses until they finally blew out of hand at the end of the plays.
Othello, just as Oedipus, was also victimuized by his circumstances. Oedipus, on the one hand, slained his father and married his mother. He bagen having children with his biological mother, falling to incest. On the other hand, Othello killed his wife because of mistrust. Both characters displayed similar reactions to different situations (Anae, 2013). They filled themselves with vengeance, and they channelled it to their wives either directly or indirectly. Fate had predetermined Oedipus’ life, and no matter how much he tried to work against that fate, he still fell in trouble anyway (Rosenfield, 2010). Contrary to this, Othello was more realistic and had a properly formed character. Overwhelmed with suspicion and jealousy, the character suspected that his wife could be engaging in adultery. Iago, Othello’s most trusted friend, was continually feeding him with information that spurred more suspicion, hatred, and mistrust in the hero.
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The troubles that both Othello and Oedipus were in extended down to their loved ones. This even complicated the situation further. On the one hand, when Oedipus learnt the truth about his origin, his unbecoming act of getting married to his mother, and being the one who killed his father, his wife/mother decided to commit suicide by hanging herself in embarrassment. The cause of her death was directly related to Oedipus’ misconduct. The character, therefore, blinded himself in order not to see what was going on in the world and by so doing, he inflicted punishment on himself (Button, 2011). On the other hand, after Othello had discovered that the allegations made against his wife were false accusations, grief and guilt overpowered him, and he slayed himself by stabbing himself to death. Consequently, Othello eliminated himself from his predicaments by committing suicide, while Oedipus performed moral obliteration to himself by removing his eyes (Choon-Ying, 2016).
Even though both plays have demonstrated it otherwise, still these two heroes were in agony due to misdeeds out of pride (Rankine, 2005). Oedipus saw himself as being above the gods, and this accelerated his actions due to his ego. He thought and acted as though he cauld create his destiny in other way than that had been preordained by the gods, and he sought no assistance from the gods as well (Rosenfield, 2010). As the story began, there was a priest who advised Oedipus to help the people during periods of famine and disaster. This was about the time when the hero unraveled the riddle and saved the people from the oppression of the Sphinx. Later on, Oedipus used the same situation to display pride and brags over his achievements (Button, 2011). Othello also shown pride when he experienced social insecurity regarding his appearance and race. He carelessly admitted that he was speaking rudely (Shakespeare, 2005, 1.3.81). Othello’s pride motivated him to slay his wife because he thought that people would make fun of him for the unfaithfulness of his wife. That is why pride led both Oedipus and Othello towards their downfall (Anae, 2013).
The details might be different, but both Othello and Oedipus sufferred great loss and disgrace. Oedipus’ superbia and temperamental attitude turned into disgrace on discovering the truth about his parents. He lost his wife and mother at the same time as well as his sight and ultimately his kingdom. Tiresias’ prophecy fulfilled. Othello’s superbia also resulted in disgrace when he eventually found out the truth. After committing the awful act, Othello did not come to terms with the results of his actions, and so, he gave in that “threw a pearl away/ Richer than all his tribe” (Shakespeare, 2005, 5.2.343-44). He ended up losing the honor he had, and Cassio replaced him as the governor. All the dignity and nobility he had accrued during his lifetime was all downsized by how he finally fell (Altman, 2014).
Hence, it is evident that the downfall of Oedipus had two causes. His downfall was both caused by the works of gods and self-infliction. As much as a prophecy had been made over his life that had to come true, Oedipus’ pride and temperament contributed in part to what befell him (Evans, 2015). His fall began when he murdered his father together with his men without any apparent motive. He could have been led to the road crossing by destiny, but his rage made him kill King Laius, his father. The second error he committed wass due to his ignorance and characteristic stubbornness which did not allow him to forecast what was lying ahead of him to help him adjust and conduct himself with self-control. His overconfidence gave him a feeling that the prophecy by Tiresias was delusive and blamed him instead (Xiao-Bing, 2011).
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After cautiously analyzing all the occurrences that happened in Oedipus and Othello’s lives, it is easier to take a stand on whether the downfall of Oedipus was the work of gods and that of Othello was self-inflicted or not. On the one hand, the defeat of Oedipus was caused by both the works of gods and self-infliction. It comes out that Oedipus’ actions accelerated the realization of the prophecy made regarding his destiny. Therefore, his downfall was partly because of his mistake. On the other hand, Othello’s case is a perfect illustration of self-inflicted fall. His pride and putting too much trust on Iago’s false claims (concerning his wife’s unfaithfulness) without carefully examining the allegations led to his shameful downfall. He allowed himself to be manipulated by acquiring traits that he did not have initially. This led to his transformation from the noble general to a destructive creature. The downfall of Othello was self-inflicted.
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