Othello, Moor of Venice, by William Shakespeare, and Oedipus King, by Sophocles, share some parallels in that they all feature characters who are befallen by tragedies outside their grasp. The misfortune of King Oedipus was caused by the gods’ job. This was due to the gods’ prophecy that the king would murder his father and marry his mother. This demonstrates that he had no say in what happened to him when the gods had already decided his destiny before he was born. Othello’s misfortune, on the other hand, was mostly self-inflicted, as his conduct caused him to lose faith in his wife and ultimately murder her in her sleep. This essay will support the statement that Oedipus’ downfall is the work of the gods and Othello’s downfall is self-inflicted. The essay will discuss how the tragedy of Oedipus could not be avoided by any means due to the powerful nature of the gods.
Both Othello and Oedipus are notable and heroic characters in their society who stand out to lead and their people believe in them. Oedipus acquires his leadership attributes from birth as he was from a lineage of leaders and Othello through his success in military and his adventures from a foreign land. Both characters became victims of tragic downfalls in the end as a result of evil schemes and for Oedipus, the work of the gods. They both had great accomplishments prior to their downfall, which made their fall to be more tragic.
Oedipus is the king of Thebes, a land that has been attacked by a mysterious plague. He learns that the only way to stop the plague is by unveiling the killer of the previous king Laius. After he consults with prophet Teresias, Oedipus learns that he himself is indeed the killer. He then recounts to Jocasta (his wife and mother) how long ago he had fled home because an oracle had been foretold that he would kill his father and marry his mother. On the way, he encountered a stranger and killed him in self-defense. Sadly, the stranger turned out to be the king Laius, his father. Jocasta warns him not to pursue the matter and to leave it alone, but his determination to learn the truth gets the better of him and he summons shepherds who had served the previous king to tell him the truth. He finally discovers that the stranger he had killed was indeed his father, and Jocasta was his mother. Jocasta ends up killing herself, and Oedipus is banished from the land just as he had promised a punishment for the person, who murdered the previous king. Thus he gets his tragic fate, as proclaimed by the gods.
Oedipus had little or no control over what happened to him as his fate had already been sealed by the gods and could not be altered. He was doomed to have a tragic ending even before he was born because the gods had already sealed his fate. No matter what he did, the prophecy could not be changed (Rosenfield 2010). The gods were powerful beings respected by the people and whatever they proclaimed always came to pass.
On the other hand, the downfall of Othello was self-inflicted and as a result of evil schemes by other people. Othello is a military commander who has just married Desdemona, the love interest of Roderigo, a rich man who has hired Iago to help him in his pursuit of Desdemona. When Othello, a respectable and honorable man fails to promote Iago to the position of lieutenant and instead promotes Cassio, Iago and Roderigo team up and complain to Desdemona’s father that Othello only married her because he put her on a magic spell. Othello makes his case to the senate and Desdemona states allegiance to him. Iago comes up with another scheme to make Cassio get demoted and get revenge on Othello. He sees Cassio innocently holding Desdemona’s hand and uses this to make Othello believe that his wife is unfaithful. He further makes Cassio start a fight with the governor of Cyprus, and he ends up stabbing him. This makes Othello demote Cassio, who complains about this to Iago.
Iago convinces him to beg Desdemona to plead to Othello on his behalf, which would make Othello become more suspicious of her unfaithfulness. When Desdemona begs her husband to reinstate Cassio, Othello’s suspicions grow and he becomes jealous and angry and accuses her of adultery. He further smothers her with a pillow while she is sleeping, killing her. When Othello later discovers that it was all a scheme and that his wife was not unfaithful at all, he is overcome by guilt and ends up killing himself. Iago, on the other hand is arrested and executed.
Had Othello not been too quick to judge his wife and instead carried an investigation first, he would not have killed her for nothing. He let his pride and jealousy overcome him and made a harsh decision to kill her. His anger and jealousy led to his tragic downfall as he ended up killing himself. Othello failed to listen to his wife’s pleas regarding her innocence and started making plans to kill her in her sleep. He ended up dying tragically by suicide after suffering guilt from his actions. He caused his own downfall by failure to trust his wife and failing to see the obvious schemes by his enemies. Othello was a good man who trusted his enemies (Iago and Cassio). This led to his demise which perhaps could have been prevented.
Both king Oedipus and Othello had many traits in common that contributed to their downfall. Both were honorable and heroic men in the society filled with pride as they had a reputation to behold. Pride made these characters’ downfall to be more tragic as they were both mystical and upstanding leaders. Othello’s pride made him kill his disloyal wife and Oedipus’ pride made him more vigilant in pursuing the previous king’s killer, not knowing that he himself was the killer he was looking for. The fact that people were looking up to him to end the plague only added to his pride. Oedipus himself stated that he was the greatest of all and this led him to uncover a disturbing oracle that finally led to his banishment from the tribe.
Another similarity in the characters is that both their wives contributed to their downfall as they both lost their wives in the end. Othello suspected his wife of being unfaithful to him, thus killing her out of anger and jealousy. On the other hand, Oedipus discovered his wife was indeed his mother, and she ended up killing herself. The death of both Oedipus and Othello’s wives affected them significantly and finally contributed to their deaths.
Oedipus is a notable character whose determination to resolve a previous king’s murder leads him to unveil a disconcerting mystery that it was in fact he who killed the previous king and worse, married his mother. This is something that the gods had foreseen and manipulated the occurrences that made him fall eventually. The gods played a significant role in his tragedy and his actions also somewhat accelerated the prophecy of the gods. He was determined to unravel the person responsible for the king’s death, despite warnings by his wife and prophet Teresias to leave the matter alone. Had he heeded to the warnings, perhaps he would have avoided being banished from the community and prove the gods’ oracles futile.
Othello, on the other hand meets his downfall from his self-inflicted actions and also from the actions and evil schemes of other people, especially lago, who plotted his downfall. Othello was a man full of pride, and he let it get the better of him when he saw a necessity to slay his disloyal wife. Despite the fact that he had little evidence to support her disloyalty, he killed her anyway (Xiao-Bing, 2011).
Othello’s tragedy was as a result of his own actions and could have been avoided. Killing his wife was not the best way to solve her ‘unfaithfulness’. He did so out of anger and jealousy, which he had brought upon himself. He killed his wife after suspecting her of being unfaithful, without having solid evidence. After learning that his wife was indeed innocent, he later committed suicide due to the guilt of what he had done. Perhaps he could have avoided his tragic downfall altogether had he trusted his wife and not let the jealousy consume him. His tragic downfall was also inflicted by others who were jealous of his success, such as Iago who plotted the whole scheme to make him lose trust in his wife (Lan 1991).
On the other hand Oedipus is an honorable and great king who cannot escape the fate the gods bestowed upon him. No matter what he does or how well he strives to serve his people, he cannot escape his destiny as he has to unravel the mysterious killer who killed king Laius. The tragedy that befell him was bound to happen no matter what he did.
Both Othello and Oedipus faced tragic downfalls caused by circumstances unbeknownst to them. King Oedipus’ tragic downfall was majorly the work of the gods and could not be avoided. The prophecy regarding his ending came to pass just as it had been proclaimed. Othello’s tragedy was both self-inflicted and inflicted by others. Both of these characters have similarities and differences that contributed to their tragic downfall. The tragedy that befell Othello shows the need to watch one’s actions as they may become one’s undoing. Oedipus’ downfall shows that no one can escape their destiny that the gods have bestowed upon them.
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