Compare and Contrast: The Downfalls of Oedipus and Othello

Compare and Contrast: The Downfalls of Oedipus and Othello
Oedipus and Othello were both honorable and heroic men that became the victims of two tragic downfalls that can be compared and contrasted with each other. Sophocles, the writer of Oedipus the King, and Williams Shakespeare, the writer of Othello, were both enormously influential playwrights of their respective generations and their legacy continues today. The two playwrights made their masterpieces during different eras; Sophocles life coincided with the Golden Age of Greek tragedy and Shakespeare worked during the Elizabethian period. Despite being born about 2,000 years apart, their works are similar in that they could both describe and make the tragic downfalls of two distinguished men come to life. The downfalls of Othello and Oedipus can be compared and contrasted through their pride, tragic flaws, and fate.
Pride is a characteristic that generally has good connotations, but in the case of a tragic hero it only makes the downfall more tragic. Both Othello and Oedipus were very prideful men prior to their downfalls. They were men of extraordinary accomplishments and they each possessed the ability to be a good leader. Othello was an upstanding citizen who was known for his military success. He is somewhat of a mystical character because he came from a foreign land where he experienced adventures that astounded the Venetians. Oedipus was also somewhat of a Renaissance man. He, like Othello, was known for his military success, but his true pride came from his position as a wise and confident king of Thebes. Oedipus stated, ?I Oedipus whom all men call the great.? (Sophocles line 7) Each man?s pride can be considered a catalyst and early stage to their respective downfalls, but in different ways. Othello, as a prideful man, thought it necessary to kill his own wife because she had not been loyal. On the other hand, Oedipus would not let the murderer of Laius go undiscovered, because the plague was tarnishing his image. In the end, the investigation would prove costly when it would be responsible for revealing the truth behind his awful fate. Pride cannot be considered a tragic flaw because any man with the positions of either Othello or Oedipus would posses this trait, but it most definitely makes a fall from grace more difficult to cope with.
Othello and Oedipus are traditional tragic heroes, because they both possess tragic flaws. Iago has no problem fitting Othello into his plot, the cause of Othello?s downfall, because Othello is easily persuaded and has an unsuspecting nature. Iago was aware of this and expressed this knowledge in the quote, ?The moor is of a free and open nature that thinks men that but seem to be so?? (Shakespeare line 442-443) Time and time again Othello believes Iago over anyone else and continuously gives into Iago?s malicious traps. This quality is an encumbrance to Othello and is why he so easily believes Iago when he tells him of an untrue affair between Desdemona and Cassio. Using Othello?s unsuspecting nature to his advantage, Iago compounds Othello?s false beliefs by using beguiling evidence such as the handkerchief. Aso, he uses the description of Cassio?s mingling with Bianca where Othello mistakenly thought he was talking about Desdemona to further Othello?s beliefs. While Othello may have been too naïve, Oedipus was the antithesis. Oedipus was burdened with his perfidious prophecy, but if it was not for his analytical mind he may have never discovered that the prophecy had actually been fulfilled. This investigative nature of his led to another tragic flaw, benevolence. Oedipus cared about the people of Thebes so much he would not give up until he found the city?s perpetrator that was responsible for the plague. Despite Oedipus?s analytical mind, he was unable to see that the prophecy was being fulfilled and that he was the murderer of Laius. If he would have accepted his prophecy, he would have known better than to try and find the perpetrator. His denial can be justified though considering no man in his right mind would be able to live with such a foul prophecy. Basically, the tragic flaws of Othello and Oedipus can be summed up as Othello made irrational decisions with his heart whereas Oedipus made hurtful decisions with his brain. Because of the two tragic heroes? flaws, their downfalls were at some point imminent.
The imminence of Othello and Iago?s tragic fate came at different points of each character?s life. Both were victims of different villians that would lead to their ill-fated demises. A horrible prophecy where Oedipus was to murder his father and then marry his mother was the villain in Oedipus?s case. He was on a road to perdition since the day he was born, because the prophecy made his fate unavoidable. Oedipus and his family tried to take every action possible from avoiding the prophecy. Laius and Jocasta even tried to kill their cursed son at birth, but their plan was unknowingly foiled. The only way to prevent the tragic downfall was to keep Oedipus from knowing his calamitous destiny, which did not happen because Oedipus proved to be far too wise. Once Oedipus knew his fate, he thought he could avoid it by moving away from Corinth, but in the end that only made his fate more realistic. Contradictory to Oedipus?s situation, Othello?s fate was avoidable. If Othello would not have thought irrationally and have been more Oedipus-like, meaning he would have done more investigation, then possibly the truth would have been revealed before Othello killed Desdemona. Different arguments can be made as to when Othello had sealed his tragic fate. One could argue that Othello was doomed when he triggered Iago?s hate to a greater extent than it already was by appointing Cassio as his Lieutenant. Another argument could be that Othello was not doomed until Iago came into possession of the handkerchief, but nonetheless Othello was not doomed from the beginning like Oedipus. The two?s fates both ended in destruction and humility, but they took quite different paths to get there. In the end, it can be concluded that they both went from men of high authority to ?strangers in the village.?
?The stranger in the village? is usually associated with the lowest of the low in society. A former military general and a former king of a city are usually still noble people long after their work is done, but that is what makes the characters Othello and Oedipus such tragic figures. Othello dealt with his fall from grace by committing suicide because he could not live with his deed of killing Desdemona for a pointless reason whereas Oedipus did not feel suicide was necessary. Instead he gouged his eyes out saying ?darkness is my world.? (Sophocles line 476) Oedipus completes his drastic downfall when he is exiled from Thebes. The two characters can only be understood through pity, but by comparing and contrasting the two characters the readers can develop a better understanding of how tragic their downfalls actually were. Othello and Oedipus were similar characters in that they were both tragic heroes, but the aspects of their downfalls differed significantly. The characters could be compared and contrasted on the bases of pride, tragic flaws, and fate.

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