The Downfall of Othello is Self-Inflicted

free essaySophocles’ work Oedipus the King and Shakespeare’s work Othello that were written two millennia ago are remarkable and share various similarities of fallen heroes. Their main characters who are depicted as heroes in their own capacity face unfortunate tragedy at the end of each play. The downfall of the authors cannot be conclusively defined  as the work of the gods or self-inflicted because there can be more to that.

Both plays present unbelievable tragedies. Tragedy is defined as a literary work in which the main character undergoes excessive grief that results from moral fault, tragic fault, or failure to withstand hostility in the environment they find themselves in. Consequently, the protagonists of both plays, Othello and Oedipus, who are portrayed as heroes, are pushed to the downfall and suffer excessive grief due to the inability to survive harsh situations in their lives. Although the tragedies of the two main characters in Othello and Oedipus the King are different, they still have some similarities. Both Othello and Oedipus are very prominent people and are respected in their community. In particular, Othello have earned the respect due to his important career as a brave solder, while Oedipus respect and superiority are traced back to his birthright and deeds. Oedipus was born in a royal family; his mother Jacasta and his father Laius were the queen and the king of Thebes. During the birth of Oedipus, the oracle made the prophecy that he will one day kill his father, King Laius.

Afterwards, an action was taken to avert this prediction, and Oedipus was abandoned alone and with his feet tied in the mountains near Cithaeron. Fortunately, he was rescued by a shepherd and raised by Polybus, the King of Corinth, as an adopted child. Therefore, Oedipus developed a noble attitude since he was raised in an honorable family. During his visit to Thebes, he faced the Sphinx that was terrorizing the residents by asking a riddle to which no one knew the answer. However, Oedipus deciphered the riddle of the Sphinx, and the city eradicated the monster. To gratify the act, the people of Thebes made Oedipus the King, and he eventually unknowingly marries his own mother, Queen Jocasta.

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On the other hand, Othello was dignified and held a noble position in Venice due to his deeds. He was a Moor but served as a General commanding the Venetian army. Although he was an outsider, Venetian people held him dear due to his prowess in battle. Othello did not acquire his nobility from inheritance but from his rank and career, and he defended the lack of birthright by saying “I fetch my life and being from men of royal siege” (Shakespeare, n.d.). He was also showered with praises from his colleagues as “brave Othello,” while others reported that he “commands like a full soldier” (Shakespeare, n.d.). Altogether, Oedipus’ and Othello’s nobility is later found to be cover that hides the weakness that was deep rooted in each person. Both of them are portrayed as tragic characters. In particular, the downfall of Oedipus is witnessed when he killed his father and married his biological mother. On the other side, Othello’s downfall was witnessed when he killed his wife accusing her for unfaithfulness in their marriage.

Essentially, the fate of Oedipus could not be avoided, no matter what choices were made (Rosen, 2009). However, the destiny of Othello is debatable since it could be avoided. Although Othello’s character is well formed in the play, he was overflown with jealousy and suspicion when he discovered that his wife may be engaged in adultery. According to Kreeger (1992), every person in any time of his or her live experiences love, passion, and insecurities that distress and cause psychological suffering. Usually, many of these insecurities are baseless or provoked by friends and family members with an aim of satisfying their personal needs (Lesser, 1967). For example, in Othello, Iago fed Othello with suspicion, mistrust, and hatred to the point that it affected him psychologically to the point that he strangled his wife.

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Furthermore, in both plays, Oedipus and Othello had a troubled relationship with their wives. In the event that Oedipus discovered that he has slept with his own mother and have killed his father, he quickly made a decision to hang the mother. The death of his mother is a great tragedy since it acts as an embarrassment of a son who instead of protecting the family kills its members. Having understood his misconduct, Oedipus decided to damage his sight so that he could not directly face the realities of the world. On the other hand, Othello is portrayed as a hero who is so vulnerable to external environment to the extent of killing his wife. Considering that Othello was a prominent person, he could not face a reputation of wife slayer after many years of comfortable living as an army general in the land. After Othello have realized that the circumstances in which he killed his wife were false, the quilt made him to take his life too in order to join the love of his life in the unknown world.

By analyzing the two plays, one can conclude that Oedipus’ circumstances were inventible, while Othello’s suffering was self-inflicted due to his naivety to Iago advices, which were based on false allegations and served the best interest of Iago. It can be deduced that Oedipus and Othello are buried up in a circle of pride. The pride of Oedipus makes him to believe he is greater than gods; therefore, he works tirelessly with the help of well-wishers. Moreover, Oedipus believed that he could reveal his own opinion regarding social and economical environments; consequently, in times of drought and famine, priests begged Oedipus and stated that “It was God that aided you, men say, and you are held …. With God’s assistance to have saved our lives” (Sophocles, 1912). This was said to make the reference to the riddle of the Sphinx that Oedipus deciphered. Furthermore, the pride of Oedipus is revealed when he stated that “But I came, knowing nothing, stopped her, and by my wit solved the riddle” (Sophocles, 1912).

Othello is also portrayed as a proud person. However, his pride can be attributed to his social insecurity regarding his race and identity. Othello is cited to have admitted he speaks rudely (Shakespeare, n.d.). The resultant insecurity and social difference portrayed in the Othello’s character explains why he is jealous of Desdemona love, and this jealousy reveals his sincere hidden fear and love. The fear that other people will ridicule him for his wife’s unfaithfulness and self pride drives him to seek revenge. It is in this context that Gibińska (2013) argued that the main characters in Othello and Oedipus the king can be attributed to their pride.

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Although the circumstances that result to the downfall of the two heroes in the play, Othello and Oedipus, are similar in some aspects, the fall of Oedipus seems to be inevitable as it was predicted since his birth, and all Oedipus was doing is fulfilling the prophecy of the gods. Oedipus lost his mother and wife through hanging to death as well as his sight and the Kingdom as the prediction came true. Rosen (2009) termed this tragedy as an exchange of riches to beggary.

On the other side, Othello’s self-pride and mistrust drives him to a humiliating end by doing terrible things. He kills his wife and takes his own life due to negative influence of the trusted friend. Moreover, Othello is labeled a murderer after the death; therefore, he is not considered a hero to the end.

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In conclusion, after discussing the incidences of the lives and deeds of Othello and Oedipus in the play Othello and Oedipus the King by Shakespeare and Sophocles respectively, it is possible to agree with the statement that  the downfall of Oedipus is the work of the gods and the downfall of Othello is self-inflicted. The reasons of saying Othello’s downfall is self-inflicted include that he had much pride but naively believed what Iago said regarding his wife and developed a deep mistruth in her. On the other hand, the downfall of Oedipus can be termed as both gods work and self-inflicted in that although there was a prophecy predicting his action, his attitude, and temperament drove him to committing silly mistakes. The first one was the killing of King Laius without any motive. Although it can be argued destiny guided him there, but it was his own choice to murder his father, King Laius, and his escorts without any reason. Destiny may have taken him there, but he had a choice to not shed blood. Essentially, the conditions of life and struggles of both protagonists caused them to make wrong decisions that led to the tragic end.