Agree or Disagree: The downfall of Oedipus is the work of the gods; the downfall of Othello is self-inflicted


The plays Othello by William Shakespeare and Oedipus King by Sophocles are both written over two thousand years ago with a great number of similarities and dissimilarities. Both are very remarkable plays but are thick with unfortunate agonies to the main characters at the end. This cannot be immediately decided that their downfall was either self inflicted or work of Gods because there can be much more to it. To reach up to any final conclusions about the grounds of their downfall, it is important to highlight the backdrop of both plays which is discussed below.


First of all, the plot of both the plays is based up on inconceivable tragedy. Tragedy can be defined as “A piece of literary work or drama in which the main character endures extreme sorrow or is brought to devastation, especially as a result of a tragic flaw, moral flaw, or failure to cope with hostile state of affair. Likewise, the main characters of both the plays; Othello in Othello and Oedipus in Oedipus King are brought to devastation and they suffer extreme distress because of their incapacity to get by the harsh circumstances. However, the tragedies both underwent were different, but there were still some similarities. But yet with these tragic flaws, they would probably both still had fallen to the same fate, based on what was prophesied for Oedipus and his ignoring of it, and the ignorance by Othello on what was devised by Othello’s contender that he was determined to accomplish some way. The occurrence of tragedy was a cause of characters possessing other characters’ traits.

Oedipus and Othello are both very notable personalities because of their dignity and distinction, Othello by an eminent career and Oedipus by birth and deed. Oedipus is the offspring of the king and queen of Thebes, Laius and his wife Jocasta. Because of a prophecy made by an oracle at Oedipus’ birth that he will murder his father, King Laius; he was left alone to die in the mountains with his feet pierced and tied where Cithaeron is. He was then rescued by a shepherd from there and was adopted and raised by King of Corinth, “Polybus” (834-35). Since he was brought up in a noble family of King Polybus, he had a noble attitude and was also noble in deed. When Oedipus arrived to Thebes as a young man, there was a sphinx that was terrorizing the citizens by asking a riddle from every passerby and no one could answer. Oedipus answered the riddle of the sphinx and city got rid of that monster. In gratitude, he was made king of Thebes and he unknowingly marries his own mother, Queen Jocasta.

On the other hand, Othello is noble just by deed. He is a Moor and barbarian and serves as General in the Venetian army. He is an outsider, a black man, still Venetian people accepts him because of his distinguished career in Venetian army. He is famous but still he doesn’t belong to a noble family so for defending his lack of noble inheritance he asserts: “I fetch my life and being from men of royal siege” (1.2.20-21). His rank and career makes him noble, not his heritage. He is also well praised by his contemporaries as “brave Othello” (2.1.37) and they also assert that Othello “commands like a full soldier” (2.1.35-36). Just as required in a true tragic hero, Othello and Oedipus have that nobility in them as this nobility is the only shield that covers and conceals the weaknesses lying within each person.

Both the characters of Oedipus and Othello are tragic characters. Oedipus finishes off slaying his father and marrying and having kids with his own biological mother, whereas, Othello ends up slaying his wife due to mistrust. Both of these characters have similarities and differences in many aspects, like the vengeance they filled in themselves against their wives, directly or indirectly and their horrors. Oedipus is a man who cannot avoid his fate, no matter which way he leads, he would end up in trouble nonetheless (Rosenfield 2010) In contrast, Othello is a well formed character and is realistic. He is a man who, over flown with jealousy and suspicion, learns that his wife may be engaged in adultery. Everyone who has been in love encounters such feeling once in a while and that feeling is sometimes fed by the most trusted person just like in Othello’s case and it turns out to be shocking for that person. As Iago, the most trusted person of Othello persistently feeds Othello’s suspicion, his hatred and mistrust breeds for his wife till he ultimately slays her.

Othello and Oedipus both trouble their wives and themselves. When Oedipus gets to know the truth about himself and about his exceedingly dissolute acts of marrying his mother and killing his father, his mother cum wife Jocasta hangs her in embarrassment. Her death is hence an indirect consequence of Oedipus’ misconduct. As a result, he blinds himself because he no more wants to see the world and so he inflicts self punishment on himself. On the other hand, Othello erroneously accuses his wife Desdemona of adultery with Cassio and therefore strangles her to death. Later on, when he finds out about the truth and realizes that his allegations were untrue and improperly based, he is filled with grief and guilt and so he stabs himself to death. Consequently, Oedipus ends up doing moral obliteration of his own self while Othello obliterates himself by killing his own self (Lan 1999).

Although, both plays have shown it differently, but both the heroes Othello and Oedipus are suffering from the misdeed of pride. Oedipus believes himself to be greater than the gods and this action of him exposes his pride. He believes he has the capacity and ability to establish own destiny other than the control of gods or any of their help (Rosenfield 2010). At the starting of the tale the priest begs Oedipus to aid people in the times of trouble and famine then says: “It was God / that aided you, men say, and you are held / With God’s assistance to have saved our lives” (43-45). By that, the priest referred to the answer of Oedipus regarding the riddle of sphinx which set free the people of Thebes from the dominance of Sphinx. Though, afterwards the pride of Oedipus is revealed when referring to the same event he says: “But I came, / Oedipus, who knew nothing, and I stopped her. / I solved the riddle by my wit alone”(433-35). Othello also suffers from the transgression of pride. However, his pride has grown from his social insecurity regarding his race and appearance. Othello freely admits that he speaks rudely (1.3.81). And at last, the insecurity of Othello regarding his appearance and social differences escorts him to jealousy over the love of Desdemona and this jealousy further reveals his true fear and pride. Othello fears that other people will ridicule him for his wife’s unfaithfulness and his pride motivates him for vengeance. So, pride drives both Othello and Oedipus towards their destruction (Chunlei 2006).

While there’s a difference in details but both of them suffer enormous shame and loss. Oedipus’ pride and temperament turn into shame on realizing his truth about his father and wife. He thereafter loses his mother and wife at the same time, hanging to death (1294) and then he loses his sight and after all, he loses his Kingdom as Teiresias prophecy turns out to be true i.e. “blindness for sight / and beggary for riches his exchange”. Othello’s pride and mistrust also takes form of shame as he finds out about the truth. Doing this terrible deed, Othello also loses his true love and he realises and admits that “threw a pearl away / Richer than all his tribe”(5.2.343-44). He also ends up losing his honour and is replaced by Cassio as governor and labelled a murderer and at the very end he loses his life by killing himself (Toker & Karakuzu 2011).


After carefully observing all the incidents happened in Othello and Oedipus’ lives and their responses to those incidents, it is easy to decide whether the down fall was self inflicted or work of gods. The case of Othello is a perfect example of self inflicted downfall. The reason being, he had a lot of pride and trusted what Iago said about his wife and mistrusted her. On the other hand, the downfall of Oedipus is both self-inflicted and work of Gods. Though there was a prophecy about him and it came true as well but he had an attitude and temperament that also led him to his fate. The first mistake in moving towards self inflicted downfall was the murder of King Laius and his men at road crossing, without any motive. Destiny may have taken him there but it was his own fury that made him kill the King. The second big mistake was his ignorance coupled with his stubborn nature which did not let him foresee things otherwise he could have led to some self control. After that his confidence makes him believe that evidence provided by Teriesas is false and puts the blame on him in return. (Xiao-Bing 2011) All of these facts made him move towards his fate on his own therefore he was also responsible for his downfall whereas, Othello’s downfall was totally self inflicted.


Primary Sources

William, S. (1979). Othello.

Sophocles.  Oedipus the King

Secondary Sources

Chunlei, L. X. L. (2006). On the Racial Tragedy of Shakespeare’s Othello [J]. Journal of Nanping Teachers College, 1, 028.

Lan, W. (1999). A Most Unfortunate Marriage─ A Brief Analysis of Othello. Journal of Pla University of Foreign Languages, 3, 002.

Toker, A., & Karakuzu, M. (2011). Shakespeare‘s Othello: A Representation of the Clash between the Orient and the Occiden.

Xiao-bing, X. I. A. (2011). The Dual Tragedy of Fate and Humanity——The Oedipus in the Perspective of Tragedy Aesthetics. Journal of Langfang Teachers College (Social Sciences Edition), 2, 010.

Rosenfield, K. H. (2010). Oedipus-detective and psychoanalyst?. ANTARES (Letras e Humanidades), (1), 21-41