Comparing Characters in Shakespearian Plays Research Paper

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Oedipus and Othello

Oedipus and Othello are both productions where the namesake of the story or play experiences a downfall before the end of the play.

Oedipus and Othello each experience a downfall

Oedipus was a victim of the actions of the gods

Othello was responsible for his own downfall

Othello had opportunity to change his fate

Othello was deceived by Iago

Othello maims Iago

Iago never explains his motivations iii. Othello's jealousy leads him to murder Desdemona

Othello learns that he was wrong about Desdemona

Some ancillary actions played a part in each of the tragic circumstances

Oedipus' behavior is clearly outside the bounds of morality

a. Oedipus ignores the warnings of his father, Laius

Oedipus has sexual relations with his mother

c. Oedipus kills his father

d. Oedipus had free will and could have stopped himself


Oedipus and Othello are both productions where the namesake of the story or play experiences a downfall before the end of the play.

The stories of Oedipus and Othello are both extremely complex and simple at the same time. The stories are simple in that both men fell prey to their own ignorance or emotions. The stories are complex in manner in which they eventually get to that point and articulate the relations among the many characters. Oedipus' downfall is due in large part to confusion about his birth, his childhood and who his parents really are. Othello fell prey to his own jealousy and brash assumptions in combination with the deceptions and actions of Iago and Cassio. In the end, the statement that Oedipus had his downfall due to the gods and Othello had his due to his own self-infliction is a true statement. However, it is not quite that simple in either case as there were ancillary influences and actions in both cases. For instance, Oedipus' downfall was foretold and this stood in contrast with Oedipus' insistence that his downfall would not take place. Othello's downfall is much more predictable and substantially of his own doing. Oedipus fell prey to the work of the gods while Othello fell prey to his own jealousy, presumptions, and assumptions. When considering whether Oedipus' downfall was due to the gods and Othello's was self-inflicted, the response to both propositions must be affirmative. Oedipus had valid reasons to be concerned about who his blood parents quite possibly were and who they were not. Othello's world became increasingly complex through his own doing; he was having a relationship on the sly with Desdemona. Othello's jealousy regarding his Iago and others led him to kill his love when she was not guilty. The blame for this mistake in judgment falls solely on Othello. While it is true that lago deceived Othello, his own hasty actions were indefensible. This is what drove Othello to take his own life after his crimes. It is perhaps true that both Oedipus and Othello could have avoided their eventual ends through a little self-restraint and a heightened morality sense. Oedipus had a better excuse for his malfeasance than did Othello. Regardless, Othello was warned in advance and he was acting on incomplete information, a situation he seems not to have perceived or given much care or consideration. Othello let his jealousy and assumptions trump any doubts he may have had about the completeness or accuracy of the explanation for what occurred. Certainly, Cassio and Iago both contributed to the Othello's actions but Othello presumably could have prevented the events from spiraling out of control. A body of scholarly literature supports the thesis and other assertions made about the behavior of Othello and Oedipus. A number of tangents and theories can be explored in relation to Othello's circumstances and actions. Observations are commonly made about Othello's repeated use of the word blood at one point in the play. Some reviewers claim that the use of the word blood points to race, while other reviewers point to bloodline, rank, and other factors that would have been more relevant in that day and time. However, some critics claim that Othello did not use the word blood as a reference to barbarism or in any other way indicate that he approved of or enjoyed what had occurred. Rather, the argument is that Othello was using the word to "repair his understanding of the world shattered by Desdemona's purported infidelity" (Feather, 2013). This is a sign that Othello was taking inventory of his actions and trying to understand his own culpability for what happened when he decided to kill his love out of jealousy and presumption (Feather, 2013). Some of the blame certainly falls to Iago;in fact, some scholarly work says this precisely. For example, Christofides (2010) asserts that Iago's "consummate, strategic manipulation of an unstable language tempts Othello to his doom." To be sure, Othello ultimately had control over what he did and how he did it. However, Othello was clearly being manipulated, and the downfalls and actions of Iago and Cassio have to be included in the discussion. Regardless, Othello was being played like a violin and he let it happen to the very end. Perhaps his only consolation is that he maimed Iago before being taken into custody. Something that is extremely vexing about the situation with Iago is that while Othello's reactions and motivations are quite easy to figure out, Iago refuses at any point to explain his motives and why he did what he did. Othello asks him directly, and Iago boldly refuses to utter what is being requested of him. Another viewpoint that has to be explained is that while Othello did not befall his eventual fate due to the gods, he himself acted as a god when he judged Desmendona as a cheat. Since he turned out to be wrong, this overreach was all the more uncalled for and immoral. The striken Othello kills himself at the end, but this does not remotely undo the damage he did. Othello's failure and downfall is ultimately mostly his own (Christofides, 2010). Indeed, Othello let his paranoia take over and the resulting consequences were gargantuan (Riemer, 2005). The story of Oedipus is a lot more complicated but no less convoluted than that of Othello. Oedipus is depicted as a leader thrust into a vile and complicated situation, who does just about everything he can possibly do wrong. Oedipus' misdeeds include the sexual conquest of his mother, the killing of his father, and a plague that Oedipus cannot control even though he vehemently wishes to do so. What makes things even worse is that Oedipus' father Laius is even warned ahead of time what would happen. Like Othello, Oedipus turns his smoldering violence upon himself, setting in motion the events that will lead to his discovery of the depravity and consequences rendered. However, Oedipus is different from Othello in several important ways. First, he was dealing with a plague and not adultery. Second, the question of who his parents really were was a question that was not clearly answered for him until the very end. Third, the killing of Laius was the result of fear of being robbed; it was not a product of trying to be a murderous man. Moreover, the killing of Laius was not the result of feeling murderous toward his own father. Oedipus even helped with the demise of the Sphinx. Thereafter, Oedipus and Jocasta lived in peace and neither of them knew what sacrilege they were committing together. To be sure, Oedipus would have acted differently at several different points on that timeline had he knew the intentions of Laius and who his parents really were (Funk & Wagnall, 2014).

However, many scholars and pundits feel that Oedipus was somewhat complicit in what he did vis-a-vis the incest and other actions. There is a perspective, first off, that undiscovered and unknown crimes are still crimes. Second, it could be argued that he could have left his slaying of the king uninvestigated and his ignorance of what really happened would have been perpetual. However, the most extreme point that can be made about Oedipus' culpability is the fact that he was warned in advance, and perhaps should have been more careful about what he did and why. Rather than assume that he was being robbed by someone -- who later turned out to be his father, the king -- Oedipus could have slowed down to verify the intentions and identity of the person before he struck. Something else that is very vexing about the death of the King is how a member of royalty would be traveling in such an "incognito" fashion to the point where it would not be crystal clear to Oedipus that he was certainly not a robber. Beyond that, there are several other potential "exculpatory discrepancies" that Oedipus seems to willfully and negligent ignore, at the very least. This presumes that Oedipus did not know all along and played dumb until it was clear he could not engage in the charade anymore…

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