21 Mar 2022


The Downfalls of Oedipus and Othello

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The downfall of great men in literature appears to follow dramatic events either forged by the author as the will of the gods or the consequence of their actions. Whether the audience believes in a deity or not is usually not the issue, but the society in which the literature was created. Certainly, there is a great change in cultural beliefs and societies now than in medieval times. While that leaves room for debate, the works of Sophocles and Shakespeare are distinct illustrations of the workings of fate and personal choices and actions. In the case of Oedipus, the man’s fate had already been sealed by prophesy made against his father and the kingdom at large. This prophecy was made even before his birth (Rohmawati 2015). On the other hand, Othello was just a human being faced with the same flaws as all human beings are.


This essay looks into the nature of the two men, the circumstances in which they lived and why their downfalls were different. It agrees with the statement that the downfall of Oedipus was orchestrated by the gods while that of Othello was self-inflicted. It considers the society in which the story was set along with the beliefs of the time, moral, spiritual and religious. These beliefs are such as prophesies, the gods, as Zeus is constantly mentioned in the tale and symbolism. Morally, the gods would punish the society for their evil deeds and disobedience as seen in the actions of Laius who had been an evil king. Furthermore, the sins of Oedipus would bring great suffering and destruction in the land. Additionally, the gods meant to remain superior, and the mortals inferior to them. Such was the spiritual aspect of the society and was the reason why the gods would rage over their mortal leaders exalting themselves. The essay also utilizes scrutiny of the plot greatly and the personalities of the characters to expound on this statement (Dwita1996). It takes note of the possibility of success in the life of Oedipus that would have occurred had his fate not been sealed. On the other hand, Othello’s ending was only his fault given that he could have succeeded had he heeded to reason (William Shakespeare, 2002).

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Fate and Freewill

The story of Othello by Shakespeare presents a man that was naïve to believe in the words of Lago without questioning his motives. In any case, Lago was a platonic manipulator who even Roderigo. The character of Lago is stealthy and very sly as he often makes accusations indirectly to plant doubt in the Moor’s mind. “I cannot believe, that he would steal away so guiltily, see you coming,” is what he says to Othello concerning Cassio. He goes on to plant evidence in Cassio’s room to prove that the lieutenant is indeed cheating on Othello’s wife, Desdemona. A simple manipulative act leads to frustration on Othello’s side because he does not question i The great Oedipus in his might declare to Teirasias, “I do not know then that you talk like a fool, or it would have been long before in invited you,’ (p 7). In saying so, he rejects the will of the gods and denies that he has been used to bring destruction to Thebes.

nvestigate the accusation (Sophocles, 1988). 

The situations of Oedipus and Othello are attributable to the gods and man because despite all his efforts Oedipus was unable to escape his fate. It is quite unfortunate that his fate was to bring destruction to a society which he was king. Should his fate have been a better one, then Oedipus would never have made attempts against it and would instead have accepted and lived through it (William Shakespeare, 2002). Sadly, he was not happy about it as many would not be. It was obviously devastating and led him to his death after gorging out his own eyes (William Shakespeare, 2002). On the other hand, there was no prophecy against or for Othello. Even so, his fall did occur. The case of Othello is different because of his insecurity, pride, and jealousy led him into being manipulated by Lago. Unlike Oedipus, the man’s decision to reason out more and trust his wife would have gone a long way to change the outcome (Knox, 1966). “Nay, but he prated, And spoke such scurvy and provoking terms, Against your honor That, with the little godliness I have,” ( p 10) Othello’s doom is in the words that Lago breathes. Lago has the ability to portray himself as an angel whilst painting everyone else as the devil.

The Personalities of Othello and Oedipus

It is right to say that the personalities of the two leaders played a great role in their downfalls. They were both prideful and powerful at the same time. Nevertheless, where the gods are not mentioned, the person appears to be irredeemable whether from a good or a bad outcome. Othello has no excuse for his actions and suffers greatly as a consequence. The community judges him on his own accord. On the other hand, the situation of Oedipus is inevitable, and all who know of the prophecy can only pity him. It is extremely for Oedipus when his wife explains to him that she did give up a male child. With every piece of information, the entire picture becomes real as has been foretold. It is only right to imagine that Oedipus fate would have to be fulfilled by all means. It is also important to note that he has a conscience. Oedipus runs from his fate because he feels morally convicted (Dwita, 1996). He does not like the idea of killing his father or marrying his mother. It appears that the gods require someone for the role who will fulfill the prophecy unknowingly. Since he is clearly devastated by the realization, he is not independently capable of such immorality. The gods use his oblivion to show human weakness and their power over them. They plan out to destroy a society for the actions of their king, and they do it. The story teaches that the gods are supreme and can do whatever with human beings whether good or bad (Knox, 1966).

Othello is just a man. He is flawed and not by the gods. The flaws of this man only encourage human beings to better themselves rather than beat themselves down for their weaknesses. It also helps them realize that they do have a degree of control over their lives. Evidently, the character of Lago means to encourage power in decision making. The man achieves almost each one of his missions through talking others into doing what he wants. For this reason, he is even a stronger character than Othello (Zabidi, 1966). The story here encourages freewill and independent thinking. Unlike Oedipus, Othello has a choice. He does not have to believe everything, Lago. Othello is an exotic black man in the story. In this way, he faces societal issues such as racism that may undermine his position of power and decision making. However, he also has a status in the society meaning that he is doing extremely well. His character is no stereotype, and he is therefore as powerful as any other person would be in his position. For this reason, he has the ability to shut down any negative influence from people such as Lago. It is his poor choices that lead Othello to his downfall as compared to Oedipus (Dwita, 1996).

The two stories are quite similar but convey complementary lessons. In Sophocles work, the entire kingdom of Thebes is run by kings but who are under the gods. Therefore, there is fate. The kingdom at the time of Oedipus suffers for the wickedness of King Laius. It means that the gods have the ability to help the society become better through correcting them when need be. Nevertheless, the same community should not disobey the gods as such doing leads them to proving a point, that they are more powerful (Sophocles, 1988). The story of Shakespeare basically implies that the society is what human beings make it. It also shows that the decisions of people are what make them who they are. The society is just a creation of mankind’s work. It is up to individuals and especially leaders, to make rational and logical decisions rather than jump to conclusions. This is necessary where power is involved. Othello abuses his power by attempting to kill Cassio over rumors he hears from Lago (Zabidi, 1990). 

Conclusively, downfall follows pride and arrogance. There is a chance that the fate of Oedipus could be changed if he pleads with the gods. Instead, he only acted into their will by being arrogant and prideful. While the entire setting is meant to humble the society, it is easier to inquire simply and attempt to find viable solutions for problems. “I have been talking with a suitor here, A man that languishes in your displeasure” (p 68). It is the same in the case of Othello who is capable of making the right decision through communicating with his wife rather than ambushing her and seething with jealousy (Sophocles, 1988).


Dwita, E. (1996). The Relationship between husbands and wives in Shakespeare's Macbeth and Othello (Doctoral dissertation, Petra Christian University).

Knox, B. M. (1966). Oedipus at Thebes (Vol. 162). Yale University Press.

Rohmawati, Y. N. (2015). The Downfall of Hero in William Shakespeare’s Othello The Moor of Venice (A Structuralism Approach). Jurnal Bahasa Sastra dan Studi Amerika , 21 (2), 15-20.

Sophocles, S. B. (1988). Oedipus the King. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

William Shakespeare, G. H. (2002). Othello . New York: Simon and Schuster.

Zabidi, A. M. (1990). Othello and the question of race: a review of two decades of criticism . Retrospective Theses and Dissertations. Paper 68. Retrieved http://lib.dr.iastate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1067&context=rtd  

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