The tragedies of Othello and Oedipus are a perfect negation of the old adage that purports that seeing is believing. Both Othello and Oedipus chose to make permanent decisions on what appeared to be, and thusly, owing to the same, met their tragic ends. This is where the common theme of uncertain vision is birthed; as both of the aforementioned characters suffer from obscured vision that is the result of anger and pride. In both tragedies, in as much as the protagonists believe that they are seeing situations as clearly as the light of day, it becomes apparent that they are both very blind.
Although the tragedies are similar in many ways, there are also significant differences that stand out between them. Firstly, with Oedipus, the incapability to see the truth in its exactness is his misdoing, mostly self-imposed. On his way to Thebes, while escaping the ill fated prophecy that he shall kill his father and marry his mother, Oedipus quarrels with an old man and kills him. They supposedly fight over whose chariot has the right of way, a display of pride and the old man is killed, a result of anger. This old man happens to be Laius, Oedipus’ birth father. By killing Laius, Oedipus has thus caused his own tragedy by fulfilling part of the prophecy. By leaving his adopted parents behind, Oedipus is already embracing the theme of uncertain truth because he is of the belief that King Polybus and Queen Merope are his birth parents and to escape the prophecy he leaves home, only to walk into the scene of his fate. (Sophocles, Will, & Knox, 2005)
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Othello’s lack of vision, on the other hand, is not his own as it is greatly obscured by Iago. It is highly likely that without Iago’s poisonous tongue, Othello would not have met his tragic end. . Othello’s lack of vision is mainly instigated by the untruths and deceit imposed by Iago. Iago makes Othello see the world through his, Iago’s, eyes. He tells Othello that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio; something that feeds on Othello’s anger and jealousy. (Shakespeare, Crowther, & Staff, 2003)
Another difference between the two tragedies is that the obscured vision of Oedipus has its origins in his past. He believes from a very young age that his adopted parents, King Polybus and Queen Merope, are his birth parents. This makes him blind to the fact that the old man he kills, King Laius, is his father and the woman he marries, Jocasta, is his birth mother. This makes his uncertain truth more natural, in-born, as opposed to that which is informed by fellow man. Othello’s uncertain truth, however, is manmade. It also finds its roots in the present. He is blinded to believe in things that do not exist. Iago is the chief orchestrator of the way Othello views the world. He is being driven by jealousy and anger and is able to make Othello view the world as he does. He is angry at Cassio’s post as Othello’s lieutenant as believes that the post should be his. By claiming that Desdemona is Cassio’s lover, he is able to destroy both Othello and Cassio with Desdemona suffering the circumstances of Othello’s uncertain truth.
In as much as the protagonists realize the magnitude of the effects of their obscured vision, there is significant difference in the repercussions of the uncertain visions observed in these two tragedies. In Oedipus’ case, when his eyes open to the realization of what he has got himself into, killing his father and cohabiting with his birth mother, his mother cum wife, Jocasta kills herself out of shame and embarrassment. Othello in turn uses two pins from his mother’s dress to blind himself. Our other blind friend on the other side, Othello, does it differently. After being led by Iago to believe that his wife, Desdemona, is adulterous, he accuses her of adultery and then strangles her out of jealousy ( Shakespeare, Muir, McAlindon, Wells, McAlindon & Spencer, 2005). The revelation of his wife’s innocence is made by Emilia, Desdemona's lady-in-waiting, and also happens to be Iago’s wife. Othello then commits suicide, by stabbing himself, out of guilt. Therefore, while Oedipus performs an act considered to be moral destruction, making himself blind, Othello uses death to destroy himself. Another notable difference in these endings is the fact that Jocasta is not killed by Oedipus and her death can be viewed to be an indirect result of Oedipus’ actions. Desdemona however, is killed directly by Othello’s own two hands.
One last difference in these two tragedies is the depiction of the characters. Although they are both presented as extremely realistic rounded characters, Oedipus is less believable. It seems highly unlikely that a man would marry a previously married woman without finding out her background on the previous marriage, coupled with the existence of children from those marriages. It would seem more realistic for Oedipus to probe into Jacosta’s previous life and finding out the truth before getting himself into the situation he found himself in. It is also questionable that with Jacosta’s societal stature Oedipus does not pick wind of any word going round about King Laius death, exactly how Jacosta came to be a widow. In contrast, Othello is better-rounded and more believable. The situation that Othello finds himself in is very realistic and Iago’s hand in it clearly shows what leads Othello into making the decisions he made. It is not questionable and seems less preventable as opposed to the situation Oedipus finds himself in.
Shakespeare, W., Crowther, J., & Staff, S. (2003). Othello . New York, NY: Spark Notes.
Shakespeare, W., Muir, K., McAlindon, T., Wells, S. W., McAlindon, T., & Spencer, T. J. B. (2005). Othello (Penguin Shakespeare) . London: Penguin Classics.
Sophocles, Will, F., & Knox, B. (2005). Oedipus the king (enriched classics) . New York: Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group.