Oedipus and Othello: Two Tragic Essay

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He complains that his name "is now begrimed and black" (3.3.384) and fears that Desdemona has made him a "fixed figure for the time of scorn" (4.2.53). His fears might be those of any man, insecure in his position, concerned about how he is viewed. Thus, both heroes are true to life in that each has his own particular faults, like any man.

Aristotle's fourth condition of the tragic hero is "consistency: for though the subject of imitation…be inconsistent, still he must be consistently inconsistent" (43). As Aristotle suggests, both characters are inconsistently consistent, though in their own ways. Oedipus bounces from being high-minded, caring and affectionate to being almost simple-minded, careless and angry any time his pride is pricked. For example, even when the evidence all points to the truth of what the priest says, Oedipus is reluctant to admit it; yet when his wife tries to undermine what the priests says in order to protect her family, Oedipus refuses to consent to her views. What appears to be inconsistency in his character is actually consistent, because Oedipus is a complex character, who struggles with his faults, falls because of them, and learns about himself in the process.

Othello is also consistent, though not in the same way as Oedipus. Othello's rashness is seen in his elopement with Desdemona. He carries that quality with him throughout the play: when Iago hints of Desdemona's unfaithfulness, Othello rashly leaps to the conclusion that Iago is correct (in spite of his better sense). Othello's insecurity and vanity are reflected from the beginning: even though his manliness is what has wooed Desdemona, their marriage was done in secret so as to shield both him and her from criticism. Yet, Othello is manliest when at war; as a lover he is untried. As he himself states after killing Desdemona and before killing himself: "I loved not wisely but too well." In other words, his affection was inordinate and is further reason for marrying Desdemona under cover of night: in daylight, truth is exposed.
Othello does not want to be exposed as a weak man. He prefers to be idolized (which Desdemona did when the Moor came to her father's house to tell his stories). Thus, Othello is consistent from the beginning of the play to the end. As his vanity and insecurity are plied by Iago, he crumbles and falls. Yet, in falling, he arrives at a deeper understanding of himself.

The same can be said for Oedipus. While Oedipus' fall is due to his pride and wrath (he killed Laius in a moment of wrath, and his family believed it could circumvent the will of the gods by being clever), it is his pursuit of the truth concerning his identity that allows him to come to a deeper understanding of himself. He plucks out his eyes, blinding himself to outward things, focusing his sight on his inward self. Oedipus had become incensed by those around him, who dared impede on his greatness. Thus, to make things right, he reduces himself to a blind beggar. Othello, on the other hand, uses a dagger to kill himself: he had loved himself too much and loved his wife inordinately; thus, he states, "No way but this, / Killing myself to die upon a kiss" (5.2.420-21).

In conclusion, both Oedipus and Othello are tragic heroes, according to Aristotle's model. But the two characters are different in their faults and in their falls. Both learn about themselves by falling, and both use the knife to bring some measure of justice to themselves. It is through their self-inflicted punishments (Oedipus' blinding and Othello's stabbing himself) that they renounce their positions in the world, accept their faults and punish themselves accordingly.

Works Cited

Aristotle. Poetics. (trans. By Gerald Else). MI: University of Michigan Press, 1970.


Lattimore, S. "Oedipus and Teiresias." California Studies in Classical Antiquity,

8 (1975): 105-111.

Shakespeare, William. Othello. NY: Washington Square Press, 1993.….....

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