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The Downfall Of Oedipus Is The Work Of Gods; The Downfall Of Othello Is Self-Inflicted

Topic: The downfall of Oedipus as the work of gods and the fall of Othello’s as self-inflicted

Thesis: was the downfall of Oedipus the work of the gods and the destruction of Othello self-inflicted?

Yes. I agree that the downfall of Oedipus was as a result of natural forces beyond his control while the destruction of Othello was due to his life decisions, and mistakes that he made in his life as evidenced in the Moor of Venice by William Shakespeare. Therefore the occurrences to Oedipus were predetermined and are not out of his choices. In Othello’s case, he made his choices consciously and faced the consequences of his actions


William Shakespeare and Sophocles in their plays Othello and Oedipus both portray main characters who are faced with life challenges and are unable to overcome them to survive and at the end come to fall. It is however not clear if their downfall was as a result of the gods or their own doing.

I. Oedipus life is determined before his birth while Othello’s chooses his path to destruction

a) Oedipus was thrown out and left to die because of the curse

b) Othello made his decisions when grown up and mature

II. They both had different character traits that paved the way for their downfall

a) Oedipus was wise, unselfish, humble and God fearing

b) Othello was selfish, proud, vengeful, suspicious, ignorant and jealous

III. They depended on different success determinant factors in their lives

a) Oedipus depended on the gods and the people’s advice

b) Othello depended on himself, his abilities and career.


After evaluation of the circumstances of Oedipus and Othello, it becomes apparent that the fall of Othello was self-inflicted while the fall of Oedipus was the work of the gods.

The play revolves around two main characters considered heroes but who tragically fall at the end.It depicts betrayal, love, dishonesty, trickery, jealousy and pride in the turnout of events. Both characters have different lives and are faced with various circumstances but have a similarity in that they fail to overcome the harsh conditions they face. Their character traits play a huge role in their downfall as it influences their reactions.

Oedipus is born in a royal family of King Laius and Queen Jocasta of Thebes while Othello is an outsider who becomes accepted by the people. No one can choose the parents to whom he/she is born, and no one can change after birth. Oedipus is born to a family where his parents are the king and queen of the land making him a prince.

A prophet foretells the birth of Oedipus, and that he will murder his father his and marry his mother as bear children with her, his parents try to escape fate as predicted by the oracle and decide to throw Oedipus out of the family. He is taken to the mountains, tied down and left to die (Shakespeare, 1979). Here Oedipus does not plan the killing of his father but is a victim of circumstance. Although he does go on to commit the act of killing his father, Oedipus does not intend to do so, but forces beyond his control come into play. He wouldn’t have killed him had he known the truth. He also does not portray any ill motives or hate towards him. Oedipus is found at the foot of the mountain by a shepherd who takes him to a palace where he is taken in. Oedipus later learns that the king and queen were not his birth parents and decided to leave to look for his parents. He leaves for the land of Thebe not knowing that it is where he was born. On his way, he is attacked by unknown people and engages in a fight to defend himself from the attackers. He becomes furious and angry and kills one of the attackers not knowing it was his Father.

Othello is barbaric and makes a choice to join the army and serve as a general. Othello views himself as strong and brave. Being an outsider, he makes the decision to the military to work for the people. He becomes famous, even if he is not royalty by inheritance, Othello becomes noble from the people in his rank as a general in the army and his career as a soldier he is proud of his achievement and says “I take my life and being from people of royal siege.» (Chunlei, 2006). Therefore Othello was not forced by situations to join the military but chose to serve to satisfy himself and feel important just as Oedipus was born in the king’s lineage.

After Oedipus was pierced and tied and left to die, the intention was to make him vanish from the earth, and everybody expected him to be no more. A shepherd rescued him and takes him to a palace, where he is adopted and raised by a king called polypus and his raised in royalty. There is no evidence of Oedipus trying to seek for help or struggle to free himself from where he was tied and save his life. Still, out of nowhere, he is rescued by a shepherded who was just going about his activities as there is no evidence showing the shepherded knew Oedipus was in the mountains. It is not a coincidence that the shepherd went to the place he was left to die and found him.

Even so, he may have chosen to leave him to die. Moreover, the shepherd could have taken him to many other families other than the noble family. The noble family could also have decided not to take Oedipus and find a home for him elsewhere. While the shepherd saved Oedipus from death which he did not choose willingly, ironically Othello had a choice to take up any other career that does not the high risk of losing his life. But instead, he decides to join the military and to be in the rank of general leading the other soldiers (Rosen field, 2010). It is therefore very clear that Oedipus circumstances are works of the gods because he did not make any choice on any of the events that befell him while Othello makes his selection of actions and decisions when he could choose others.

Both of their character traits play a significant role in their downfall. Oedipus goes to the land of Thebes as a young man and comes across a monster that was harassing the dwellers of Thebe by asking them to solve riddles when they passed yet no one could answer. Oedipus answers the man’s questions showing he is indeed wise and gives the people peace by getting rid of the man (Markantonatos, 2007). This portrays him as unselfish and helped other people, the people were impressed by his actions and made him king and being a humble man he obliged to become their king. He then goes on to marry his mother who was the queen unknowingly and they bear children. After finding out his disgraceful acts of killing his father and marrying his mother he feels ashamed and blinds himself that he may not see any more of this world and her mother feeling embarrassed hangs herself to death (LAN, 1999). Oedipus tortures himself as self-punishment and dies to cement his downfall. It is his character traits that therefore paved the way for his downfall.

Othello trusts easily and is quick to judge. He is a foreigner in the land and does not know the culture of the people. Lago takes advantage of this situation as Othello in insecure being an outsider who is married to a local woman. This case makes Othello depend on lago to teach him the culture of the people and gives him feel a sense of belonging to foreigners. Lago comes across Desdemona (Othello’s wife) talking with Cassio, he then tells Othello in a low tone of his encounter of Desdemona and Cassio making Othello curious. Therefore, he pretends to have information about his wife Desdemona, but he doesn’t want to tell Othello. His trickery is manifested in that he tells Othello just enough to intrigue him. Thus making Othello jealous and wants to get more information from him.Lago becomes more influential with his lies and Othello trusts him more. Having Othello’s complete trust, Lagos misleads him by telling him that Venetian women have a tendency of committing adultery. Therefore, it makes Othello think that his wife can cheat on him as she is Venetian. Othello is convinced that Desdemona has cheated on him and goes to ask Emelia since she spent a lot of time with her. Emelia defends Desdemona by saying she has never seen, heard or suspected her of committing adultery. Othello does not believe what Amelia tells him, and his mind is already made. He, in fact, calls her a whore of secrets who defends Desdemona when it’s known that she is cheating on him.

From the play lago is a professional in trickery and manipulation, he has deceived many people, and Othello becomes another victim. Othello is a leader of the army, highly respected and a person in high authority and is not expected to trust people quickly and blindly. Lago plays a significant role in Othello’s journey to downfall as he is the cause of Othello’s mistrust in her wife. Othello, being completely brainwashed and raging with anger, decides to kill his wife justifying that she does not deserve to live because she will cheat on many other men. Although she pleads for her life telling Othello to let her live until the following day, Othello does not hear any of that and kills her. Later on, Othello finds out the allegations against her wife were untrue and felt guilty and shameful. He is considered a murderer by the people and loses his respect and robbed of his position as governor. He decides to punish himself and takes his life by stabbing himself to death. (Xiao-Bing 2011).

The traits of Othello drove him to self-destruction. He trusts lago quickly and is ignorant of the fact that Lago had a reputation for trickery and manipulation which leads him to believe his lies. He was quick to judge and does not give his wife any leverage. When he sees his wife’s handkerchief with Cassio, he becomes convinced she had an affair with him and did not seek clarity from her. Although he loves her wife as shown by the poetic language he used, Othello should have taken control of his anger. Emelia was a close friend to Desdemona and Othello should have trusted her instead of Lago. His characteristics drove him to his end as they made him unable to reason rationally. His anger and jealousy made him kill his wife.

During bot their lives, they faced numerous challenges with Oedipus being a victim even before birth. Oedipus depended on the gods to dictate his fate. Although his parents tried to prevent it from happening, they were not successful. He unknowingly did what the prophet foretold before he was even born. Othello had no control over the circumstances he faced as the prophet already predicted his destiny. He listened to the people and became their king after killing his father unknowingly. Othello was dependent on himself in making decisions; he did not seek opinion or give dialogue a chance.

Othello’s downfall is clearly as a result of the decisions he made fully conscious and aware. Had he wanted, he would have decided to believe Emelia but chose not to. Her wife pleaded with him, and he refused when he had a choice to listen to her but instead murdered her. Othello later admits his mistake and regrets what he did; this shows he had the power to change how things turned out but did not. Oedipus tried to change his fate but failed. His parents left him to die in the mountains to prevent him from doing what was foretold by the oracle, but he survived. Oedipus was defending himself from his attackers when he killed his father. He also married his mother because he became king and not from falling in love with her. Therefore, this clearly shows that he was a victim of fate since he had no knowledge they were his parents. From this, we can conclude that Oedipus ruin was caused by the gods because he was unaware and despite trying to prevent the events from happening, they still did. Therefore, destiny had it that he was to fall.


Shakespeare, W. (1979). The tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice.


Markantonatos, A. (2007). Oedipus at Colonus: Sophocles, Athens, Berlin: De Gruyter.

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

Lan, W. (1999). A Most Unfortunate Marriage─ Analysis of Othello. Journal of PLA University, 3, 002.

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

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