Contrasting Oedipus and Othello: Reality and Falsity

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Hayley MacPhee H. MacPhee 1 Professor Pal ENG 1121 10 April 2002 Contrasting Oedipus and Othello: Reality and Falsity In the plays "Oedipus the King" by Sophocles and Shakespeare's "Othello," there are many instances where both of the protagonists are blinded and misled. Oedipus and Othello have difficulty distinguishing between reality and falsity. Othello (incidentally more stubborn than Oedipus) does not "see the light" until he has murdered, conspired the death of a friend and committed suicide. Oedipus invents his own punishment without harm to others when he realizes exactly who he is and what he has done. Oedipus has "killed his father; sewed the womb of her who bore him" (exodus. 263). He has murdered his father, not aware that it was indeed his own father because he was adopted as an infant. When he returns to Thebes, he marries a woman "old enough to be his mother" and indeed, she is his mother. He has four children by her, two boys and two girls. H. MacPhee 2 Oedipus, the king of Thebes is an arrogant ruler who acts impetuously. He has saved Thebes from the curse of a sphinx by solving a riddle and when the city suffers from a rampant bout of the plague, Oedipus consults with an oracle immediately to see what can be done to help the city of Thebes.


Oedipus does not believe he was present for the murder of his father so the shepherd is asked to describe the murderer as H.MacPhee 4 he remembers him. He makes a perfect physical description of Oedipus. Now Iocastê's husband is sure of his crime, which causes him to question his upbringing. At this point, Iocastê has put the facts together. She realizes that Oedipus is none other than the child she and her husband gave to the messenger to be left for dead in the forest. Oedipus slowly comes to the realization that he is his wife's son. He is now certain that his "parents" (the King and Queen of Corinth) had adopted him. Iocastê reacts first to the disgusting truth and commits suicide by hanging. When Oedipus discovers the repulsive and incestuous truth, he can longer bear himself. When he sees his wife's body, he plucks the brooches from her clothes and uses them to gouge out his own eyes and he is blind forevermore. He has created his own chastisement. In the last scene Oedipus says: I do not know how I could bear the sight Of my father, when I came to the house of Death, Or my mother: for I have sinned against them both ...


Othello's incredulity and naivety causes him to act rashly and he smothers Desdemona although he regrets his actions right away. Othello was so quick to believe whatever Iago told him that this aided in his downfall. Othello's epiphany is when Emilia explains that she has stolen the scarf for Iago and he planted it in Cassio's room. Emilia claims that Desdemona has been angelic throughout her life and that her love for the Moor forbade her to be unfaithful. "Thou art rash as fire to say/That she was false. O she was heavenly H. MacPhee 7 true!" (V.II.139-140). She calls Othello a "black devil" and contrasts her image by referring to Desdemona as an angel. Othello is so stricken by what he has done that he commits suicide. He has murdered his wife when there was no reason for her to be murdered. He conspired against Cassio. He realizes that his impulsivity is to blame. The repercussions and consequence of both Othello and Oedipus lead ultimately to death and destruction. Oedipus and Othello have difficulty distinguishing between what really is and what seems to be. Othello rashly kills his wife before he has all of the facts. He then commits suicide. Oedipus blinds himself when he realizes that he has killed his father and been a lover to his mother. He ends up punishing and harming only himself.

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