In literature, the tragic heroes Oedipus and Othello allow the pride they have to cause their own demise by putting too much emphasis on the lives they have created for themselves. Oedipus, who blinds himself after finding out he has killed his birth father and married his birth mother, refuses to believe he has truly fulfilled his fate because he is so proud of what he has accomplished since he left Corinth. Othello demonstrates his pride by believing that the people closest to him would never betray him because of his powerful position as a General of the armies in Venice.
Both characters example of hubris, or excessive pride, causes the downfall in their lives, which eventually leads to life-long blindness for Oedipus and death for Othello. A first glimpse of Oedipus’ pride is seen when he is speaking to the prophet Teiresias and refuses to believe he is actually responsible for killing the previous king of Thebes who happens to be his father. Teiresias tells Oedipus multiple times that his fate has been fulfilled and that Oedipus really did murder Laios, however Oedipus is unbelieving of what Teiresias has to say.
Teiresias: I say that you are the murder whom you seek. Oedipus: Now twice you have spat out infamy! You’ll pay for it! Teiresias: Would you care for more? Do you wish to be really angry? Oedipus: Say what you will. Whatever you say is worthless. Teiresias: I say you live in hideous shame with those most dear to you. You can not see the evil” (Sophocles 171 lines 144-159). Teiresias blatantly tells Oedipus the truth of what is happening around him, and Oedipus dismisses all he says. Oedipus’ pride blinds him to all the evidence that points to him as the murderer of his own father.
When Iocaste tells Oedipus the details of Laios’s murder, Oedipus is too ignorant to see that he was the one who murdered the previous king and placed a curse upon himself. “Oedipus: I solemnly forbid the people of this country, where power and throne are mine, ever to receive that man or speak to him, no matter who he is, or let him join in sacrifice, lustration, or in prayer. I decree that he be driven from every house, being, as he is, corruption itself to us: the Delphic Voice of Zeus has pronounced this revelation.
Thus I associate myself with the oracle and take the side of the murdered king” (Sophocles 168 lines 20-28). Oedipus is telling the people of Thebes not to accept the king’s murderer, when in truth they already have. Since he is the man he is looking for, it is impossible to tell if he will go through with his word and kill the true “murderer” as he says in his soliloquy. The only credit that Sophocles will give Oedipus is when he begins to piece the different stories together.
The story that the people say about Laios’ death is that he was murdered by many men, not just one man whereas Oedipus was one man who killed many when he fled Corinth. “Oedipus: This much: If his account of the murder tallies with yours, then I am cleared. Iocaste: What was it that I said of such importance? Oedipus: Why, “marauders,” you said, killed the King, according to this man’s story. If he maintains that still, if there were several, clearly the guilt is not mine: I was alone. But if he says one man, singlehanded, did it, then the evidence all points to me” (Sophocles 184 lines 309-319).
In this passage Oedipus questions whether or not he is truly to blame for the murder of Laios, but in his heart, he doesn’t think it could be his fault. Sophocles uses this moment to allow the reader to see what is really going on in the play. Because of this, the plot becomes a little clearer and we begin to see how the story will play out in the end. After making the oath to kill the man who murdered Laios, his pride allows him to feel obligated to do what he can when he finds out that he is the reason the king is Theban king is no longer alive.
Instead of taking his life, Oedipus decides to blind himself in order to force himself to live with the sins he has committed. “But the blinding hand was my own! How could I bear to see when all my sight was horror everywhere? This punishment that I have laid upon myself is just. If I had eyes, 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 so vilely that I could not make my peace by strangling my own life” (Sophocles 198-199 lines 113-119, 140-145).
Because of his proud nature, Oedipus never wanted to acknowledge the fact that he was the culprit they were looking for, but once the truth that caused his downfall is revealed to him, he forces himself to accept his fate and give up his prideful way of life. Unlike Oedipus, Othello is unable to live through his tragic downfall. Not only does Othello’s pride allow him to place trust on the only dishonest person in the play kill, but it also kills himself, and causes him to murder his innocent wife.
Othello believes that no one would ever betray him, until his lieutenant, Iago, begins placing thoughts in his head about his wife’s infidelity. “Othello: Tis not to make me jealous to say my wife is fair, feeds well, loves company, is free of speech, sings, plays and dances well; where virtue is, these are more virtuous: nor from mine own weak merits will I draw the smallest fear, or doubt of her revolt; for she had eyes, and chose me. No, Iago; I’ll see before I doubt; when I doubt, prove; and, on the proof, there is no more but this, away at once with love or jealousy! 888-889 act 3 scene 2 lines 183-191).
Othello does not believe that his wife would cheat on him; however, at the same time the conflicting feeling of having his second in command lie to him is pressuring him to believe that Iago is correct. He has no reason to believe Iago would not tell the truth, which in effect causes him to think Desdemona is going behind his back. As the play continues, Othello becomes more and more weak to Iago’s words and in the end vows to murder Desdemona for the sins he believes she has committed. “Othello: Damn her, lewd minx! O, damn her!
Come, go with me apart; I will withdraw. To furnish me with some swift means of death for the fair devil” (898 act 3 scene 3 lines 476-479). Iago has purposely stuck a nerve within Othello and is waiting for him to declare his revenge on Cassio, but instead, Othello vows death to Desdemona. Othello feels betrayed, and in that betrayal, his pride has been hurt and he must seek his revenge. The only problem with that is he is seeking revenge on the wrong person, instead of going after Desdemona, the audience sees that it is really Iago who should be murdered for his mischievous deeds.
Like Oedipus, Othello’s stubborn nature does not allow him to see the truth when it is right in front of his face. “Emilia: I durst, my lord, to wager she is honest, lay down my soul at stake; if you think other, remove your thought; it doth abuse your bosom. If any wretch have put this in your head, let heaven requite it with the serpent’s curse! (911 act 4 scene 2 lines12-16). Instead of trusting the woman who is closest to Desdemona, he will trust the man who is his second in command.
Othello is blinded by the jealousy Iago has put in him and this jealousy is allowing him to look at the situation logically. Why would Iago know more about Desdemona than Emilia, her most trusted friend and maid? What Othello is forgetting is that not only is Emilia devoted to Desdemona, but she is devoted to him and would never do anything to make him angry or even force him to look down upon her, her husband (Iago), or her charge (Desdemona). Even when Othello is getting ready to kill himself, he is more concerned with how others will look at him once his life has ended.
Othello: I pray you, in your letters, when you shall these unlucky deeds relate, speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate, nor set down aught in malice: then, must you speak of one that lov’d not wisely but too well; of one not easily jealous, but, being wrought, perplex’d in the extreme” (934 act 5 scene 2 lines 340-346). Othello is about to enter his deathbed, and yet he is still talking about how he wants his story to be told in the future. Because of his pride, he doesn’t want people to know that he killed his wife out of jealousy that was fabricated by a jealous man.
He wants people to believe that it was his love that caused the murder; that he loved too much and not that he was really trying to avenge his pride and save himself from realizing he has lost everything he worked so hard to earn. Pride caused the death of 2 innocent people in Othello; however, Oedipus becoming blind and having to live with the mistakes he made is a fate worse than death. A tragic flaw seen in both characters is the amount of pride each one possesses. Both men had the opportunity to be ordinary and to be able to get by, yet that was not good enough for either of them.
Oedipus and Othello felt they could achieve more than what was put in front of them and in the process of becoming great men; they unfortunately meet their end. It is proven through Oedipus and Othello that pride is not a bad thing when it is used appropriately; however, too much pride can ruin not just one life, but also the many lives that are surrounded by that one life. By putting too much emphasis on their lives, Othello and Oedipus are responsible for their own demise.