Compare and contrast the characters of the Shakespeare’s Othello and Sophocles’ Oedipus

To compare Shakespeare’s Othello and Sophocles’ Oedipus, we have to thoroughly explore both characters and review their personalities. The common thing that they both have that is very obvious – they are both tragic heroes. The devil is reflected in both of their personalities: Othello has in his connection with deceitful Iago and Oedipus is a devil in flesh himself. Now let us take a closer look at both personages.

In Shakespeare play, the personage of Othello possesses certain characteristics that make him seem naïve and unsophisticated compared to other characters. That is why Iago uses him to get the rewards. Iago told Roderigo, “O, sir, content you.  I follow him [Othello] to serve my turn upon him” (I, i lines 38-9). Iago takes advantage of Othello in any situation, and Othello always believes him.

The whole nature of Othello is a nature of a dark person. He is a dark person, not only because his skin is black, but also because he is very mysterious man. The mystery comes from his belief that there is magic brewing everywhere. With all the mystery he is very outgoing but not very smart, speaking frankly. He cannot see the lies; he fails to understand people, and Iago’s tricks work well on him. Othello’s actions and behavior is very influenced by emotions, and although he does not say much about his past, we still can conclude that it came from there.

Despite of the anger and corruptness of the individuals Othello had to deal with during his life he still is naïve enough to trust them. His trusting nature is ready to give away everything. During the war period and his marriage to Desdemona, Othello put all the trust and authority before Iago, which was not a very smart thing to do. Since everybody thought of Iago as of an honest individual, and Othello did not think he should have a different opinion either. For example, Othello had told the Duke, “So please your grace, my ancient; A man he is of honesty and trust.  To his conveyance I assign my wife, With what else needful your good grace shall think, To be sent after me” (I, iii, lines 284-8).

Othello probably is the most romantic character among Shakespeare’s personages. He separates himself from the strangle life of war and adventure which he has been a part of since his early childhood. Othello is not from our world, he comes in from somewhere which we take as a wonderland. There is something mysterious in his descent from men of royal siege; in his wanderings in vast deserts and among marvelous peoples; in his tales of magic handkerchiefs and prophetic Sibyls; in the sudden vague glimpses we get of numberless battles and sieges in which he has played the hero and has borne a charmed life; even in chance references to his baptism, his being sold to slavery, his sojourn in Aleppo.

But he is not just a romantic character – his whole nature is romantic. Indeed, if one recalls Othello’s most famous speeches — those that begin, “Her father loved me”, “O now for ever”, “Never, Iago”, “Had it pleased Heaven”, “It is the cause”, “Behold, I have a weapon”, “Soft you, a word or two before you go”.

Othello’s personage is very complete. In everything he does, he puts all of his heart, where he trusts, his trust is absolute. He doesn’t know what hesitation is. Othello is very self confident and makes decision instantaneously. If he is angered he answers in one lightning stroke. If he loves, it must be heaven like to him, or bear no life at all. If such love fails him, Othello is pressing for immediate conviction or relief.

The personage of Othello is very noble and all his the actions and feelings are directed by this feature of his character. Yet some critics do not appreciated the character of Othello. They are noticing that Othello was “easily jealous” though they admit that he was not of a jealous type. Was it really that unforgivable for him to feel any suspicion of his wife?

The Oedipus myth is much older than Othello story; it dates back as far as Homer. Sophocles begins telling us about Oedipus from his birth, the real myth goes back several generations before this. The story start with the following riddle: what goes on four legs in the morning, two in the afternoon, and three in the evening? Oedipus is the only man that is able to solve it, he has been in Thebes before trying to escape his destiny, an oracle told  him that he will eventually murder his father and marry his mother. Oedipus answers the riddle: a man, who crawls when he is a baby, walks when he is a young man, and limps with a cane when he is old. The Sphinx kills herself, and Oedipus is proclaimed the savior of Thebes, getting to marry Jocasta as a reward.

Oedipus is very different person from Othello. He is impatient, violent and arrogant. He easily threatens and kills people. Oedipus always gets what he wants and thinks highly of himself. We can watch those features of his character throughout the whole play.

Oedipus is a very violent person. He kills an old man and his servants without regret. In the end the man happens to be his own father, this kind of brutality is very unlikely for Othello to do. Othello is a compassionate man, whereas Oedipus does not have any pity at all.

Oedipus is selfish and arrogant. This is shown when he declares, “Here I am myself – you all know me, the world knows my fame: I am Oedipus.” A second example of his egotistical behavior is when he thinks and refers to the city as “my” Thebes. Thebes belongs to everyone and not just Oedipus. Oedipus may have let being king go to his head. His statements call attention to his arrogance.

Oedipus is also very impatient and abuses the power to keep people in fear. When Tiresias angers him, Oedipus demands to know who is the killer. Under the threat of death and torture he makes the him speak. Oedipus impatiently says, “speak to us all, I grieve for these, my people, far more than I fear for my own life.” He is so impatient to hear the message that he doesn’t care if the whole town hears it. Another example of his impatience is when he jumps to the wrong conclusion and thinks Creon is a deceiving traitor, greedy for the crown. Oedipus is as impatient as a small child. He wants it and he wants it now. If he doesn’t get what he wants immediately, then he uses his power to threaten people.

When comparing and contrasting the character’s Oedipus and Othello by means of the different theatrical practices, one must take in account that there have been many interpretations, and productions of each of their respected plays. The differing presentations of each may lead someone to think differently about the play than another would. In comparing and contrasting the dramatic representation of the protagonists Oedipus and Othello, theatrical presentation, costume design, and character will lead the reader, and viewer, to have a greater insight into the theatrical practices of their times and their approaches to the issue of verisimilitude.

The theatrical presentation of both plays is very similar. The two plays would both be presented on a thrust stage, which is a platform surrounded on three sides by the audience. Except for the backdrop, which would have some element of scenery, the stage itself would be bare apart from a few scenic elements and props. Othello, like most of Shakespeare’s plays, had what is called an abstract setting. That is a setting in which the locale may change rapidly, it may not be indicated by the script that it has changed, and was most likely suggested by a few props.

Abstract settings place more emphasis on the language and the performer, which causes the spectator to use their imagination. It also places more emphasis on costuming. This type of setting helped set up the style of representational theater, which places high emphasis on the realistic. The style used in classical Greece was presentational which, because of the use of the mask, gave no illusion that this story is happening before their eyes.  The audience is reminded that they are watching a play, and not merely observing life. Thus, the use of the thrust stage is the only similarity of the two types of presentation. Othello is a purely illusionist play, whereas Oedipus Rex is one that when watched, the viewer knows that they are watching a performance. Costumes convey information about the character and aid in setting the tone or mood of the production. Because most acting involves impersonation, most costumes are essential to re-create historical or to the period in which the production takes place.

Costumes like that of William Shakespeare’s Othello maybe abstract, ever changing, like it’s setting. When using the costume design of the latest film version of Othello, he is usually seen in a toga-like uniform, which may have stemmed from his moor background. Since costume elements were formalized in classical Greek theater, the costumes would be that of everyday dress with slight additions of color, designs, all of which created a larger meaning in the context of the play.

The two characters have lots are tragically alike and in the same time are very different. However one thing that unites them for us, is that we can see something in their personages that we possess ourselves. The above-described characters are very educational and can serve as a good example for us , what to be and what not to be in our lives.


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