Pride and the Tragic Hero in Oedipus Rex and Othello
Pride is one of the seven deadly sins. Most proud people will never consider themselves to be truly proud until they come face to face with the consequences of their pride. Sophocles and Shakespeare both address this dilemma in their plays Oedipus Rex and Othello. Through their nobility, their tragic flaws, the fall these flaws cause, and the suffering and wisdom they derive from these falls, Oedipus and Othello reveal the true character of the tragic hero and show the devastating consequences of pride.
Both Oedipus and Othello are distinguished by nobility: Oedipus by birth and deed and Othello by a distinguished career. Oedipus is the son of King Laius and Jocasta his wife, the king and queen of Thebes. Because of an oracle prophesying that King Laius will be murdered by his son, Oedipus is left to die in "the mountains where Cithaeron is"(1472). He is then rescued by a shepherd and raised by "Polybus. . . king of Corinth/and Merope, the Dorian" (834-35). Not only is Oedipus noble in his birth and upbringing, he is also noble in deed. Upon coming to Thebes as a young man, Oedipus answers the riddle of the Sphinx, who is terrorizing the citizens, and rids the city of this monster. In turn he is made King of Thebes and marries, unknowingly, his mother, the queen. Othello, on the other hand, is noble only by deed. He is a Moor and a barbarian by Venetian customs. He is an outsider, yet he is accepted by the Venetian people because of his distinguished career as general of the Venetian army. In defense of his lack of noble heritage, Othello asserts: "I fetch my life and being / From men of royal siege" (1.2.20-21). It is his rank that makes him noble. His contemporaries also praise him as "brave Othello" (2.1.37), and they declare that he "commands / Like a full soldier" (2.1.35-36). Oedipus and Othello have the nobility that a true tragic hero must have, yet this nobility is only the armor that covers the true weakness that lies within each man.
Although they show it in different ways, Oedipus and Othello both suffer from a similar character flaw, the sin of pride. Oedipus' pride is revealed in his belief that he is greater than the gods. He believes that he is capable of establishing his own destiny apart from the gods' control or help. When the priest, at the beginning of the story, begs Oedipus to help the people in the time of famine and trouble, he states: "It was God / That aided you, men say, and you are held / With God's assistance to have saved our lives" (43-45). The priest is referring to Oedipus' answer to the riddle of the Sphinx, which delivered the people of Thebes from the Sphinx's oppression. Later, however, Oedipus' pride is revealed when, speaking of the same event, he says: "But I came, / Oedipus, who knew nothing, and I stopped her. / I solved the riddle by my wit alone" (433-35). Othello also suffers from the hamartia of pride. His pride, however, stems...