Explain the theme of destiny and self determination in "Oedipus the King" and "Othello."

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The fate and free will is a powerful question in both works.  I think that both works show that free will has limitations and that there are other elements at play which tend to hamper full realization of individual autonomy.  For Oedipus, this seems to be fairly clearly defined in that he seeks to outrun his own destiny.  He believes that his use of freedom and clarity in judgment can overcome what is fated to be.  In this light, one sees Oedipus as seeking to appropriate a domain that is not his to control.  Eventually, he ends up paying dearly for this.  For Othello, I think that the matter is a bit more muddled.  Shakespeare does not necessarily invoke the fate condition to limit human freedom, but rather argues that there are other factors perhaps within us that seem to curtail our own use of freedom.  The limiting function is not outside the individual, but rather within them. When Iago suggests that "Men should be what they seem," he is reflecting the duplicity that might exist in their own use of freedom.  Their spirit of independence and autonomy might preclude them from doing what makes them happy.   For Othello, jealousy and insecurity ends up hampering his own attempts to be happy.  Iago knows and pinpoints his weaknesses of his love for Desdemona, his "outsider" status as being reason why things won't work out, as well as the basic idea that what he has done is not as important as the barriers which preclude him from being embraced.  These elements are internal, and while their presence might be there to some extent, the fact that Othello internalizes all of them and acts on all of these impulses to end up undone by the end of the play suggests that Shakespeare's conception of self determination is one that is fraught with its own self destructive tendencies within it.