What is the difference in characterization of Jocasta in Oedipus Rex and Desdemona in Othello?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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While there are some similarities between Sophocles' Jocasta and Shakespeare's Desdemona, there are some significant differences.  Both of them support their spouses, but do so in different ways.  Desdemona's affirmation of Othello's love causes her to break with her family and her social setting to live only with and for him.  Once they leave together, she does not have much of a role in terms of counsel or advice.  She loves him fully and with pure transparency, but the role of Iago and Othello's own self doubt ends up subsuming him and reduces her to an object upon which his insecurities are projected.  Jocasta is a bit more of an adviser or counselor to Oedipus.  She is constantly advising him to not believe the prophecies, or to not succumb to petty arguments with Creon.  At the same time, she does whatever she can to shield him from the truth, invoking a maternal instinct, as well as defending her own relationship with him.  Her counsel expires when the spiraling state of affairs becomes too much for her.  Both depictions of women are different from one another because they reflect different expressions of who what it means to be a spouse.  The other significant difference would be their endings, in that one is killed by the hand of another and the other is killed by her own hand.

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