In both Oedipus Rex and The Merchant of Venice how are the lessons about pride similar?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In both Oedipus Rex and The Merchant of Venice there are two Biblical proverbs which certainly apply to the themes of these works.

Proverb 16. How much better is it to get wisdom than gold! and to get understanding rather to be chosen than silver!

Proverb 18. Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. 

It is the hubris of Oedipus which leads to his downfall. For, it is his arrogance that leads Oedipus to become so angry that he kills King Laios, an act which determines his fate. After the plague has struck Thebes, Oedipus insists that he will find what the cause is, and this cause, be it person or thing, will be driven out. However, when Teiresias, a blind seer who serves Apollo, is forced to tell Oedipus that he is the "defilement" of Thebes, Oedipus refuses to accept this truth because he insists upon it, 

And I'll tell you what I think:
You planned it, you had it done, you all but
Killed him with your own hands:  If you had eyes,
I'd say the crime was yours, and yours alone (331-334)

Eventually, however, the truth cannot be suppressed. Further, he accuses his brother-in-law Kreon of wishing to usurp the throne from him. In the end, of course, the blinded Oedipus learns that wisdom is, indeed, a much greater gift than riches.

For both Antonio and Shylock of The Merchant of Venice, the lessons of pride are costly, as well. Having prided himself on his integrity, Antonio derides Shylock the Jew who charges interest when he does not. And, yet, Antonio is not unlike Shylock in his love of money; for, he loves money more than life since he says, in his false pride, that Fortune has seen fit for him to die now that he is poor.

An age of poverty; from which lingering penance
Of such misery doth she cut me off. (5.1.278-279)

Shylock's pride and his failure "to get wisdom than gold" set him in a position where he can easily fail. Insisting that Antonio pay his debt, he worries about no judgments against him,

What judgment shall I dread, doing no wrong?...
The pound of flesh which I demand of him
Is dearly bought, is mine, and I will have it" (4.89,99-100)

However, Shylock's pride precedes his fall as he demands the letter of the law be followed and affords Antonio no mercy because Portia, who has asked Shylock for mercy toward Antonio, has also learned that the bond does not mention blood, so Antonio's flesh cannot, then, be taken.  Shylock's "haughty spirit" has gone before his defeat