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“Hamlet, Othello, and Oedipus”: How Individuals Respond to Real-Life Problems

Paul Joseph is a popular freelance journalist and column writer. He is famous on the internet for his matchless poetical language and style

Factors that Influence One's Perceptions

Individuals’ response to perceived problems varies depending on their traits, life experiences, socioeconomic status, and outlooks. Undoubtedly, individuals who confront the same situations may act differently regardless of the intensity of the problem they face. A person’s trait is the ‘compound result of his mental capacity, education, and association,’ and his actions are the results of his motives. I will explain this theory by analyzing the attributes of three tragic heroes, Hamlet, Othello, and Oedipus.

People who are loyal to others expect the same level of loyalty in return.

Hamlet, credit: V

Hamlet, credit: V

How Hamlet Perceives his Problems

Hamlet believes that some problems are looming over his sate. He thinks that the issues in Denmark have been assigned for him to solve. Apparently, there is an air of dignity about Hamlet, and he towers above others in many respects. Hamlet has been loyal to his dear ones, especially to his father. Therefore, he cannot afford others’ disloyalty. People who are loyal to others normally expect the same level of loyalty in return. How Hamlet perceives his personal life has a close link to his values. However, he is highly contemplative that he makes delays in taking actions. He is committed to avenging his father’s death, but he falls into deep depression and fails to take immediate moves against Claudius, his uncle and father’s assassin. First, he tests his uncle’s guilt, and once it is proven, he approaches Claudius to kill him. But again, he is reluctant to perform his act as he finds his enemy praying. Hamlet believes that if his enemy is killed while praying, Claudius’ soul would go to heaven and hence his revenge would not bring anticipated results. Unfortunately, his delays cause further adversities, and he happens to kill Polonius.

Othello’s profession made him a man of action, which no doubt is a high strength in the battlefield. But it turns out to be a weakness elsewhere.

Are You a Hamlet or Othello Sometimes ?

A character analysis of Hamlet will make clear that fixing the chaos in Denmark is assigned to him by his father’s ghost. The ghost of his father says “murder most foul, as in the best it is; But this most foul, strange and unnatural.” His contemplative nature apprehends hamlet, and he makes poor excuses to postpone everything. It contradicts with the way Othello or some other heroes of Shakespeare act. For instance, unlike Hamlet, Othello takes immediate decisions and kills Desdemona without giving her a chance to clarify things. Othello’s profession made him a man of action, which no doubt is a high strength in the battlefield. But it turns out to be a weakness elsewhere. He is not given to severe or logical thinking which makes him highly credulous. This single flaw in him leads him on to his death. At the same time, Hamlet justifies his soul by saying that if Claudius is killed while praying, his soul will attain heaven. This is how he perceives the issue and finds a solution all by himself. Also, he delays realizing and admitting the fact that he loves Ophelia. The result is that Ophelia, after her father’s death, drowns in water and that adds to Hamlet’s grief. Hamlet’s conclusion is faulty once the situation deteriorates further. Hamlet, like Oedipus, is too late to retrieve things.

A scene from the play Othello, credit Shehal Joseph

A scene from the play Othello, credit Shehal Joseph

Oedipus makes genuine efforts to trace his identity knowing that there is still a piece of puzzle unsettled with him, but all in vain

Or do You Feel Like Oedipus?

Sophocles' great play ‘Oedipus the King’ reveals how the power of fate takes the role in one’s life. It is true that Oedipus’ actions, to a great extent, influence the course of his life. However, despite his efforts to escape fate, unfortunate events take the upper hand and defeat Oedipus. Oedipus, unlike some other characters in the play, is unaware of the tragic events already happened in his past. Like Hamlet, Oedipus also perceives problems that can have an adverse impact on his political life and thereby on the state itself. What factor unfolds the fate in his life? It is his quest for truth. The gods cheat him, and there is not even a single chance for a solution. The irony is that Oedipus is good at solving riddles, but now he is a riddle. Although he feels a sense of control over his life for a while, the ‘identity ambiguity’ still prevails to bring about the preordained catastrophe in his life. Oedipus makes genuine efforts to trace his identity, knowing that there is still a piece of puzzle unsettled with him, but all in vain. Hence, referring to the life of Oedipus Rex, it can be argued that man is a doll in the hands of the gods, and he has no free will.

When compared to Hamlet, Oedipus’ fall is not attributable to his character flaws or actions; instead, the gods are playing with the life of Oedipus leaving him to be a victim of fate. Throughout the play, there are oracles regarding the adversities he will have to undergo. For instance, his father proposes to kill him at an early infant stage, because there is a prophesy that Oedipus would murder his father. But the fate allows Oedipus to live, and he is taken to Corinth where as an adult he is to solve the riddle of his own identity for the first time. He comes to know the terrifying prophetic destiny and leaves Corinth forever so that he would not kill Polypus who he believes is his father. However, on his way, he happens to kill his real father Laius unknowingly. Again, Teiresias (the prophet) tells Oedipus that the killer of his father will be blind and will have an unmerited relationship with his mother. It comes true when Oedipus gauges his eyes out as he realizes his misdeed.

In the same way, Oedipus’ future exile also is foretold. It seems that Oedipus is the only one who does not know the reality. Many people are aware of his flaws and his likeliness to commit mistakes again. But none of them wants to help him though they pretend to do so. Although oracles give indications to the awaiting misfortunes, Oedipus fails to comprehend what they mean only because of the esoteric language they use. Most of the time he has to recall prophesy when the events have already taken place.

As you know, this kind of awareness is of little use once there is no scope for correction. Unlike Hamlet, Oedipus is willing to respond quickly by taking actions though all in vain. There are some situations when we all feel that we are also like Oedipus, a toy in the hands of the gods.

Philosophy Creates One's Perception

When compared to Hamlet, Oedipus is a perfect icon of tragic heroes of all time because he undergoes undeserving punishment which exceeds the intensity of the crime he commits. Ironically, what makes him fall is the revelation of his own identity. Teiresias warns him not to explore his identity and destiny. However, his perception is different, and he believes that knowing more about the past would help him resolve the puzzle. For instance, despite Tiresias’ unwillingness to disclose the truth, Oedipus insists him on revealing it and finally gets angry with the prophet because the truth revealed was painful and unbelievable.

If otherwise, he could at least hear the truth from his guardians Polybus and Merope that they are not his biological parents. When he understands the rumor that he is not the real son of Polybus and Merope, he makes a sincere effort to verify it. Polybus and Merope deny it and try to make him believe that he is their actual son. He leaves them for a genuine reason but on the way kills his real father by mistake. If Polybus and Merope admitted the reality and told him the truth, there could be some changes in the course of his life. Once he believes Polybus as his father, he is sure that he will not murder him. To avoid even the least possibility of committing a mistake, he leaves his father. On the other hand, if Polybus and Merope disclosed the fact, Oedipus could continue his search for identity. Evidently, this is not possible because the predetermined events have to take place.

Oedipus has every reason to leave Corinth though that journey makes him commit the severe crime. Before moving to Corinth, he asks the Delphic Oracle who his parents are. But instead of answering his question, the Oracle tells him that he would kill his father and mate with his mother. Oedipus never wants these things to come true and hence leaves his known parents forever. On his way, he fights with his real father and kills him. Oedipus acted quite nobly throughout his life despite his weakness. In the case of Oedipus, he makes his own decisions but falls in great adversity. As Smith points out, it is by seeking to avoid, that Oedipus brings about the fate. Oedipus is committed to maintaining his integrity. His perceptions are driven by his ideologies no matter the outcome is unfortunate. Hamlet and Othello also have their philosophies and subsequent opinions. Hamlet thinks that his action should be perfect, and so he delays always. When it comes to Othello, faithfulness is vital to him, and therefore he avenges his woman's disloyalty.

What Makes a Tragic Hero

In total, Oedipus, Hamlet, and Othello are tragic heroes who have philosophies of their own. It is illogical to ask if it is their perception that brings them peril. Oedipus is highly vulnerable to fate whereas Hamlet, being exceedingly thoughtful, makes his life complex. Hamlet could have easily fulfilled his father’s command by killing Claudius at the prayer hall. Hamlet is not a coward, but he is unusually hesitant to take actions although he knows the political significance of killing his enemy. The central aspect of his trait is that he is unsure about his integrity and credibility whereas Oedipus is confused about his identity. Again, Othello is brave, lovable, and loyal. He responds swiftly, but fails to distinguish between friend and foe.


Sophocles. Oedipus Rex: Literary Touchstone Edition. Thomas, J. E and Osbom, Elizabeth.(Eds.). Prestwick House Inc, 2005.

Stee, Ethard W. V. This I Need To Know: The Descent Of The Western Literary Tradition. iUniverse, 2004.

Smith, Helaine S. Masterpieces of classic Greek drama. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006.

Shakespeare, William. “The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark”.

William Dyson, Wood,. Hamlet: From a Psychological Point of View, Volume 12. Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer, 1870. Digitized version, Oxford University, 2006.

© 2018 Paul Joseph

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