Tragedy of Oedipus Rex Many People Understand Essay

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Tragedy of Oedipus Rex

Many people understand Sophocles' play, Oedipus Rex, is a tragedy but what they may not know is that Aristotle established the notion of the tragic drama and Oedipus Rex fits it perfectly. The ancient drama serves as an excellent example of what a tragic play looks like. According to Aristotle, the hero of a dramatic play can must be noble or of royalty. Because he is noble, he is often perceived of in an extraordinary in some way. This is certainly the case with Oedipus. His people love and respect him primarily because he solved the riddle of the Sphinx. Besides being extraordinary, a tragic hero must vacillate between two extremes and reveal his tragic flaw and eventually experience a catharsis. Finally, the hero must evoke a sense of pity or sympathy from the audience before the play's conclusion. Oedipus Rex fulfills these requirements.

One of the reasons Oedipus Rex is still read today is because of its ability to reach the audience. We do not care when this play was written because the message is timeless. The tragedy is as painful today as it was thousands of years ago. Michael Walton maintains the play is "arguably the most important tragedy in all of classical literature" (Walton). This is because of the king himself and his qualities. Aristotle's Poetics defines a tragic hero as someone of great renown existing between two emotional extremes. Oedipus fits this model perfectly. With this aspect of the hero's character, we see his humanity. This is crucial to the audience understanding and relating to him on some level. This is important because the audience needs to understand that while the hero may be great in some respects, he is not perfect. He is like everyone else in that he is not purely good or evil. He is real and genuine and this makes his "misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity, but by some error or frailty" (Aristotle XIII). This bit of humanity drives the plot of play as the hero drifts from one emotional extreme to another. This also forces him to make poor decisions, which compounds his bad luck. Like many, he does not know when to stop pressing his luck. Walton writes the drama is tragic because Oedipus "appears to have everything, and by doing nothing beyond seeking truth, loses everything" (Walton) and this "touches a universal anxiety" (Walton). The king is limited by his humanity but this is not his entire problem.

Oedipus adheres to Aristotle's definition because he fails to hear what others are telling him. He makes bad decisions after he becomes obsessed with his own desires. In a word, he becomes selfish and stops thinking about anything other than himself. He is distracted from what actually matters. Curiosity gets the best of Oedipus and he becomes arrogant. He does not listen to Teiresias when warns him of unintended consequences. Oedipus remembers the Sphinx's riddle and how everyone respects him because of it and blames Teiresias for being a "wicked old man" (Sophocles I.i.118) with "no feeling at all" (I.i.119). Teiresias offers Oedipus firm advice but it does not matter. Oedipus has lost interest in what others have to say and is acting on his own now. Teiresias tells him he is the "pollution of this country" (I.i.135) and Oedipus simply ignores him. Oedipus also ignores Iocaste and perceives her as a nagging wife as she tries to reason with him. He dismisses her advice and, in turn, becomes the nag constantly probing her about the three highways. He cannot stop himself once he begins down the path of searching. He tells his wife, "I will not listen; the truth must be made known" (II.iii.146) and refuses to be reasoned with on any level. He literally turns on her and says:

The Queen, like a woman, is perhaps ashamed…

Sources Used in Document:

Works Cited

Aristotle. "Poetics." S.H. Butcher, Trans. MIT Internet Classics Archive. Web.

<http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/poetics.html> Site Accessed March 08, 2011.

Hadas, Moses. The Complete Plays of Sophocles. Jebb, Richard, trans. New York: Bantam

Books. 1971. Print.

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