The Grave Tragedy of Oedipus the King
Tragedy is one of the most prevalent forms of drama produced around the world. There are certain criteria that a drama has to follow in order for it to be characterized as a Tragedy. The criteria is established by Aristotle and is still being used today. It includes having a tragic hero, harmartia, peripateia, a plot consisting of a time period of 24 hours, and finally catharsis. Oedipus the King is a great example of a Tragedy written by Sophocles.
In the play, Oedipus the King, Oedipus is the tragic hero spoken of in Aristotle’s rules for a tragedy. Oedipus is the tragic hero because he possesses characteristics that would ultimately follow that of a hero. His nobility is the most important when determining his title of tragic hero. Either way he could not escape being king. Born of a noble line of blood made him noble, but even when they tried to kill him, he ends up by fate being raised up by a king and queen of another land. The other act that set Oedipus as the tragic hero is his heroic efforts to free Thebes from the Sphinx; “You saved us from the Sphinx, that flinty singer”. Together with other valiant deeds Oedipus is ultimately the tragic hero.
Hamartia is a tragic flaw, which accompanies the tragic hero but does not lead to the hero’s death. Oedipus’ tragic flaw was his temper or his pride. He displays his temper when he kills Laios and all the travelers with him; “Swinging my club with this right hand I knocked him out of his car, and he rolled on the ground. I killed him. I killed them all.” His temper is also displayed when Teiresias reveals his fate and the answer to the question that he has posed to all of Thebes. “…Damnation Take you! Out of this place! Out of my sight!”
The third rule from Aristotle is that of Peripateia. Peripateia is the complete reversal of plot in relation to the tragic hero. Oedipus starts out as the king of Thebes. In relation to peripateia, the only way that Oedipus can have a complete reversal is for him to go down hill in a sense and for him to fall from his thrown. “Ah God! It was true! All the prophecies! - Now, O Light, may I look on you for the last time! I, Oedipus, Oedipus damned in his birth, in his marriage damned, Damned in the blood he shed with his own hand!” This was said after Oedipus discovered that the prophecies, which were told to him at the Oracle, came true. The prophecies being that he would lie with his mother, breed children from whom all men would turn their eyes, and he shall be his fathers murderer.
For a drama to be considered a tragedy, the plot has to extend over a 24 hour period. The only real evidence that there is of this is the statement that Teiresias made to Oedipus, “This day will give you a father, and break your heart.” During the drama you must realize that the actual time period is 24 hours, and that his childhood, and his great accomplishments that are spoken of so often, is just that. They are just spoken of.
In the end Oedipus realizes all the wrong he has done. This is the
lesson that the play provides the reader with. Otherwise known as the catharsis. The lesson being, never lose your temper and to always think things out before making accusations. Another lesson that can be extracted from this play is to know one’s self. A person who goes through life believing he or she can alter their future is sure to be disappointed.
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