The play “Oedipus Rex” was written by an ancient Greek playwright named Sophocles. Sophocles is known for his compelling tragedies and well-rounded characters. The protagonist of Sophocles’ play “Oedipus Rex” is an honorable man however, chooses to lead a life of arrogance and pride known as hubris. This hubris is what ultimately causes Oedipus to unknowingly cause his own tragic demise. Oedipus fulfills the prerequisites set by Aristotle for a tragic hero.
This was illustrated when Achilles challenged Hector to a battle to the death, and Hector accepted although he knew he would be defeated. Sophocles, one of the most celebrated playwrights in Greek history, played a large role in instilling the value of fate into Greek life. Sigmund Freud talked about "the Oedipus complex" in his book, The Interpretation of Dreams, saying: Oedipus Rex is what is known as the tragedy of destiny. Its tragic effect is said to lie in contrast between the supreme will of the gods and the vain attempts of mankind to escape the evil that threatens them. The lesson which…the deeply moved spectator should learn from this tragedy is submission to the divine will and realization of his own impotence.
Aristotle, the great philosopher who lived from 384 B.C. - 322 B.C. in ancient Greece, defined a tragedy as “a drama treating a serious subject and involving persons of significance.” (1062) According to Aristotle, the protagonist of a tragedy (the “tragic hero”) required three basic characteristics. Firstly he or she must be deemed worthy via an exalted status and/or noble qualities. Secondly he or she must have a tragic flaw (hamartia) that leads to his or her downfall and finally a tragic hero must experience a downfall and recognize the reasons for that downfall.
There are many characteristics that complete Aristotle’s definition of a tragic hero; these being the presence of hamartia and peripeteia, a sense of self-awareness, the audience’s pity for the character, and the hero is of noble birth. Greek Tragedy Theater rose to its peak in Athens around the 5th century BCE. This history of the theater came from the citizens wanting to honor their gods with traditional stories, however, the tragedies were most often based off of early Greek mythology. These dramas were most likely written by one of the famous Greek authors, Aeschylus, Euripides, or Sophocles. According to The Ancient History Encyclopedia, tragedy plays were based on serious topics that taught a moral of right and wrong.
The Ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, outlined a theory of tragedy as archetypal drama in his classic work, the Poetics. He uses the play by Sophocles, Oedipus the King (hereafter "Oedipus"), as the standard model by which all other tragedies are measured. In Aristotle's view, a perfect tragedy should not be simple, but rather complex in its action. It is the degree of complexity of the tragedy, the true increase in the amount of suffering that the heroic character has to go through, that intensifies the use of this device. The truly tragic figure will go through the play experiencing gradually increasing amounts of knowledge which reveal more horrible details.
In Ancient Greece the existence of gods and fate prevailed. In the Greek tragedy King Oedipus by the playwright Sophocles these topics are heavily involved. We receive a clear insight into their roles in the play such as they both control man's actions and that challenging their authority leads to a fall. The concepts of the gods and fate were created to explain things. In Ancient Greece there was a lot that was not understood; science was in its infancy and everything that happened could be explained by the will of the gods or fate.
Many Greek tragedies include a central character known as "the tragic hero." In the play, Oedipus the King, by Sophocles, the character Oedipus, portrays to the reader the necessary, central, tragic hero. According to Aristotle, "a tragic hero has a supreme pride" (Jones. Pg. 133).
The Tragedy of Julius Caesar was in fact a tragedy by Aristotle’s definition of tragedy. Aristotle defined tragedy as a tragic hero with a serious flaw leading to their downfall, bringing with it emotions. The events in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar follow Aristotle’s tragedy definition. In the play, Caesar’s character’s belief of self-immortality and ambition to rule Rome in a tyrannical governing form led to his downfall. Brutus also suffered a downfall that would classify him as tragic hero according to Aristotle.
Sophocles’ work mostly consisted of tragedies, Aristotle - a Greek philosopher - observed Sophocles’ plays and defined tragedy and tragic hero. In the play Antigone by Sophocles, the headstrong King Creon is the tragic hero. His stubbornness and his concern of what other think of him leads to his disgrace. Whereas in The Tragedy of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare The honorable Brutus is the tragic hero. Brutus’ honesty and being overly trusting leads to his demise.
Fate played an important part in the literature of the greeks as is shown in Sophocles' play Oedipus Rex. Sophocles uses a form of irony in his play to show fate. According to Maureen Howard, "Dramatic irony, the irony of fate, is the most important element of the play. "(6) According to Bert Cardullo, "Greek tragedy has been called the tragedy of necessity or fate. "(1) This is shown in the play in the way that Sophocles takes a highly respected and wealthy man and by the end of the play he has been stripped down to having nothing.