Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex Fulfills All of the Requirements of a Tragedy

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Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex Fulfills All of the Requirements of a Tragedy

Throughout Poetics, Aristotle describes what traits a tragedy must have to be successful. To support these choices, he makes use of a small analysis of many tragedies, including many of Sophocles’ plays; Oedipus Rex is one of the plays mentioned in Aristotle’s Poetics. Some of these traits include a successful plot structure, recognition scenes, and a correct choice for its hero. In Oedipus Rex, Sophocles fulfills all of these requirements.

According to Aristotle’s definition of tragedy, the plot of a tragedy is above all the most important element, and for one to write a successful tragedy, one must have an excellent plot. In his Poetics, Aristotle lists four characteristics that a good plot must have: order, amplitude, unity, and probable and necessary connection. The plot of Oedipus Rex contained all of these.

When Aristotle describes what he means by order, he states that a plot has “a beginning, a middle, and an end.” He continues by saying that by ‘beginning’, he means “that which is not necessarily the consequent of something else, but has some state or happening naturally consequent on it.” Oedipus Rex, for example, begins with Oedipus awaiting Creon’s return with the oracle’s advice on the issue of the plague overwhelming Thebes. The beginning of this play already describes why we have started this way and, as Aristotle put it, isn’t necessarily the consequence of something else. Although we, the readers, know that in fact it is, one hearing the story for the first time would understand the play just as well as a seasoned tragedian. The middle, which Aristotle says, “is consequent and has consequents,” depends on the beginning, ju...

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...y for him/her. What a character must be is a good person, as Oedipus is, with a few character flaws, as Oedipus has, thus making the audience able to pity him.

As all of these elements are essential to a good tragedy according to Aristotle, this play must obviously be a good tragedy. It has a successful plot, containing all four of the characteristics listed in Poetics, its hero has the essential character traits, and it has an excellent scene of recognition, containing both peripeteia and pathos. If all of these are what makes an essential plot, then this play, Oedipus Rex, ought to receive the highest praise from Aristotle.

Works Cited

Aristotle. Poetics. Trans. M. E. Hubbard. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972.

Dorsch, T. R., trans. and ed. Aristotle Horace Longinus: Classical Literary Criticism. New York: Penguin, 1965.

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