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The Perfect Aristotelian Tragedy: Oedipus the King

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The Perfect Aristotelian Tragedy: Oedipus the King by Sophocles

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Oedipus the King is an excellent example of Aristotle's theory of tragedy. The play has the perfect Aristotelian tragic plot consisting of paripeteia, anagnorisis and catastrophe; it has the perfect tragic character that suffers from happiness to misery due to hamartia (tragic flaw) and the play evokes pity and fear that produces the tragic effect, catharsis (a purging of emotion).

Oedipus the King has the ingredients necessary for the plot of a good tragedy, including the peripeteia. According to Aristotle, a peripeteia is necessary for a good plot. Peripeteia is "a reversal in his fortune from happiness to disaster" (Abrams 322). Oedipus's reversal of fortune occurs when he realizes that he is the son of Laius and Jocasta. The messenger comes to Oedipus assuming that he will relieve the King of the fear that he will kill his own father as predicted by the Oracle. But by revealing the secret that Oedipus is not who he thinks he is and he was found and he was given to his father Polybus, the messenger does the opposite. The messenger makes Oedipus more fearful instead and he reverses Oedipus' life. The Chorus says, "You are my great example, you, your life your destiny, Oedipus, man of misery - I count no man blest" (1318-20). The Chorus states that its idea of human happiness is now destroyed by Oedipus's reversal of fortune.

According to Aristotle, anagnorisis is another important aspect of the plot of a tragedy. Anagnorisis is "the discovery of facts hitherto unknown to the hero" (Abrams 322). In Oedipus the Knig the anagnorisis came in pieces for Oedipus. It begins when Oedipus recognizes the area, "at a place where thr...

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...nd finds out the truth is almost over at this point. All the tension and mystery is gone. Oedipus reveals the truth and now the feeling of anxiety is replaced by grief and sorrow. This release of tension causes an overwhelming emotion, a relief of emotion that marks the catharsis.

Oedipus the King by Sophocles has the ingredients necessary for a good Aristotelian tragedy. The play has the essential parts that form the plot, consisting of the peripeteia, anagnorisis and a catastrophe; which are all necessary for a good tragedy according to the Aristotelian notion. Oedipus is the perfect tragic protagonist, for his happiness changes to misery due to hamartia (an error). Oedipus also evokes both pity and fear in its audience, causing the audience to experience catharsis or a purging of emotion, which is the true test for any tragedy according to Aristotle.
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