The Protagonist as Victim in Oedipus the King and Hamlet

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The Protagonist as Victim in Oedipus the King and Hamlet

In Sophocle's Oedipus the King and William Shakespeare's Hamlet, the unruly forces surrounding the protagonists are the source for their downfall. Fate, women, and divine intervention are the foundation for the protagonists' demise. The protagonists are powerless against these elements, and for that reason, are not responsible for their finish.

The uncontrollable force of fate is one component that assists in destroying Oedipus. Oedipus cannot improve his situation because of fate and realizes this when he declares, "But I count myself the son of Good Chance, the giver of success-I shall not be dishonored." This statement illustrates how powerless Oedipus is against his destiny. He realizes his position and refuses to be `dishonored' for circumstances beyond his control.

In Oedipus the King, Jocasta is another cause for Oedipus's ruin. Jocasta senses that her husband may also be her son. She only encourages him to dismiss the idea. Once Oedipus comes close to discovering the truth Jocasta desperately pleads with him when she cries, "In God's name, if you place any value on your life, don't pursue the search. It is enough that I am sick to death...Take my advice, I beg you-do not go on with it." Jocasta may have been trying to save him, but she help destroy him instead.

Divine intervention plays an important role in the fall of Oedipus. The gods put a plague on the country, and as king, it is Oedipus's duty to save his country. His ability to solve the riddle earns him much praise. This praise for saving the country only serves to inflate Oedipus's ego, which the author displays as he writes:

That riddle was not for anyone w...

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...evenge his foul murder and most unnatural murder." The spirit goes on to reveal how Claudius murdered him and asks Hamlet to retaliate. This divine intervention forces Hamlet to do what his father bids. If it were not for this action made by the ghost of his father, his fortune would be different.

In Oedipus the King and Hamlet, the protagonists are victims of unmanageable forces in their environments. Fate, women, and divine intervention are the groundwork for the protagonists' end. These protagonist, try as they might, have absolutely no control over these forces or their outcome.


Shakespeare, William. The New Cambridge Shakespeare: Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Ed. Philip Edwards. Cambridge: Cambridge U P, 1985.

Sophocles. "Oedipus the King" Classics in World Literature. Ed by Wood, Kerry et. Al. Glenview, IL: Scott-Foresman, 1989.
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