In the introduction to Sophocles' Oedipus the King, Sophocles defines a tragic hero as one who "[behaves] admirably as a man, [but who] is nevertheless tripped up by forces beyond his control and understanding..." (Sophocles 76). In Oedipus the King, Oedipus is the tragic hero. The force that "trips up" the hero is fate, or, moira. It is Oedipus's actions that set the events into motion, but it is ultimately his fate, and his attempted aversion to it, that brings about his downfall. This downfall, and elements such as plot, character, diction and spectacle (Aristotle 175), that cause Oedipus the King to be a tragedy.
In order to describe Oedipus as a tragic hero, one must begin by describing a tragedy. A tragedy must consist of a variety of elements in order to truly fulfill its purpose. According to Aristotle, the most important element is plot (175). Without the events that unify all aspects, the story would not be held together. It is the actions of the tragic hero that lead to his downfall, and that define his characteristics and set into motion all other aspects of the work. In Oedipus the King, it is Oedipus's attempt to avoid his destiny, an overt act of hubris, that leads to his rise in power and ultimate fall. In this aspect, he completely fulfills the job of a tragic hero.
Another aspect of a tragedy is character. These are the qualities that are imbued in each character in the story. There have to be admirable traits in the characters, or the readers would not care what happened to them. Some of these characteristics can include honor, bravery, and intelligence, as with Oedipus. If readers did not care, there would be no catharsis...
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...hat it was his father whom he killed. He was also acting out of love for his parents when he tried to avoid his fate by leaving town. Due to these circumstances, it can be seen that Oedipus's punishment far exceeded the crime; but this is just one more reason why he is a tragic hero.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Sophocles. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2003. 54-57.
The Complete Plays of Sophocles. "Introduction." Ed. Moses Hadas. New York: Bantam Books, 1967. p.vii-xvi
The Complete Plays of Sophocles. "Introduction to Oedipus the King." Ed. Moses Hadas. New York: Bantam Books, 1967. p.75-76
The Complete Plays of Sophocles. "Introduction." Ed. Moses Hadas. New York: Bantam Books, 1967. p.77-114
Aristotle. "Poetics". Aristotle's Theory of Poetry and Fine Art. Ed. Butcher, S.H. New York. Dover Publications, Inc. 1951.
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