Oedipus the King is the perfect example of a tragedy. It contains a
complete combination of all the features of a tragedy. Aristotle in
his Poetics defines Oedipus as being 'a definite example of the
form and purpose of tragedy'. In tragedies the Greeks dramatized
climactic events in the lives of heroes, and Oedipus' story is no
exception. By using many different literary devices it brings moral
dilemmas of action and motive to the public stage. The action is set
out over the timeframe of one day, which will according to the prophet
Tiresias will bring Oedipus' 'birth' and 'destruction'.
King Oedipus is the central protagonist and within his character lies
a tragic flaw. He is unintentionally the architect of his own
downfall. The strengths that once lead him to solve the riddle behind
the sphinx later lead him to his own downfall. In the words of the
priest; 'you helped us stand, only to fall once more'. Oedipus'
hamartia is his anger. It lies at the root of the plot. It was fury
that lead him to kill Laius. He was about to thrust Oedipus off the
road one night, so Oedipus 'paid him back with interest' by murdering
him. Another flaw is a persistent desire to discover the truth. His
'mindless stubbornness' motivates him to seek the truth about Laius'
killer and who his father is. This search leads to the turn of events
that take place throughout the play.
Despite constant denial of his fate he cannot deny the work of the
gods. Tiresias delivers him a prophecy of this fate. Oedipus'
circumstances are far beyond his own control. No matter what he
attempts to do or alter every path leads the same way. He finds
himself 'always terrified Apollo's' oracle might come true'. However
he is determined to seek out the Kings murderer to punish him. This
search interlinks with the search for his father. Jocasta also tries
to deny destiny believing that 'nothing human can penetrate the
future'. She claims to believe that 'It's all chance, chance rules our
lives'. However fate inevitably takes over. Through the process of
anagorsis Oedipus discovers he is in fact the very criminal he seeks.
Along with this he realises further truth in the prophecy, that he is
married to his mother. Jocasta also comes to realise the same truth.
By the end of the play his final downfall along with hers is
... middle of paper ...
...loins that spawned my wretched
life. What grief can crown this grief? It's mine alone, my destiny - I
These two statements show the peripeteia of Oedipus' life. Once a hero
basked in glory, he has now succumbed to his destiny. In turn he is
lowered to a truly pathetic state.
His altered state serves to highlight the reversal of fortune he
undergoes. His tragic flaw leads him to acknowledging his fate.
Oedipus' downfall comes as he tries to escape fate but cannot. The
audience knows this as does the chorus and we can only watch.
Oedipus the King contains nothing outside of the definition; it's just
pure Tragedy at the very core. It also confirms to Aristotle's theory
of Tragedy. It obeys all the rules
and the elements of Tragedy mentioned throughout. These features
entwine together to create the ultimate work of Tragedy. From all of
this it is unquestionable that the word 'tragedy' is a usefully
accurate description of Sophocles' play Oedipus the King.
 W.B. Worthen, The Harcourt Brace Anthology of Drama, 3rd Edition
(USA, Harcourt College Publishers, 2000), p 72.
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