William Shakespeare's Hamlet and Sophocles' Oedipus the King Essay

William Shakespeare's Hamlet and Sophocles' Oedipus the King Essay

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William Shakespeare's Hamlet and Sophocles' Oedipus the King


     Though Shakespeares’ Hamlet and Sophocles’ Oedipus the King were written in two different eras, echoes of the latter can be found in the former. The common theme of Hamlet and Oedipus the King is regicide. Also, like in Oedipus the King, there is a direct relationship between the state of the state and the state of their kings. Furthermore, there is also a relationship between Oedipus’ armed entrance into the bedroom in which Jocasta hanged herself, and Hamlet’s confrontation of Gertrude in her bedroom. Both plays share the emphasis on a tragic irony in the chain of events that lead up to ritual of catharsis, but the plot of Hamlet makes a much more complicated character than that of the classic Greek tragedy of Oedipus the King.  
        
     Sophocles’ Oedipus King and Shakespeare's Hamlet both contain the basic elements of tragedy, although the Shakespearean tragedy expanded its setting far beyond that of the ancient Greek tragedy. The tragic hero of Hamlet finds himself burdened with the task of avenging his father's death from the start of the play, and is not himself the source of the pollution of regicide, while Oedipus is of course the unwitting fashioner of his own doom, which is unveiled to him through recognition and repentance.

Sophocles has Oedipus foretelling his own tragedy when speaking to the
people of Thebes. The city suffers as a result of Oedipus’pride, and irony is shown when Oedipus suggest that by avenging Laius he will protect himself, or that by getting children upon Jocasta, the dead king's wife, he will be taking the place of the son of Laius, which, unknowingly, is himself. “I will bring it all to light... I shall rid us of this pollution, not for the sake of a distant relative, but for my own sake (Knox, 10).” The irony reaches its peak when Oedipus calls on the prophet Tiresias to help uncover the murder of Laius and seek an cure to the plague; the metaphor of vision is ironic in that the blind Tiresias can see what the seemingly brilliant Oedipus has overlooked, namely the king's crimes of incest and murder. “You are the murderer, you are the unholy defilement of this land(Knox, 23).” Tiresias goes on to say “I say that without knowing it you are living in shameful intimacy with your nearest and dearest. You do not see the evil in which you live (K...


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....” It was Gertrude’s subsequent reaction that led to the pivotal moment when Hamlet kills Polonius. The murder of Polonius was completely impetuous. Hamlet went from pondering murder to actually committing murder. When he does so it is not the actual act that is insane, but his lack of emotion which is. Scarcely acknowledging what he has just done, he continues preaching to Gertrude, and accuses her of plotting to murder his father. “With tristful visage, as against the doom, Is thought-sick at the act (Act 3, Scene 4).” After an elongated interrogation which sounded more like an S&M chat, we begin to realize Gertrude’s’s guilt for marrying Claudius, as well as her innocence in the actual plot to murder the King. It is only after the reappearance of the apparition that Hamlet begins to ease up on his mother.

     Hamlet and Oedipus the King though quite different, have a lot in common. They are the similar from an oedipal perspective, as well as having in common the element of madness. Though many would have a problem putting Shakespeare in the same category as Sophocles, it is not difficult to place their works, Hamlet Oedipus the King respectively, in the same category.
     

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