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THE GREEK THEATRE
2) Is Oedipus a Tragic Hero?
Answer this question demonstrating specific understandings of the concepts of Tragedy and the Tragic Hero.
In the Greek play, “King Oedipus” written by Sophocles, certain characteristics, which determine the traits of a tragic hero, reveal themselves as the play unfolds. These traits enable readers to enjoy a more enhanced reading of the play and also serve to evoke a particular response from the reader.
Readers acknowledge that King Oedipus is a tragic hero because he is he is an important and influential man. He isn’t just looked up to because he’s the king; he is genuinely admired and respected from the people of Thebes who come to seek comfort and advice from Oedipus, the “wisest in the ways of the gods.” This is demonstrated in the opening of the play when King Oedipus appears and is concerned about what ‘his’ people are worried about. Readers acknowledge King Oedipus’ wisdom and love; “I would willingly do anything to help you.” Through this quote readers respond favorably towards this character as readers are aware that King Oedipus actually genuinely cares about his people and Thebes as he steps down from the throne and makes the effort to correspond with the people and get to the bottom of the dilemma.
King Oedipus can also be classified as a tragic hero because he is not perfect but most certainly has tragic flaws, one of them being excessive hubris and
self- righteousness and he refuses to believe anyone who doesn’t agree with himself. This is evident in the beginning of the play when Teiresias and Oedipus are debating about who killed Laios. Hence readers are aware through the following quote, “Do you think you can say such things with impunity?” that King Oedipus has a strong passion for the truth and high moral standards. As the play progresses further, King Oedipus’ hubris becomes more prominent as he is determined to find out about his birth no matter what the cost is. Oedipus’ search for the truth leads him to the discovery that he isn’t a “child of luck” but, “a man of misfortune” which of course horrifies him as he learns that at birth he was nailed to the top of a mountain top and was considered to be of low standing social class. King Oedipus’ pride seems to be more injured as he went to such great depths to discover the truth – only to discover that he was born of low class.
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As far as readers are concerned from the beginning of the play Oedipus is conveyed as leading a relatively happy and normal life because readers are only provided with limited information. But as the play progresses and readers are made aware that Oedipus was actually the murderer of his father, Laios, and that Oedipus married his mother not knowing. Readers therefore acknowledge that Oedipus has broken the most sacred of moral laws. Readers anticipate that some form of punishment will be in store for Oedipus whether it is death or exiled. Readers are aware that Oedipus may have human faults, but his failures will have far greater impact because he is the king so therefore readers respond in a sympathetic manner towards the character Oedipus. Even though he pursued knowing his birth readers feel pity towards him as they feel that it was Oedipus’ choice to know the truth but his excessive pride got in the way and therefore he committed an error in judgement and must then suffer the consequences of his actions.
Oedipus evokes pity and terror from readers. Readers are well aware that Oedipus is powerful as he is described as a “tower of strength” and has a penetrating way of looking at people. He is often quick tempered and acts impulsively and, sometimes violently. Therefore when readers learn of him gouging out his eyes a feeling of disgust yet pity is projected towards Oedipus because his sight is lost, all because he wants no one to look on him as the murderer of his father and the husband of his own mother. Readers also respond in a sympathetic manner towards Oedipus as he has been stripped of his political power and exited as a pitiful soul when he decides to exile himself from Thebes. Readers therefore feel that Oedipus’ misfortune is far greater than he deserves.
Readers once again feel sympathetic towards the character Oedipus towards the end of the play as Oedipus finally recognizes and accepts the oracles prophecy as it was predicted when he was born. Readers acknowledge the wisdom that Oedipus gained from his suffering when he prays to the gods for forgiveness.
The play, “King Oedipus” moves the readers to experience some sort of fear from the play that has just been read in the way that readers recognize the possibilities of error in their own lesser, fallible selves. Readers also anticipate that a tragic hero must learn a lesson from his errors in judgement, his tragic flaw, and become an example to the audience of what happens when great men fall from the high social class.
The concept of tragedy is most certainly evident throughout the play as well. The tragedy which took place in “Oedipus the King” moved the readers by capturing suffering and pain and therefore learning a moral lesson from seeing a noble man with high social class suffer – especially since Oedipus learnt a lesson from the pain that he experienced. Readers put themselves in the character
Oedipus’ place and feel as if they too have gone through the same events for themselves and learned the same lessons firsthand.
Tragedy exalted Oedipus as an individual by exploring his place in Thebes by inhabited forceful forces and by showing how important Oedipus can be in the face of insuperable odds.
When Oedipus gouged out his eyeballs so that he could no longer see, readers acknowledge that this is a form of a tragic characteristic. Tragedy tended to punish Oedipus with a punishment out of all proportion to sin allowing readers to feel that Oedipus is being crucified for all of ‘our’ sins too.
Finally the tragedy in “Oedipus the King” encouraged the readers to be passionate and most certainly quite emotional as readers too felt like they were experiencing everything that all the characters were.
In conclusion the concepts of tragedy and the tragic hero in the play “Oedipus the King” convey certain characteristics which enable readers to enjoy a more enhanced reading of the play and also serve to evoke a particular response from the reader.