Comparing Oedipus and Hamlet

Comparing Oedipus and Hamlet

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Free Essays - Oedipus vs. Hamlet as Tragic Protagonists


Oedipus fits Aristotle's definition of the tragic flaw and protagonist almost flawlessly. Aristotle described the protagonist as "someone regarded as extraordinary rather than typical..."(1117). Oedipus freed Thebes from the Sphinx by solving her riddle-- something nobody else had been able to do. The priest in the first scene of Act I calls Oedipus "...our greatest power" (1121) and describes him as rated first among men.

Hamlet is of noble birth but there is nothing else extraordinary about him. Unlike Oedipus, he had not saved a kingdom; he just happened to be born a prince. In tragedies the protagonists are usually of the nobility to make their falls seem greater. However, Aristotle said "What is finally important is not so much the protagonist's social stature as a greatness of character..." (1117).

Protagonists, as described in our book, must also have a "determination to meet some goal or task to make them admirable"(1118). Oedipus set about to find the killer of King Laius to free Thebes from plagues. Hamlet's goal was to avenge the murder of his father. Oedipus immediately began to look for the killer, even when the evidence pointed to himself and ruined his life. Hamlet seems to put off killing Claudius. He chose not to murder him as he prays is Act III scene iii. In Act III scene i Hamlet says: " I'll observe his looks: I'll tent him to the quick: if 'a do blench, I know my course. The spirit I have seen may be a devil:"(1315) Even after the ghost tells Hamlet how he was murdered, Hamlet has the players act it out just to be sure. Obviously, there is no hard resolution for him to finish his task.

Arthur Miller has said "tragic feeling is evoked in us when we are in the presence of a character who is ready to lay down his life.

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.."(1988) Hamlet was ready to take a life; he had not planned on dying. He was bent only on revenge and acting only for himself. Oedipus tore out his own eyes due to his shame of what he had done. Moreover, he banished himself from his homeland so the people of his kingdom could stop their suffering.
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