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Oedipus as a True Tragic Hero

How does Oedipus measure up with other tragic heroes in Shakespreare? Is he a true tragic hero in Aristotle's eyes?

Tragedies, particularly great tragedies, almost always have a tragic hero which we sympathise with and learn from. But what makes a tragic hero? Does a true tragedy mean death of the main character? Or is it merely within the character?s suffering and redeption that we discover the true meaning of the play.

Obviously, Oedipus is thr tragic hero of Oedipus the King. Howver, the play ends with Oedipus being blind, not dead. So what makes him a tragic hero? In other tragedies, such as Shakespeare?s "King Lear" events evolves because of mistakes, Lear made a mistake of judgement and he was punished by the death of his favourite daughter and then his own death. But Oedipus didn?t make a mistake like this, not at first as he was doing what he though was best for the people, which was to find the killer of Laius. The only mistake he made was misjudgeing Creon and Tieresias, but they didn?t provoke his downfall.

Another Shakespearean tragedy "Macbeth" involves fate, Macbeth is told his future at the beginning of the play and it grows to an obsession, which in the end kills him. Isn?t this like Oedipus, the murder of Laius and later his identity becomes an obsession which undoes him? Now there is a connection, a tragedy occurs when there is a flaw in the tragic hero?s character.

Now a tragic hero, he makes a mistake, and then he finds out what it is? And we know what it is which is part of the irony? This fits in to Oedipus very well, we know Oedipus? mistake first off, it?s ironic as Oedipus thinks he is right but he isn?t. And when he finds out, it?s virtually the end of the play.

But what about death? When we mean a tragedy we talk about death usually, don?t we? Oedipus doesn?t die! Well not yet anyway, not until the sequel Oedipus at Colonus. But what do Oedipus, Lear and Macbeth have in common?

They make a mistake, then they find out about the mistake. Then before the end of the play, the punish themselves by suffering before us about how they were wrong and such, and what they should have done. Lear does this, when he goes mad in the field and holds the body of his dead daughter; Macbeth does this, when he realises that words are more than face value; and so does Oedipus, when he comes out blind and talks to the chorus about what he has done.

So a tragic hero doesn?t have to die, a tragic hero only has to make a mistake and suffer the consequences of making it. Then the play takes them wherever the end is, whether it be death as in Lear and Macbeth?s case or off-stage as in Oedipus?.

The only question that does remain, is Oedipus the King a true tragedy? We have already discussed that tragedy doesn?t mean death, Oedipus is proof enough. But does true tragedy mean death?

Arisotle, as modeled his Poetics on "Oedipus the King". They were meant for schoolchildren as study-guides to understand the plays better of years before. So if Aristotle saw Oedipus the King as a true tragedy, we might as well take his word for it.

Remember also that Aristotle also said that Sophocles drew men ?as the ought to be?, and tragedy, particularly Shakespearean tragedy is taken as a rather complicated ?morality play?. So tragedy has common ground, whether in the time of Shakespeare or Sophocles and Aristotle. Shakespeare would have studied Oedipus the King as he is known to have a ?classical education?, and King Lear is about as close as he got without naming names.

So if Shakespeare?s tragedies are considered worthy, and so are Sophocles, they even are distinctly similar, would Oedipus would be considered true?

Arder states: ?Oedipus is a direct model of true tragedy, though there are the works of Aeschylus before him such as the Orestia, they do not consist of the hypothetical ?tragic journey?, in which the tragic hero repents in his state of self-knowledge. Only Oedipus does this as does Antigone. Aristotle was correct in choosing Oedipus as his model for tragedy. In later times other writers, such as Shakespeare, modeled their tragedy on the one first wrote by Sophocles.? ix Again, Arder is correct. Aeschylus work did not follow the ?tragic journey? as in the play "Agamemnon", Agamemnon was killed by Clytamenestra and it is his son Orestes that avenges his death. This play is more like Shakespeare?s "Hamlet", but Hamlet also goes through a ?tragic journey?, but his is different again. For tragedy to be true, a character must know what he, or she as in "Antigone", has done and then suffer for it. Since Oedipus hasd followed this pattern this not only makes it a true tragedy, but the first true tragedy. And Oedipus the true tragic hero.

Oedipus is upon the same line as other tragic heroes in literature. He goes through his ?tragic journey?, and the consiquences virtually end the play. As Arder states, and as Aristotle says in the letter or his Poetics, Oedipus the King is a true tragedy and Oedipus the true tragic hero. Just try telling that to Oedipus, as he mutters to himself on the stage on how he wishes he was dead.

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