Oedipus as a Tragic Hero in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex

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Oedipus as a Tragic Hero

A tragic hero is the principal
character of a tragedy that enjoys all the trappings of power, fame and wit but
through a major flaw of character fatally errs. The realization and will to
concede also known as catharsis is what marks their position as a tragic
hero
. Oedipus is wise, of blue blood, is lovable but arrogant and he
fatally errors in order to complete his picture as a tragic hero.
This study of Oedipus King
explores the qualities of the drama that bring out the development of
character, fate, timing, tragedy and how this all spirals to make a tragic
hero
. Sophocles work reflects major influences like fate, time or
coincidence and character flaws to bring out what exactly a tragic hero
is and he uses a variety of other literary devices among which are dramatic
irony, using the chorus, suspense, fate, timing and others. Sophocles is one of
the dramatists that has been greatly celebrated. His claim to fame was with his
drama Oedipus King.
Aristotle established his view of what makes
a tragic hero as one that must evoke a sense of pity or fear in the
audience. Aristotle contests that “The tragic hero has to be a man who is not
eminently good and just, yet whose misfortune is brought about not by vice or
depravity, but by some error or frailty.” Furthermore, another interesting way
to think about a tragic hero in Sophocles is by using an adjective
Sophocles applies to all of them: “deinos” meaning both wonderful and
terrible.
A tragic hero is a great or
virtuous character, of high social standing who eventually meets his downfall
with suffering or defeat and he realizes his error only too late.
According to Aristotle’s Poetics,
the ideal tragic hero is a man whose good and bad character are mixed, but with
the good predominating. Oedipus is certainly that! He is a concerned,
caring king whose people love and trust him, but he has a quick, impulsive
temper and fails to think in some critical situations. As a result, he commits
unforgivable errors that bring him down and drags some innocent people down
with him.
Oedipus is largely a victim of fate and timing
for he is born in Thebes and Oedipus’ gruesome prophecy is told upon
Laius’ house. Laius and Jocasta attempt to thwart the prophecy by killing Oedipus
but Oedipus is born at a time when the King and Queen Polybus of Corinth
are childless so they adopt Oedipus. All attempts to kill the prophecy
actually bring it to completion. It is also ironic that The King and Queen
Polybus think Oedipus is royal because of them but he is truly royal.
Oedipus does so many right things and few wrong
things that are gruesome. A sense of hubris is seen when Oedipus is vain
enough to run away from the gods who hold power about what one can be. He tries
to unwind the will of the gods for dares the gods. But again we appreciate Oedipus
caring nature that makes him meet whatever extent to do right. Oedipus
didn’t want to hurt his parents so he actually ran away from them. Little did
he know that he was actually fulfilling his fate in the course of leaving Corinth
for Thebes.
Oedipus is rush and arrogant in such a way that
he kills Laius along the way because the old man and his entourage effuse to
give him way. In spite of the fact that he is warned, he breaks Laius’ neck.
Fate is also a major aspect to consider for it happens to be Laius that he
kills Laius as was prophesied. This action is against any form of counsel for a
man only recently cautioned him about killing his father.
Fate and timing are interconnected in
such a way that Oedipus arrives in Thebes when his wisdom is required.
He meets the people of Thebes in a time of great despair as they are killed for
not knowing the riddle of the Sphinx. What were the odds that Oedipus
was wise enough to know the riddle of the Sphinx? How come he was just in time
to save the people of Thebes? On being a savior, he is accelerated to the
position of kingship and he is gifted with a queen or widow, Jocasta. The speed
with which Oedipus becomes a King is wild and his wisdom is
admired by many.
Oedipus is obstinate when he suspects
connivance between Creon and Tiresias when he is trying to find out the source
of the plague. Oedipus is determined to seek the truth even of it means
neglecting the elders like Tiresias who can see the past, present like the
chorus and future. It is ironic that Tiresias sees but the King who sees
cannot. Tiresias goes on to say, “Pride breeds the tyrant.” The playwright uses
the irony of the blind that seem to achieve the grave portrayal of the tragic
hero
.
Oedipus, as hasty as he is, loves pleasing the
public and is beyond excitement which makes him pass a judgment on the murderer
of Laius, that is, to be banished from Thebes. He is an outright dictator for
he doesn’t ask the functions of the state to counsel him. Satire is employed
for he passes a judgment on himself in the end and runs into problems. Oedipus
sees Thebes as his responsibility in all ways so can one blame him for feeling
the remorse he felt? Oedipus says, “My spirit grieves for the city, for
myself and all of you.” On the other hand, he is strong-willed for he sets his
verdict and actually meets it.
Oedipus is vain and shallow minded and he
portrays hamartia in that he doesn’t caution if Jocasta could be his mother. A
man recently warned about marrying his mother would think twice about marrying
an older woman, yet the allure of a Queen. Power and beauty bring Oedipus
bring Oedipus straight to the fangs of fate. To make the situation of
poorer quality than it already is, Oedipus tells Jocasta his upbringing
after he is married for 4 years and having 4 children using the style of
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No sooner does Oedipus tell
Jocasta his background than he realizes the ugly truth of his existence. This
is peripetia. If banishment was Oedipus’ only punishment, the play might
have been a bit simpler but Oedipus in a fit of rage, stabs out his own
eyes. This was Oedipus’ way of punishing himself as well as an escape
from the gazes by his subjects, his brother or uncle and his children. Oedipus
is plunged into darkness as a means of punishment for the physical pain seems
to prove that. He pays for being blinded by his foolish pride and power. This
is catharsis, an emotional cleansing, a point of realization after all wrong is
done and a call for pity. The chorus feels sorry for this man who has
unknowingly killed his father and married his mother for the people of this
land that he saves from a curse and brings them a curse. The chorus also pities
Jocasta who is an innocent bystander in the whole confusing disaster.
Therefore
judging from Oedipus’ self-assessment which ends in a lifetime of
misery, shame and exile for the major character is clearly a tragedy. Where
fate had left a fracture on the fabrics of life, character has completed its
decimation. Tragedy is what Jean Racine says in one of her quotes; “A tragedy
need not have blood and death; it’s enough that it all be filled with that
majestic sadness that is the pleasure of tragedy.”
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