Oedipus as a Tragic Hero Research Paper
Oedipus is a tragedy because it fits the definition of a tragic hero as established by Aristotle in the Poetics. In a classic tragedy, we see a noble and a heroic protagonist whose destruction is caused by a flaw in his character. This flaw can cause him to get involved in circumstances, which overpower him or make him unable to deal with a destructive situation caused by another character or by circumstances.
Although the play ends with the tragic hero’s death, he does experience an insight or awareness, which makes him and the audience more perceptive and aware. This research paper seeks to explain how Sophocles’ Oedipus exemplifies Aristotle’s description of a tragic hero. The paper incorporates research mainly from primary and secondary scholarly sources. By the end of the paper, the reader should be able to identify a strong correlation between Oedipus and the tragic hero outlined by Aristotle in the Poetics.
Oedipus is a tragedy because it fits the definition of a tragic hero as established by Aristotle in the Poetics. In a classic tragedy, we see a noble and a heroic protagonist whose destruction is caused by a flaw in his character.
This flaw can cause him to get involved in circumstances, which overpower him or make him unable to deal with a destructive situation caused by another character or by circumstances. Although the play ends with the tragic hero’s death, he does experience an insight or awareness, which makes him and the audience more perceptive and aware.
This research paper seeks to explain how Sophocles’ Oedipus exemplifies Aristotle’s description of a tragic hero. The paper incorporates research mainly from primary and secondary scholarly sources. By the end of the paper, the reader should be able to identify a strong correlation between Oedipus and the tragic hero outlined by Aristotle in the Poetics. (Else 17)
By following the theory outlined by Aristotle on the theory and definition of a tragic hero, it is evident that Oedipus the hero of Sophocles fits this description. According to Aristotle, a tragic hero must have the ability to provoke the spectator’s pity and trepidation and to make them more perceptive. In the play, Oedipus has nearly all the characters of a tragic hero as outlined by Aristotle.
Ideally, the perception of tragic hero is essential in the creation of tragedy since it should be the central cause of sympathy and awe. Usually, the tragic character as outlined by Aristotle evolves between two limits. According to the description, the character should border between being virtuous and evil. Additionally, this character is superior to the ordinary men and he has excellent traits. As a tragic hero, the character moves from bliss to despair and hence his downfall.
Usually, a flaw in character causes the downfall of the tragic hero and not through the chords of evil or corruption. Additionally, the tragic hero is usually prosperous and has high social standing. By reading the story, one is able to realize that all these characteristics befit Oedipus and one is therefore right in claiming that he is a tragic hero. (Golden 35)
Actually, every aspect in the description of a tragic hero seems to fit Oedipus character. To begin with, Oedipus is naturally a noble man. By his virtue, he helps the people of Thebes to solve the riddle of Sphinx something that saves their city. After solving this riddle, Oedipus is made the Theban king and this is where we find another good nature to his character.
Once he is in the throne, the king shows a deep concern for the suffering of Thebans owing to the plague. He actually tells the Thebans that his suffering is greater than their own. Since his aptitude and wit had saved Thebans before, all the people are now looking up to him for their salvation from the ravaging plague. In fact, the people compare his intelligence to that of God.
Even before the people begin complaining, Oedipus has already sent Creon to consult the oracle of Apollo. This shows that he is a great man and as a king, he knows the right thing to do for his people. Another virtuous quality in Oedipus is demonstrated when he decides to inflict himself with blindness just to fulfill the punishment that he had sworn would be given to the king’s killer.
Had he been a weak character, Oedipus would have chosen to commit suicide alongside his mother Jocasta. Instead, Oedipus chooses the option of confessing his hideous mistake to the Thebans. This account is proof enough that Oedipus has a good character and this makes him fit the role of a tragic hero as outlined by Aristotle. (Steiner 107)
On top of being a noble person, Oedipus has royal blood since he later emerges to be the son of King Laius. Even before the people know that he is King Laius son, Oedipus tells Jocasta that he is indeed the son of Polybus who is the Corinth king. Indeed, Oedipus left Corinth once he received prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother.
Afraid of this prophecy, Oedipus flees from Corinth to Thebes where he marries Jocasta. In the course of events, Jocasta tells Oedipus of a prophecy that had been given to the late king that he would give birth to a son who would cause his death and marry his own mother.
Jocasta then tells Oedipus that he should disregard this prophecy since no man has the ability to see in to the future. In fact, things get more complicated for him once he learns from Jocasta that they killed their own son to escape this prophecy. As the events unfold, it is proved that Oedipus in indeed the son of King Laius and Jocasta something that confirms his royalty. Despite the fact that Oedipus is of royal blood, he has a flawed character that makes him a tragic hero as outlined by Aristotle. (Kaufmann 120)
There is no doubt that Oedipus is a virtuous, courageous, and smart king. Despite his admirable personality, he also has some flaws in his character that seem to be inborn. As a tragic hero, these errors finally cause his eventual downfall from glory. By clearly analyzing the whole text, one quickly learns that Oedipus is stubborn in character. In fact, all the ills that he suffers are caused by this stubbornness since he does whatever he thinks is right despite the consequences.
At first, Tressias declines to divulge the truth about the death of King Laius but Oedipus pressures him to disclose the truth so he can save Thebes. Upon being pushed to the limit, Tressias reluctantly tells him that he was indeed the killer of the king. When his wife Jocasta tells him to stop inquiring of the matter, Oedipus dismisses her and instead continues to question the shepherd.
Despite the warnings, his stubbornness makes him want to know the bitter truth from the shepherd. Indeed, this stubbornness becomes the source of agony once he realizes the identity of his parents. Apart from his stubbornness, Oedipus is also presented as a moody person and can do anything when he is in a bad mood. This is demonstrated when he kills King Laius on his way to Thebes.
It is clear that Oedipus was in a bad temper when he committed this act owing to the prophecy that had been given to him. On top of this, he is a quick character who speaks without stopping to think. This is demonstrated when he accuses Creon of plotting with Tressias to deny him the right to the throne.
This can definitely be attributed to bad temper owing to what Tressias had told him. Just before this confrontation with Creon, Oedipus is seen mocking and insulting the blind prophet Tressias. Tressias tells him that both of them are alike since he is unable to see the sinful union that he has with his mother. Indeed, this stubbornness and quick speech leads to his downfall. (Hyde 322)
By closely analyzing the situation, one easily finds the link between Oedipus downfall and his stubbornness. This therefore leads to the conclusion that his downfall did not come from malice or depravity but it is rather caused by natural flaws in his personality. In fact, the tragic end of this hero occurs once the audience learns that he is indeed the real son of Laius and Jocasta.
This not only brings to fulfillment the prophecy given at Delphi but it also brings to pass the words of Tressias that no man would know greater suffering than Oedipus. This happens when he gets to a point where is unable to know if he is the father of his daughters or their brother.
After his identity is revealed, Oedipus leaves Thebes to free the city of the plague and gorges out his eyes to fulfill the punishment he had promised the killer of King Laius would get. In fact, neither the prophet nor the shepherd is willing to make the truth known to him but his own stubbornness becomes his downfall. This clearly fits Aristotle’s’ description of a tragic hero when he claims that his downfall is caused by a flaw in his character. (Miller 2)
By the time the curtains fall, it is clear that that the audience is in a state of purgation. Throughout the play, Oedipus attains the sympathy and fear of the spectators. Nearly everyone fears the real identity of the hero and they keep on hoping that he does not discover it. Once the truth is out in the open, the audience is moved to pity by what happens to Oedipus.
By arousing both pity and fear from the audience, it becomes clear that Oedipus has the traits of a tragic hero as outlined by Aristotle in the poetics. Indeed, there is a clear pointer to the wheels of fate in his life since everything prophesied about him happens. Whatever happens to him is a clear indication that it is preordained fate and nothing he does can prevent it from happening. (Else 22)
Oedipus is a tragedy because it fits the description of a tragic hero as outlined by Aristotle in the poetics. In fact, this play by Sophocles is termed as the best piece of literature that fits Aristotle’s definition of a tragic hero.
By analyzing the character of Oedipus, one is able to realize that no forces of evil cause the downfall of this hero but rather his stubbornness and bad temper, which are obvious character flaws in his nature. Throughout the play, the audience is spellbound by the acts of this hero but at the end, everyone is moved to pity by what has happened to him. This also clearly fits the description of a tragic hero as outlined by Aristotle.
Else, Gerald. Aristotle’s Poetics: The Argument. Harvard University Press, 1963. 16-22. Print.
Golden, Leon, trans. Aristotle’s Poetics. With Commentary by O. B. Hardison, Jr. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1967. 32-41. Print.
Hyde, Isabel. The Tragic Flaw: Is It a Tragic Error?” The Modern Language Review. St. Louis University Library, 2008. 321-325. Print.
Kaufmann, Walter. Tragedy and Philosophy. Princeton University Press, 1992. 120-122. Print.
Miller, Arthur. Tragedy and the Common Man. University of California, 1949. 1-2. Print.
Steiner, George. The Death of Tragedy. Yale University Press, 1996. 105-111. Print.
Further Study: FAQ
? Why is Oedipus a tragic hero?
Oedipus is a tragic hero because of his tragic flaw (his pride) has led to the character’s destruction. His pride deprived him of a clear judgment of the situation. Oedipus is powerless in the face of his weaknesses and, eventually, his fate.
? What is the tragic hero definition?
According to Aristotle’s definition, a tragic hero is a literary character that makes some sort of fatal mistake that leads to his downfall. A tragic hero should both be pitied and feared by the audience.
? What are some examples of Oedipus being a tragic hero?
For instance, Oedipus’ excessive pride leads him to believe that he has more power over the world and his own life than he actually does. His arrogance and righteousness trigger his eventual downfall.
? What is the tragic flaw of Oedipus?
As Aristotle states, Oedipus’s main tragic flaw is his pride. The King is overly confident about his power and place in the world. He is not a bad man per se, yet his weaknesses ultimately defeated his goodness.
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