Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” and Sophocles’ “Oedipus” Essay

September 29, 2020 by Essay Writer

Tragedy is one of the most ancient and well known arts in the world. Beginnings of this kind of art can be found in Ancient Greece where such geniuses of world literature as Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides were creating their immortal works. They destined development of this genre having made a great contribution to its development. They developed the main features of the art of tragedy which were followed and copied by their followers. The idea of a person being in the center of the action and trying to overcome some problems connected with doom, fate and some other supernatural forces become peculiar to this kind of art. It is due to them ancient rituals connected with gods became one of the most famous kind of art.

Shakespeare is known to be one of the most ingenious followers of Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides. He contributed to the development of tragedy too, however making it in his own personal way, changing the idea of classic Ancient Greek tragedy. His works also contain the idea of impending doom and dependence of human life on some divine powers. However, he also adds some new ideas of possible change of fate. It depends from a human being now and this is the difference. Some unexpected shift can occur.

To see differences more distinctively it is possible to compare two works belonging to different time periods. Famous cycle devoted to the King of Thebes and which consists of works called Oedipus the King and Oedipus et Colonus gave the world the great example of a typical Ancient Greece Tragedy. At the same time Shakespearean Macbeth is also brilliant. Two works have common and different features.

The first common sing which seems obvious is a great role of some supernatural forces. They are presented with the help of different means in tragedies. In Oedipus, it is the insuperable will of Olympic Gods. From the first lines of the tragedy, this power is introduced as “it was God that aided you, men say, and you are held 45 with God’s assistance to have saved our lives” (Sophocles p. 4 l. 44). The Priest says it directly outlining the main force which determines the life of people. The whole Oedipus destiny was changed by the prediction about his destiny. Doom weighs upon him since his childhood. In Macbeth, Shakespeare also introduces the main power of his play. There are three witches, whose appearance is even followed by special effects to underline their power and significance such as “Thunder and lightning. Enter three Witches” (Shakespeare Act I, scene I). So both authors introduce supernatural forces which will influence the whole development of the play from the first lines. It is peculiar for Greek tragedy where the overwhelming power of Gods can be seen in any work and Shakespeare follows this pattern. However, his does not underline the great power of these three witches from the beginning of the play, leaving it for the reader to judge on the level of their influence. With the development of the action, he uses more and more prompts in order to show their prevailing character. Prediction which changes the whole life of the main character should be mentioned. One by one, they pronounce three phrases but the most important was the final phrase “All hail, Macbeth, thou shalt be king hereafter!” (Shakespeare Act I, scene III). As it turns out, these words create the main phrase in the whole play. Nevertheless, difference between plays lies in different approach to the idea of predeterminacy of human life. Sophocles just underlines it, describing the life of his main character, while Shakespeare, describing to the reader misfortunes of Macbeth, shows the slight idea of presence of a choice. Belonging to the age of Renaissance he could not but believe in human forces, trying to show that Macbeth had another variants, though still was not strong enough to face destiny.

Another feature that appears in both tragedies is the question of family relations. In Oedipus and Macbeth two very important figures appear. They are Jocasta and Lady Macbeth. They both serve as a weapon of doom which helps to realize the will of higher forces. Not knowing the origin of Oedipus, Jocasta helps to complete the prediction becoming his wife. She is blind in her ignorance, however her eyes are opened by another manifestation of Gods will. Blind prophet Teiresias says “I say you are the murderer of the king whose murderer you seek” ( Sophocles p. 361 l. 416).Having understood the horrible truth she commits suicide being not able to live with this knowledge, not sharing it with the main character “O Oedipus, God help you! God keep you from the knowledge of who you are!” (Sophocles p. 372 l. 1222).

Lady Macbeth plays more important role in the play helping Shakespeare to add Greek like tragic element to his work. She serves as the weapon of fate not only with her existence, but taking the plunge in bringing three witches words to life. It is she, who kills the king being sure in predetermined character of her actions. “Leave all the rest to me.” (Shakespeare Act I, scene V). It is she who makes everything, trying to make her husband king. However, her destiny becomes similar to Jocatas. Being not able to overcome pangs of conscience she commits suicide. These two women are very similar in these plays. Their figures represent that destiny not only determines the life of a person but it can also chose someone to be its remedy. Being active or passive, the person is still in its power.

Shakespeares play Macbeth has obviously some common traits with Sophocles’ Oedipus. He was influenced by its style, plot and composition. However, there is a great difference in the way the reader feel while reading the works. Having read Ancient Greek tragedy, he can feel the great power of destiny on the background of a small human being which cannot stand against it. Shakespeare’s Macbeth leaves another impression. The reader can also feel the great power of doom which can predetermine the life of people, however he will not feel himself forceless. The impression of some slight ability to overcome all troubles appears. This is the difference which is conditioned by epoch. Renaissance gave birth to the belief in power of human being to be the owner of his life.

Having analyzed these two different tragedies it is possible to conclude that they both are bright representatives of genre of tragedy. However, having common structure and some main ideas, they differ in approach of the authors to the question of fate and predeterminacy. In Oedipus people act with approval of goods, being not able to change at list something. Macbeth is a bright example of embryonic idea of belief in human forces. These two works are great masterpieces of literature heritage.

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. 2nd. ed. Ed. Kenneth Muir. London, UK: Arden Shakespeare, 2001 Print.

Sophocles. The Complete Greek Tragedies: Sophocles I. Ed. David Grene and Richmond Lattimore. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1991. Print.

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