Although created centuries apart, the characters of Hamlet and Oedipus bring light to similar themes. Both of these tragic heroes are eminently consumed by the need to avenge the death of their father, primarily driven by their hamartia. However, they also differ in important areas, and it is these areas that reveal the most about what the plays say about hubris, relationships with family members and a person’s fate. When compared, we can see that these two tragic heroes differ in their relationship with their father and their mother; however, both of their differences are connected by one of their most defining qualities: their hubris. The first connection between Hamlet and Oedipus is each character’s relationship with his father. When the plays begin, both of their fathers are already dead. Granted, Oedipus does not know his father is dead, while Hamlet is feeling a great grief, which can lead us to believe that he was very close to his father. Although Oedipus is not aware that Laius, his father, is dead, he decides to seek vengeance anyways and says, “As if for my own father, I’ll fight for him, I’ll leave no means untried, to catch the one who did it with his hand” (Oedipus the King, lines 269-271). Similarly, when Hamlet finds out his father was killed by his uncle, he decides on the equivalent, remarking “That ever was I born to set it right!” (Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5, line 208). Albeit Oedipus lacks a relationship with his real father, and Hamlet shows that he was very close to his, both characters feel an instinctive sense of duty to avenge their fathers and a need to justify the injustice they felt was done to them. This shows that even though their relationships are completely different, their goal is the same. However, Oedipus is guilty of his father’s death, while Hamlet’s uncle is the guilty one, but this cannot be properly understood until one takes into consideration the relationship with their mothers. When we hear the name Oedipus, we often think of his disturbing relationship with his mother. The making of the Oedipus complex is perhaps one of the defining points of the play; although patricide was considered a great offense. The taboo in opposition towards incest often evokes a response like the one seen in Hamlet, which is a negative one. When the ghost of Hamlet’s father is speaking about his brother, he refers to him as “that incestuous, that adulterate beast” that “With witchcraft of his wit, with traitorous gifts (he) won to his shameful lust the will of my most seeming-virtuous queen.” (Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5, lines 47-51). The crime that Oedipus committed, Hamlet accuses his uncle of committing as well. This is one of the key differences between Hamlet an Oedipus. While Oedipus unknowingly marries his mother, thus executing a great offense, he cares about her as a wife and takes care of her. Hamlet, on the other hand, knows of the crime his mother is committing by marrying his uncle and treats her as an inferior and with contempt. The importance of this difference will become more apparent when one takes into consideration the final similarity between the characters: their hubris. Both of these tragic heroes will, of course, suffer from a hubris. This hubris is ultimately responsible for their fates in the play. In his confidence that he wasn’t Laius’ murderer, even after being told by the prophet Tiresias that he was, Oedipus announces that when the murderer was found, he would be cast out. The extent of his hubris is seen with Tiresias, because even when he’s being told the truth he sought, he denies it, telling Tiresias “You have no strength, blind in your ears, your reason, and your eyes.” (Oedipus, line 376). Ironically here, by denying his very own truth, he’s also foreshadowing it. However, Oedipus doesn’t know that he’s the very pollution he condemns. Up until the very end of the play, Oedipus just makes his eventual fate worse because he is incapable of believing that he could be responsible for Laius’ death, knowing that he had killed a man previously, and all the evidence was pointing towards him. His downfall at the very end, then, is his own fault, because even though he was fated to sleep with his mother and marry his father, he was still the one who acted upon this prophecy and dictated his own punishment. Hamlet suffers from hubris as well, but his hubris stems from his isolation. Hamlet is not guilty of anything, but he was so upset by his father’s death that he abandons his interpersonal relationships in order to dedicate his time to revenge. This demonstrates how Hamlet is an Oedipus who was freed from the crime but still afflicted by his hubris, the kind that makes one imagine all sorts of outrageous retributions for one’s enemies without thinking that the same consequences might be turned on them. While Oedipus represents the destruction of familial bonds through ignorance, Hamlet represents the destruction of all interpersonal relationships through a hubris that is all-consuming. Although both characters have suffered at the end, Hamlet can at least be viewed as successful in having achieved his goal, whereas Oedipus, although successful in discovering Laius’ killer, can only be viewed as successful in that he enacted his own punishment. We can conclude that both of them are almost the same. Hamlet meets his end with revenge, and Oedipus meets his downfall with his curiosity. One of the most important similarities between them and the reason as to why they’re so similar is because they are tragic heroes. They differ and relate, but they contain five characteristics that ultimately define them: they’re both from a noble status, neither of them is perfect, their downfall is partially or ultimately their fault, their misfortune is not deserved, and their punishment is self-enacted. Tragically, in the end, both men are fated to suffer, which will end with their own dramatic deaths. Oedipus and Hamlet, two tragic heroes that perhaps are not completely different.
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