Also known as Oedipus Rex, King Oedipus is an Athenian tragedy written by Sophocles that was first performed around 429 BC. In the play, there is a prophecy that claims Oedipus will murder his father and wed his mother. Oedipus tries to elude his fate but in the end the prophecy came to pass.
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During the entirety of the play, there are certain elements that make King Oedipus a tragedy. The play is a part of this genre because it has a tragic hero in the way that Oedipus embodies all the qualities that make one, it has tragic action in which events result in a catastrophe or defeat, and it has tragic irony because Oedipus attempts to do the right thing but ends up doing the wrong thing.
One reason why King Oedipus is considered a tragedy is the fact that it has a tragic hero, Oedipus. There are four qualities that a person must have to become one. For the first quality, Oedipus was born into the royal family of Thebes, but, The Corinthian, a servant of Polybus, King of Corinth, in due course brought the child to his royal master, who, being childless, gladly welcomed the infant and adopted it as his own (KO, 24). This quote shows how Oedipus, after being left to die, is adopted by another royal king. For the second quality, at the end of the play, Oedipus gouges his eyes out, What should I do with eyes where all is ugliness? (KO, 63).
This shows Oedipus’ fall from grace. He punishes himself because he could not bear to see the world now that he discovers the truth. The third quality that makes Oedipus a tragic hero is that he has a hamartia, hubris, which is exaggerated pride or self-confidence, And where were you, when the Dog-faced witch was here? . A seer should have answered it; but answer came there none from you… until I came – I, ignorant Oedipus, came – and stopped the riddlers mouth, guessing the truth… (KO, 36-37). Oedipus is saying how he, an ordinary man, could solve a riddle the seer could not. This shows how his pride comes out at full force when threatened. The last quality is that Oedipus experiences a discovery and a peripety. At the end of the play, Oedipus discovers that it was him who murdered his father and that he married his mother, this is also a peripety since Oedipus had a seemingly perfect life, but all that changes when he learns the truth.
Furthermore, another reason why this play is considered a tragedy is because it includes tragic action, which results in a catastrophe and defeat for Oedipus. Before he came to Thebes, Oedipus left his home in Corinth because he heard of the terrible prophecy. Oedipus met some travelers (Oedipus will soon learn that it was Lauis) that, …roughly [orders] [him] out of the way… (KO, 48). They fight and Oedipus kills them all. These actions result in the first part of the prophecy being completed. At the end of the play, Oedipus goes to look for Jocasta, his wife/mother, only to find that she hung herself. He sees that, …her dress was pinned with golden brooches, which [he] snatched out and thrust… into his eyes… (KO, 61). This is an immense catastrophe for the King of Thebes. Oedipus recently discovers that his whole life is a lie and now his wife is dead.
Finally, the last reason that makes Oedipus Rex a tragedy is the fact that the play incorporates tragic irony. Tragic irony is the use of dramatic irony in a tragedy so that the audience is aware that a character’s words or actions will bring about a tragic or fatal result, while the character himself is not. At the beginning of the play, Oedipus learns the cause of the plague: the killer of Laius needed to be banished. He goes on to say, The gods curse all that disobey this charge! (KO, 33).
Ironically, Oedipus is cursing himself because he is currently unaware of the truth. Later, the king vows, … to fight for him now, as [he] would fight for [his] own father, and leave no way untried to bring to light the killer of Laius… (KO, 33). Unknowingly, Oedipus vows to fight and find himself. It wasn’t until later when Oedipus finds out the truth. As a way of trying to solve the problem, Oedipus calls Teiresias, a blind prophet. Oedipus begs him to say who the murderer is but Teiresias would not tell. The king then ridicules the prophet for being blind, and angrily, Teiresias says, Have you eyes and do not see your own damnation? (KO, 37). Teiresias tells Oedipus that he is blind to his own life and ironically, at the end of the play Oedipus truly ends up blind. Only then does he realize the truth of the blind prophets’ word.
In conclusion, the use of tragic hero, tragic action, and tragic irony, together creates the perfect tragedy. King Oedipus is exceedingly important because throughout the play, Oedipus shows character development. At the beginning, Oedipus was very prideful and ignorant but becomes insightful and understands his life and how fate will always run its course, no matter how hard you try to fight it.
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