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Elements of Tragedy Essay

Aristotle’s views regarding tragedy are mainly based upon the excellencies which “Oedipus Rex” possesses as a tragedy. The play presents an imitation of an action or piece of life, which is serious, complete in itself and also having a certain magnitude. The means employed by Sophocles is language beautified by all available devices. The story is told in a dramatic form with incidents arousing pity and whereby to accomplish the catharsis of such emotions. So we discuss the major traits which erect “Oedipus Rex”head and shoulder above other plays. Aristotle singled out the plot of “Oedipus Rex” for the highest praise and since his time the greatest superlatives have been used for the plot of this tragedy. Coleridge considers that the plot of “Oedipus Rex” is one of the best constructive plots in the world. The most noteworthy feature of the plot of “Oedipus Rex” is its sheer inevitability; such incident arises quite logically out of the one that has gone before.

The main action is the discovery of the murderer of Laius and his banishment. In spite of the close link of the cause and effect the play maintains suspense and curiosity throughout the action. Aristotle has highly praised Sophocles, handling of the recognitions (Oedipus comes to know about himself as a murderer) or discovery in this play. Then there are beautiful parallels of events and situations. The song of chorus also contributes in the development and unfolding of the plot of the play. Though there are some flaws and inconsistencies but there are all forgotten in the power an dintensity with which Sophocles moves his story forward. Another important point to note about the plot of “Oedipus Rex” is that like the most Greek plays of ancient times it observes all the three unities;unity of time, unity of place, unity of action.

The entire action of the play takes place at the royal palace in the city of Thebes, within twenty-four hours. Similarly, the entire attention is in focusing on a single theme- the investigation by Oedipus into the murder of Laius and discovery of truth.These unities made the play close knit and produce great dramatic effect.Aristotle has stressed upon the unity of action only, the other two have wrongly been attributed to him. Oedipus is one of the most striking and tragic characters in Greek literature. He fulfils all the qualities of an ideal tragic hero as outlined by Aristotle in his “Poetics”.

He is a man of royal birth, possesses excellent qualities of character, great well wisher of his people and great administrator with outstanding intellect. He respects the bonds of family and is a loving husband as well as an affectionate father. Theban people love and adore him.However, he is not without flaws. He does suffer from ‘hamartia’, which makes him fallible to incur the wrath of the gods. He is a hot tempered, rash,over confident and excessively proud of his genius. It is his boast that not seer, not even Teiresias can find the solution to that riddle. “That was a riddle, too deep for common world”,

Tragic flaw in this case becomes hubris or arrogance. His tragedy lies not so much in committing the crimes of patricide and incest as his discovery that he is guilty of them. If the crimes had remained undiscovered,there would have hardly been any tragedy. But Oedipus relentlessly pursued the investigation and therefore meets tragic fever. Oedipus is thus an authentic tragic hero because he meets all the requirements of an ideal tragic hero. According to Aristotle tragedy arouses the emotions of pity and fear,and through these brings about a Catharsis. Pity is aroused chiefly for the hero’s tragic fate and fear at the sight of dreadful sufferings that befall the characters, particularly the hero. The very opening of the play “Oedipus Rex” creates in us the feelings of pity and fear, pity for the suffering population of Thebes and fear of future misfortune which might befall the people.

These emotions are also aroused by the fact in the play that Oedipustries to avert living with his parents, so that he may not commit the crimes of patricide and incest but fate takes him to his damnation that he had otherwise never met. The intense feelings of pity and terror do not give rise to lasting pessimism in us. The essential goodness of Oedipus is highly pleased to us.By arousing the emotions, it therefore affords (give) emotional relief.Oedipus Rex certainly provides us this emotional solace. Greek tragedy is generally believed to be the tragedy of fate in contrast with Shakespearean tragedy, which is regarded as the tragedy of character,whether or not this is true of other Greek tragedies.

This is inapplicable to Oedipus Rex. It is certainly because of Oedipus’s character as a great discoverer of truth and a determined man to find out what he has decided to discover that Oedipus meets with tragic reversal. There is an important role played by fate but Oedipus is also himself responsible for his actions. Thus we can conclude that Oedipus Rex is a complex tragedy. It comprises all the rules and regulations. Aristotle’s views are mainly based upon the Excellencies while Oedipus Rex possesses as a tragedy. Sophocles tragedy presents to us with terrible affirmation of man’s subordinate position in the universe and at the same time with a heroic vision of man’s victory in defeat.


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