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Tragedy and Revenge in Aristotle and Shakespeare’s Masterpiece Essay

I. Introduction

Tragedy is a play dealing with serious events, in which the leading character suffers because of his actions. It ends unhappily, usually with the hero’s death. Although no exact, detailed definition of tragedy has been agreed upon by critics, the term is commonly used to describe nonmusical dramatic works, not operas. The issues in tragedy are significant, and the characters and action are basically realistic. Tragedy thus differs from melodrama, which may be sad or horrible but is unrealistic and superficial. It is also to be distinguished from tragicomedy, in which elements of both tragedy and comedy are combined, and which ends happily. (See “Aristotle and Tragedy”).

 Thesis Statement: This paper scrutinizes the two plays which are Hamlet and Oedipus the King.

II. Discussion

A. Hamlet and the Aspect of Revenge and How It Transcends Every Genre

Hamlet best exemplifies the genre of Elizabethan revenge. A center of many arguments is the apparent delay of Hamlet’s revenge. Critical discussion of this supposed procrastination has a long history. Goethe thought Hamlet too sensitive, Coleridge and A.W. von Schlegel too intelligent to be capable of action. The early 20th century English critic A.C. Bradley saw him as restrained by melancholia, the 19th century German scholar Herman Ulrici by moral scruples; the Freudians viewed him as too complex-ridden to kill his uncle (See “Hamlet”).

This aspect of Hamlet’s behavior is seen either as a flaw or a virtue. The story contains four sons of murdered fathers (Hamlet, Laertes, Fortinbras, and Pyrrhus), but Hamlet differs from the three’s pursuit for revenge. He even goes as far as feigning insanity in order to conceal his real agitation and divert attention from his task of revenge. The subject of revenge, which is one of the focal themes of the play, transcends every genre, for there is a Hamlet in every one of us.

As Hamlet in the story suffers pain and grief as a result of the circumstances surrounding his father’s death, the usurping of the throne and by the betrayal he felt from his mother’s remarriage to his father’s brother, Hamlet is then filled with the dilemma of whether to take revenge against the wrongdoer. Suffering and grief as a consequence of injustice and oppression is as old as man’s history (Rowse, 1984).Even during the course of the play, Hamlet’s torment alienates him from all those around him, even though he has a close friend to confide with. Such inner turmoil is only expressed in his soliloquies but unknown to those around him. Certainly, the depth of suffering is known only the most by the one who suffers.

How people variously react to such agonies is showcased in the play’s story. Most often, it is the common desire to act as the three other young men (Laertes, Fortinbras, and Pyrrhus) did pursue their task of vengeance with ruthless single-mindedness. However, Hamlet’s situation is far more complicated. This shows that indeed, vengeance is far from simple. While it seeks to retaliate by inflicting pain for pain, Shakespeare’s Hamlet shows the peril of vengeance. All those who sought revenge died. Hamlet’s loved ones (such as Ophelia), those whom he could have sought solace and comfort, and himself also died. They became victims of Hamlet’s reckless rage as a result of his deflected and unfulfilled desire for retaliation. Revenge therefore, sinks both the offender and the avenger, pulling down along with it the innocent. It is a bearer of destruction.

While most revenge plays justifies the avenger by emphasizing him or her as a victim, Hamlet’s character hangs a question above it. At the very core of revenge is bitterness, and is like a ‘rotten apple that spoils the whole bunch’. It has destroyed everything that’s good in Hamlet and made him much more evil than his stepfather. The danger of retaliation is to do greater harm than what was received. No one overcomes evil, with evil (See “Hamlet”). Before bitterness could do its harm, it is best thrown out. Truly, Shakespeare’s Hamlet speaks to every individual in every genre, since ALL of us must pass through a time of making that choice:

“TO BE (bitter) OR NOT TO BE (bitter)? That indeed is a question we all must face (Rowse, 1984).

B. Oedipus, the struggles and revenge

The play Oedipus the King, also known as Oedipus Rex is a play written by Sophocles with Oedipus as the main character.  Oedipus is considered a tragic hero since despite his noble birth; he is unable to overcome the obstacles he has encountered in his life and about his past. There are certain characteristics in a story which leads a character to be identified as a ‘tragic hero’. A tragic hero must be of high social stature who commits a fatal mistake and in Oedipus’ case of poor judgment. Oedipus fits the description, being born of nobility with King Laius and Queen Jacosta as his biological parents, ruler of Thebes.

His poor judgment is made obvious when in searching for Laius’ murderer, Oedipus stubbornly paid no attention to blind prophet Tiresias’ forewarnings not to continue in the investigation. And although Tiresias was blind and old, king Oedipus accused the prophet instead, of being the murderer. A tragic hero is set as an example for the viewers of the tragic consequences when a man of lofty position falls because of his own misdeeds, although the tragic hero realizes his mistakes and learn from it. Typically, a person of great stature is regarded with admiration and respect by the people and those around him. If, in the course of time, such person is eaten by a desire to continuously receive such admiration, he or she suffers the malady of grandiosity (See “Oedipus the King”).

In this situation, the person is narcissistic, which means the person thinks highly of his or her own personal qualities as being superior than that of others such as physical looks, intelligence, talents or abilities, and achievements. Depression plagues the person if such a need is not met. Oedipus’ position of loftiness crumbles upon the Herdsman’s revelation of the king’s parenthood. Oedipus words upon knowing the truth expresses a pessimistic perspective of his life and future.

Secondly, a tragic hero’s fate is undeserved. In Oedipus case, certain circumstances in his life are outside his control. It began when it was known through a prophecy that it was destined that king Laius will be killed by his own son. Queen Jacosta tried to prevent such a tragic fate from occurring by trying to end Oedipus life, who was still a child at this time. However, unknown to them, the child was given to a shepherd and still ended up raised in kingly stature as a child of king Polybus, ruler of Corinth.

But even in Corinth, a prophecy was spoken to him of the tragic fate that awaits him. Seeking to escape the prophecy, Oedipus travels to the land of his birth, Thebes wherein he unknowingly fulfills what has been predicted of his destiny. Oedipus, as a tragic hero, does not fully deserve his fate since he partly bore the consequences of his parent’s mistakes and actions. Right before his birth, when the king and queen sought the advice of the Delphi Oracle, they were already forewarned not to bear children. Obviously, the advice was not heeded and the oracle was only remembered by king Laius when the child was born. A mistake was followed by another mistake, when the parents rejected the child and Oedipus was denied of his parent’s love and care (See “Oedipus the King”).

Although he was of nobility, such circumstances somehow had set the wheels that led to his tragic end. Initially robbed of his kingly stature by birth, ‘fate’ restored it to him. Upon ascending the throne, his stature began to blind Oedipus of the real state of his inner self. Instead of the pain within himself and his tragic past, Oedipus is self-deceived; he covers the pain and inner suffering brought by the past by focusing only on external beauty. Since he was already blinded by his own self, he did not heed wise counsel.

This time, Oedipus’ own foolishness led to his own downfall.  His own narcissistic characteristic caused his poor judgment: if he did not see himself as having superior opinion than others, he would not have killed king Laius nor have accused Tiresias a liar. His own pride has already blinded him that prevented him of acknowledging the truth. However, Oedipus later saw the folly of his own actions and gained knowledge that life is more than just a result of fate (See “Oedipus the King”).

III. Conclusion

Each character of the Oedipus the King and the Hamlet show outstanding representation of different individuals on how they may react in times of difficulties. These play give us better understanding that half of this world struggles a lot in order to live and may do anything in order survive. As the saying goes “survival of the fittest.” During the great depression, many people are crying out because of starvation. During this time, the economy was shaky and the prices were all going up. Many individuals, especially the commoners, have the hardship in how to cope up this circumstance

In conclusion, the play tells us the reality of life. That life is full of struggle and everyone should do his part to overcome it. Oedipus the King and Hamlet are two different plays however showed reality about life. If we scrutinize the Oedipus, we can say that it is somewhat fictional however it sometimes happens in the rarest occasions unlike with Hamlet, this scenario is happening in day to day life and serves as an evidence that life is full of struggle and others do not know how to play it skillfully that is why they go insane and unfulfilled.

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