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Analysis: Oedipus the King

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1276 words Published: 20th Apr 2017

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The play, Oedipus the King, is an unambiguous case of Hellenic tragedy. A tragedy ought to have certain elements as instituted by Aristotle and they are ‘ plot, tragic hero, hamartia, anagnorisis, peripeteia and catharsis.

Oedipus is the tragic hero in the play due to the facts that he is born into nobility, he possesses heroism ‘ (he gets rid of the sphinx and liberates Thebes), he is accountable for his fate and he is destined to commit a grave error in judgement that will eventually lead to his downfall.

The plot (muthos) can be simple or complex, must be of fixed duration, must adopt a definite structure or format and must form the soul or essence of the play. A plot sans peripeteia and anagnorisis is a simple plot, whereas a plot with peripeteia or anagnorisis or both is complex. The play, Oedipus the King, is complex since it has both peripeteia and anagnorisis. The plot of the play is Oedipus’ desire to free Thebans from plague and his resolution and quest to unveil the truth, that is, to avenge the death of their former king Laius.

Hamartia is Greek for a ‘tragic flaw’. Hamartia brings about the downfall of the tragic hero, Oedipus in this case. Oedipus, out of hubris ‘ pride and haughtiness, unwittingly commits patricide.

The play consists of Peripeteia – the complete reversal of plot or intention. This happens when the messenger from Corinth, in an effort to comfort the King tells him that he is not Polybo’s son. The messenger gives this information with good intention, but this leads to Oedipus knowing the horrid truth of the acts – murder and incest he committed unknowingly.

In the pursuit of truth, Oedipus eventually discovers that it was none other than he who had slain Laius, the ex-king and his biological father and had married his own mother. This is the Anagnorisis which means recognition.

After realizing the crimes he had committed, Oedipus gouges his eyes and his wife Jacosta, who happens to be his biological mother as well, hangs herself. The downfall of the tragic hero owing to his Hamartia instills fear and pity in the audience, which is the Catharsis (purging of emotional tensions). All these prove emphatically that Oedipus the King is indeed a perfect example of tragedy.

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1. Exposition is the process of introducing the audience to the background of the plot and the conflict within the story. During exposition, the central conflict is exposed and the key characters are introduced. The initial setting for the play, Oedipus the King – the Thebes palace is established. The Thebes city is devastatingly attacked by plague and pyre. Creon, Oedipus’ brother-in-law brings the news that he learns from Delphic Oracle that the murder of the former king, Laius, has not been avenged, and hence the city is besieged by the terrible plague. Oedipus decides to seek the killer and banish him in order to cleanse the city and free it from the clutches of plague and pyre.

2. Oedipus, the tragic hero of the play Oedipus the King, portrays various interesting characteristics. When analyzing his character, we can see that Oedipus reveals determination, anger, hubris (pride, arrogance) and Hamartia (tragic flaw) during different phases in the play.

The irony is that if Oedipus were not hell-bent on finding out the murderer of the ex-king Laius, he would not have discovered the horrid truth of his birth and life. Oedipus did possess a prized human attribute which is determination. Also his determination was directed towards a noble cause ‘ to bring solace to his people by getting rid of the plague that beset Thebes. Here Oedipus after knowing that the murderer of the ex-king Laius has to be banished does precisely what a good king is supposed to do.

Oedipus’ anger or temper or rage was instrumental in his unwitting murder act of his biological father, King Laius, at the crossroads. This unrestrained anger was mainly instrumental in ruining Oedipus. His anger is also noted when he yells at Creon and Tiresias for giving him the bad news.

Hubris is pride and arrogance. Oedipus is infamous for hubris and he has every reason to be like that too. He indeed liberated Thebes from the Sphinx. By saving Thebes from the Sphinx, Oedipus exhibited heroism and this justifies the pride he had. In fact the worst thing what Oedipus did out of hubris was when he denied his fate. The Oracle of Delphi did in fact tell him long before that he was fated to commit patricide and incest. Oedipus tried to avert the outcomes of fate by running away from Corinth which on the contrary to what he wished led him to murder his biological father Laius and marry his mother Jacosta. Oedipus’ hamartia ‘ tragic flaw is thus nothing but his hubris or temper owing to which he kills his father Laius and all the travelers who accompanied him.

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1. Example of foreshadowing in the play, Oedipus the King ‘ Foreshadowing plays a crucial role in playwriting by mounting the tension by adding suspense element to the proceedings. Foreshadowing or presaging provides hint in advance. In plays, foreshadowing greatly helps to create tension, to create atmosphere and to add integrity and trustworthiness to a character. There are several instances of foreshadowing in the play Oedipus, the King. Thebes is beleaguered with plague and when a delegation is sent to Apollo, Greek God of prophecy, poetry, music and healing, to find the cause for the plague, they come to know that the murderer of the ex-king of Thebes, Laius has to be found and punished. This foreshadowing defines the initial setting for the play and also gives a momentum for the plot to progress. This type of foreshadowing is of course an example of act of God. Another type of foreshadowing is when the blind seer Tiresias blames Oedipus to be the cause for the plague. This charge adds further suspense to the play and thereby mounts the tension as well. Yet another one is when Oedipus out of rage replies to Tiresias that he lost his power and is stone-blind indeed. But in the end, it is Oedipus who becomes exactly what he said to Tiersias. These are the several instances of foreshadowing in the play, Oedipus the King.

2. Oedipus is not an innocent victim and he indeed bears some responsibility in the outcome of his life. Oedipus’ unrestrained temper is one chief reason that led to his murdering of his father Laius in a road rage incident. This temper is a classic example of Hamartia – the tragic flaw that eventually led to Oedipus’ downfall. He was indeed aware of the fate that he is destined to murder his father and marry his mother from the oracle. Despite this, he, out of sheer rage and in a vain attempt to deny fate, runs away from Corinth and subsequently ends up killing his father unknowingly. If he had controlled his temper, he could have averted murdering his father. If he had not run away from Corinth he would not have encountered his father Laius on the way, he would not have liberated Thebes from Sphinx and thereby falsified both the prophecies ‘ killing his father and marrying his mother.

3. Peripeteia, reversal of fortune in the play Oedipus the King is when the messenger Corinth in order to help Oedipus informs him that Polybus and Merope were not his biological parents. This information meant to comfort Oedipus rather just produces the contrary effect by offering the vital information that helps uncover the fact that Oedipus did in fact murder his father and marry his mother.


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