Oedipus the King as a Tragedy

In his definition, Aristotle went on to describe disasters using that action, character and most importantly, the plot. The general expectation was that the plot would have to be great and one which would go ahead to complete the action of the play’s hero. All the parts in the drama must contribute to the ultimate tragic consequences that will face the main character and their effects. There should be a logical link in the cause and effect with no external forces intervening at any given time. The presence of a tragic character full of commitment to finding the truth further contributes to the plot and its development. Oedipus’ misfortunes begin when the Oracle prophesies that he will, in future, kill his father and marry his birth mother. He was thrown away and left to the elements at Mt Kithairon where he was to die, but later found by a shepherd. After receiving information about the prophecy made about his future, he decides to flee his adoptive family, to a void killing his father and a tragic end. It is his flaw that gets the better of him when his stubbornness becomes evident. After a brief argument with his father en route Thebes, an altercation leads to a physical confrontation that leaves King Laius dead. Additionally, his overconfidence and obstinacy see him become disrespectful, with other times even becoming careless towards the gods that he should revere. After disclosing the King’s fate to him, he goes ahead to ignore the oracles and does not heed wisdom or any inner voice regarding his dark destiny.
“And thou shalt not try to frustrate of thy wish.
Now my imaginings have gone so far.
Who has a higher claim that thou to hear
My sire was Polybus of Corinth, and
My mother Merope, a Dorian…..”(Sophocles and Grene 771-778)

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Additionally, the tragic atmosphere also serves as an element that plays a significant role in the game. From the onset, the play exposes its audience to dire situations that are frightening, saying the least. There is clear evidence of high dramatic tension between the characters and never settles down in the minds of the viewers. Unlike Shakespearean tragedies, comic elements here are not existent. The dialogue all across the drama is of careful design with the dramatist aiming to develop and sustain a bitter tone and mood till the end. The fear that the spectators usually have leads them to fear with the anxiety that leads them contributing to the catharsis. These false wishes and hopes use the chorus as their guide and finally subside to a tragic purification of strong emotions (Husain 67). The chorus also plays a critical role as a corollary element, contributing considerably to the dramatic characteristics that make it infamous.

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            Tragic heroes are frequently high-born individuals who, despite their status in society, have a major character flaw that eventually leads to their downfall. Oedipus is of noble blood and virtuous, qualities that make him fit to be a tragic hero. His presentation is that of a larger and better version of the audience and commands respect. Oedipus’s nobility and his dynamic nature ensure that he earns the respect of the public because he is the son of the King and Queen of Thebes, Laius and Jocasta. He also believes he is the son of the King and Queen of Corinth, Polybus and Merope, which makes him a royalty (Sifakis 34).Moreover, he earns high respect while at Thebes after solving the riddle of the Sphinx thus freeing the city. As a reward, Creon cedes control of the city to him which now sees him exercise dominion over it. It is this nobility that the audience develops an emotional connection for a while also respecting him greatly. Similarly, as a tragic character, he must also have a moral flaw (hamartia). It from this weakness that their error in judgment will emerge from with a wrong action that consequently causes their fall from grace. There is no escaping these eventualities as it is the reality that they have to face for possessing their weakness. As a result, the audience comes to terms with the inevitability of the outcome and left sympathizing with the character (Sophocles, et al.  345). Furthermore, with the reversal and discovery technique in the play, it reveals to both nature and audience the cause of their destruction. Their downfall is therefore not as a result of supernatural forces, chance or even fate, but their hamartia.

From the play, Oedipus’ downfall significantly affects the audience who had hitherto grown fond of him. As a result, this leaves the audience in a dire state where it is an only pity that they feel for the protagonist. After finding out that his wife was his mother and that he was responsible for killing his father, Oedipus decides to drive two golden pins blinding himself instantly. It is important to note that he avoids committing suicide and by blinding himself, he achieves some form of surrogate death whose intention is to intensify his suffering. He makes mention of the darkness, as he experiences it due to his blindness but also refers to the intellectual and religious ignorance that he has to now grapple with owing to his condition. In effect, he protagonist appears dead to the audience as he does not enjoy the perks that the living receive and in a state of suffering that is not bound to end. He is between life and death while experiencing the worst of the two worlds which further elicits more pity from his surveyors. What stands out from the play is evident that there is a high possibility that the suffering will possibly continue after the tragedy’s conclusion. The Chorus together with Oedipus notes that the tragedy is most likely going to pursue and does not end with him. Oedipus’ suffering is unlike that of Orestes, Agamemnon, and Clytemnestra (heroes of the Oresteia trilogy) as it does not cease with the plays ending (Scott 12). Nevertheless, there is a sense of closure from the conclusions end, contrary to the expectations of many. From the play, it is clear that it is an odd amalgam where the suffering of the tragic hero has to continue with closure in conclusion strategic in making the audience feel as though suffering is a natural and proper state. The unique downfall of Oedipus stirs the audience’s sense of pity and is in congruence with the Aristotelian script. The circumstances that come his way reveal that he cannot escape his fate, a revelation that exposes the moral paradox that he faces.


As an ancient Greek legend, Oedipus the King is a classic example of the elements that make up a traditional tragedy. Aristotle even uses it as an example in illustrating the qualities of a real tragedy. Aristotle is keen to provide a descriptive and non-descriptive definition as noticeable change has been taking place in the literary circles. At the same time, it is feasible to see the tragedy in the eyes of the Aristotelian description, as it illustrates all the qualities that meet the threshold set. Elements such as mood, atmosphere, tragic setting, character, plot, and hamartia exist in the play together with the main character’s fate becoming clear to the audience. Language, as well as a dialogue involving the Chorus, puts more emphasis on the terrible message that it carries concerning the tragic life that Oedipus will have to lead. The play, therefore, fulfills the parameters set by Aristotle in describing a tragedy or a tragic hero. The dynamic nature that Oedipus espouses, together with his model character creates a special bond with the audience and raises their interest in what is going to afflict him. It is his tragic flaws that cause many to fear for him as he was known for his impulsiveness. Even with the dread of the unknown, no one loses respect for him due to his high character. The horrific punishment that he inflicts upon himself elicits immense pity from the audience. Despite the fact that the crafting of Oedipus the King by Sophocles took place before Aristotle came up with his ideas, the tale of Oedipus accurately fits the definition.

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