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One of the Greek plays that have been adapted into English is Oedipus Rex. The characters in the play are all those that the viewer is already acquainted with. It's the tale of a tragic hero. In most cases, kings are known as warriors, but due to their vanity, they end up being contaminated with a slew of flaws, leading to their demise. This is still the personality of tragic heroes. In the play, it is evident to the audience that king Oedipus is responsible for the murder of his father, the late King Laius and in his place married his own mother who was the wife to the late King. Oedipus thus turns into a tragic hero because he does not realize that as much as he is looking for the killer of his father, the audience already know that he is the one. This is ironical. The paper thus critically analyses the irony within the Oedipus the King play.
Analysis of Irony within the Oedipus the King Play
The Play “Oedipus the King” is one full of irony and a Hellenic tragedy. The tragedy arises because Oedipus by himself is a very great man owing to his liberation of Thebes has gained a great name but is not aware that the audience know that he is the killer of his own father (Euben, 88). In digging into knowing who the murderer of his father King Laius is, King Oedipus is about to commit a very grave mistake of his life that will cause a tragedy. In the word of Aristotle who is regarded as the father of philosophy, a tragedy is any act that contains the flowing elements. The element is that it must have a hero who appears in the play as a tragic hero. Secondly, it must contain peripateeia or a reverse of the circumstances (Ewans, 44). The third element is hamartia which refers to the tragic flaw that leads to the fall of the hero. Fourth is the plot and lastly catharsis which means a deliverance or a relief.
In this tragic hero story, there is a clear plot. The plot is that even before King Oedipus was born, he had already been cursed. Fate had it that he will eventually kill his parents and turn on marrying his own mother. However, while this secret is known is known to the audience it is not revealed to King Oedipus until the end of the play (Ewans, 44). Everything happens as planned and eventually Oedipus is thrown away by his parents and rescued by the shepherds who sent him to Corinth through another shepherd. He however escapes and kills king Polybos and marries his wife who happens to be his own mother. This leads to his downfall and culminates into the whole play being a tragic hero story (Ewans, 68). The Plot is thus well formulated and King Oedipus is in fact made a hero, he later realizes the mistakes he did which brings pity, it leads to his down fall and lastly people feel a lot of pity for him.
Hamartia or the element of tragic flaws is also evident in the play. In the Oedipus play, it refers to some of the defects encountered by King Oedipus without his intention. For example, the downfall of King Oedipus is brought about by his murder of his own father, King Laius. It is immoral or evil for one to kill his own father (Lucas, 17). Another flaw he made was to marry his own mother upon the killing of his father. The sleeping with one’s own mother is a curse and therefore King Oedipus was cursed. King Oedipus thus created a flow by sleeping with his own mother. While to a lot of people flaws are occasioned by intentional acts, for Ling Oedipus, the wrongs he ever committed were unintentional. Despite being unintended acts however, they are still immoral and illegal and therefore responsible for his downfall (Lucas, 18). Some other things that contribute to his downfall but which are minor include his excessive pride and anger.
Catharsis is yet another element of a tragic hero whereby the audience feels a lot of pity to the tragic hero immediately after the tragedy. Despite the mistakes and the wrongdoings that eventually lead to the downfall of the hero, the audience still have a feeling for his, brought about by his downfall, the audience still has feelings. In the Oedipus the King Play, King Oedipus played a very significant role towards solving the problems of the people of Thebes (Oedipus the King, 24). He for example specifically spend his life without sleep because he was concerned about the welfare and the interests of his people. In the downfall of King Oedipus therefore, while the people feel pity for the king, they also feel pity for themselves because of the special role the king played in the resolution of their problems. In fact, King Oedipus himself realizes that whatever he had done was wrong and he felt very remorseful (Oedipus the King, 33). However, it is an end to his legacy and the audience feels pity for him too. Oedipus discovers that he in fact had been sent to Corinth in order to save him from the evil that faced him. He therefore quickly realizes that he brought shame and trouble upon himself by deciding to run away to another country. It is very sorrowful but then there is nothing anybody can do as damage has already happened.
The element of a tragic hero is clearly brought out in King Oedipus himself. The king is shown as a very great man and king who is very generous and very much concerned about the wellbeing of his people. He bears all the characteristics of an upright and moral person, he however doesn’t realize that indeed he himself is contrary to his own teachings and fate placed him as an evil man before he was even born (Sophocles, 52). Despite all his good deeds, King Oedipus realizes that fate had it that he would kill his parents and inherit his own mother as a wife, something that led his parents to throw him away by giving him to the shepherds. Instead of the shepherd killing him however, he was too generous to hand him over to King Polybos shepherds who took him (Sophocles, 52). While in Corinth, the evil nature of King Oedipus came to his knowledge and discovered that the only way to redeem himself was to run away. While in his find he thought that he was running into a land of freedom by going to Thebes, Oedipus was actually sending himself to doom because he eventually killed his own father and as a result ended up marrying his mother (Sophocles, 58). Despite this, his concern about the plague, something that left him sleepless for several days was a character of a great leader and king. The good and the immoral part of King Oedipus thus makes him a tragic hero.
Peripateia as an element of a tragic hero play occurs in the Oedipus play. This is where there is a complete reversal of the thoughts of King Oedipus. From the beginning of the play for example, while the audience already has a realization that it is King Oedipus who is responsible for his own father’s death, the same is not within the Knowledge of the King (Euben, 88). The King does not also realize that his wife is actually his mother who was the wife of his late father, King Laius. Further, the ladies that Oedipus was about to punish for the death of his own father were actually is sisters. Also, when the Corinthian messenger visits King Oedipus with the intention of relieving him from his fears, by telling the death of Polybus, it in fact creates more fear to him because several things are revealed to him (Sheehan, 9). First, Oedipus realizes that all along he was misguided to believe that Merope and Polybus were his real parents when they were not. In fact, he discovers that his wife Jocasta and former King Laius were actually his actual parents. He quickly realizes that the person he thought was his wife is actually his mother, something that leads Jocasta to commit suicide (Sheehan, 21). At this point, King Oedipus also decides to make himself blind. It is thus a point of complete reversal, making the play a tragedy and kind Oedipus a tragic hero in the play.
From the above discourse, it is plausible to conclude that that indeed Oedipus the King play is a tragic hero play. The Play for example follows all the laid down characteristics of the tragic hero play as highlighted by Aristotle. For example, there is a well laid plot in the play, where everything is planned as it will happen without the knowledge of the king. Secondly, King Oedipus in fact goes ahead and becomes the hero through his deeds. He however later on comes to discover that he did commit the murder of his parents and therefore leading to his downfall and lastly, the audience end up feeling pity for him. The whole play is thus very ironical.
Euben, J. Peter. "The tragedy of tragedy." Tragedy and International Relations. Palgrave
Macmillan UK, 2012. 86-96.
Ewans, Michael. Opera from the Greek. ROUTLEDGE, 2016.
Lucas, Frank Laurence. Greek drama for everyman. JM Dent And Sons Ltd,; London, 2013.
Oedipus the King. University of Chicago Press, 2012.
Sophocles, By. The Oedipus Cycle. HarperPerennial, 2012.
Sheehan, Sean. Sophocles''Oedipus the King': A Reader's Guide. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2012.
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