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Essay by 24  •  September 13, 2010  •  2,718 Words (11 Pages)  •  673 Views

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The Greek drama Oedipus Rex is clearly a tragedy. It definitely meets

the five main criteria for a tragedy: a tragic hero of noble birth, a

tragic flaw, a fall from grace, a moment of remorse, and catharsis.

Oedipus Rex clearly meets the first of these five criteria. Oedipus is the

son of Laius, who was king of Thebes. Even at the beginning of the

story, when we are told that Oedipus is the son of Polybus, he is still

of noble birth; Polybus is king of Corinth. The tragic flaw, or

mistake that a character makes, in Oedipus Rex does not actually take

place during the story. We only watch as Oedipus and the rest of the

characters discover this mistake that was actually made long, long ago and

cannot be reversed. This tragic flaw is of course Oedipus killing his

father Lauis, and then marrying Jocasta, his mother. We realize that

these actions have taken place much earlier in the story than the

characters do. However, both of these events actually took many years ago.

The fall from grace in Oedipus Rex is when Oedipus, Jocasta, and all

the other characters in the story realize that Oedipus actually did

murder Laius and that Jocasta is indeed his mother as well as his wife.

This occurs rather quickly, very close to the end of the play. The

audience sees this coming long before it actually does, however. In one of

the passages of Oedipus speaking with Jocasta, just about everything is

spelled out for us. Jocasta speaks of Laius leaving the castle with just

a few servants and his being killed where three roads meet. Oedipus

claims that he killed somebody where three roads met, who had a few

servants with him. As though this isn't enough, Jocasta describes Laius to

Oedipus by saying "his figure was not much unlike your own" (p. 27).

Oedipus, after hearing all this, says "O, it is plain already!" (p. 27)

indicating that he was the killer of his father. He goes on to make

absolutely sure, even though it is obvious that he was Lauis's killer.

The moment of remorse comes at the end of the story, when one of the

servants who had accompanied Laius on his final journey came to speak to

Oedipus. He was the only one who survived the attack, and told that

contrary to rumor, Laius was killed by one man, not robbers. He then

pointed out this one man, Oedipus. We are told soon after that Jocasta

hanged herself upon hearing this. When this news reaches Oedipus, he takes

the pins from her dress and stabs his eyes out. The catharsis, or

emotional cleansing of the audience, comes at the same time as the

remorse. The audience suddenly feels sorry for this poor man who has

unknowingly killed his father and married his mother, for the people of

this land who have been suffering from an awful curse because of it, and

for the unfortunate Jocasta, who was basically an innocent bystander in

the whole confusing disaster. In these five ways, the story Oedipus

Rex classifies as a tragedy. However, in my opinion at least, you don't

really need a standard checklist to see if Oedipus Rex is a tragedy or

not. Any story which ends in the death of one major character and a

lifetime of misery, shame, and self-exile for the other major character

is clearly a tragedy.

The role of the king in the time of Greek tragedies was simultaneously desired and dreaded because of the king's responsibility to the people and because of the effects of the position on the king's character. Creon reveals such ambivalent thoughts towards the kingship in his speech defending himself from Oedipus's conspiracy accusation in Oedipus the King; these ambivalent thoughts reveal much about the nature of the kingship, especially in conjunction with Creon's later actions in Antigone. In attempting to refute Oedipus's assertion that Creon has taken part in a conspiracy to obtain the kingship, Creon evaluates the nature of the kingship and of his present role. First, he says, "Consider, first, if you think any one/ would choose to rule and fear rather than rule and sleep" (36.584-585). By this, Creon means that the main difference between his position and the king's is that of the accompanying action to ruling. In both positions, one is a ruler who holds great power over the state. However, the king is placed in a greater place of accountability to the people. This accountability is what Creon says inspires "fear" in the king, for if affairs of state or of the people fall into decline, the king is the first person whom the citizenry look to blame. This is analogous to executive leaders throughout history, as one can see in looking at American presidents and the correlation between the present conditions and events of the nation to the public's opinion of the president, regardless of the actual impact that his decisions may have made in these conditions. Creon maintains that he has the same amount of power as the king but without the accountability that inevitably leads a king to distress. Creon's reasoning concerning the equality between his power and Oedipus's leads him to state: I was not born with such a frantic yearning to be a king- but to do

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