Anti-heroic Traits In Oedipus Rex, Winter’s Tale And Everyman

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Oedipus Rex is a play about Oedipus, who has just become king of Thebes, and now has to save Thebes by discovering who murdered their previous king, Laius. Oedipus is a hero, someone the people of the city look up to. He is intelligent and intuitive, and uses his interrogation skills to uncover this mystery. Oedipus meets with a blind prophet named Tiresias, who is initially reluctant to reveal the truth he knows about the Laius’ murderer. Tiresias tells Oedipus that Oedipus is the reason for the curse and that he is the murderer, after Oedipus had accused Tiresias. Oedipus completely rebukes this and thus begins the crumbling of Oedipus’ confident facade. He progressively gets overtaken by more egotistical and cocky ways instead of dealing with the truth. Oedipus believes he is trying to be overthrown, but Tiresias further jabs him by making Oedipus confront his origins. When Oedipus confronts Creon about this situation, he hurls these ridiculous claims of treason and he threatens to kill Creon. Creon responds with how absurd Oedipus’ accusations are, saying, “…who in his right mind would rather rule and live in anxiety than sleep in peace?” (Lines 654-655). Jocasta tries to console Oedipus by agreeing with him, saying that Tiresias statements were indeed false and going against prophecy. But Oedipus’ brief relief doesn’t last long for when Jocasta recounts the event of Laius’ murder, Oedipus is completely bewildered. He is forced to confront the fact that he was the one who murdered Laius. Though a messenger tells Oedipus that his father is dead, Oedipus is still daunted by the prophecy. The messenger then tells him though that the people who Oedipus believed were his parents weren’t actually his parents, so he confronts a shepherd who originally found him as a baby. Another example of Oedipus’ constant search for answers. The shepherd is the final straw. He confirms the prophecy. This rapidly leads to Jocasta’s suicide and Oedipus’ eye gouging. Starting from being a king to having a prophecy and his own handling of it bring him down. Even though it was destined, Oedipus says, “…the hand that struck my eyes was mine, mine alone—no one else—I did it all myself!,” finally admitting his wrongdoings (Lines 1469-1471). The play ends with Oedipus begging for exile and becoming a mere shell of the man he once was.

Oedipus’ integrity and values are especially put under pressure during his confrontation with Tiresias. Tiresias tells Oedipus, “You are the curse, the corruption of the land!” (Line 401). It is the first time Oedipus is directly threatened after being on such a high pedestal from people viewing him as this role model and hopeful savior of Thebes. Oedipus becomes furious, maddened by what Tiresias is implying, saying “…You can’t hurt me or anyone else who sees the light—you can never touch me” (Lines 427-428). Oedipus is claiming that he is above everyone, including Tiresias, who is speaking the truth, despite, ironically, being blind compared to Oedipus who isn’t blind, but isn’t seeing the truth. Oedipus is no longer the same man seeking justice and having some sense of rationale. This is the catalyst for Oedipus’ excessive pride to come out. The display of how he thinks everyone around him is inferior, that they don’t understand what they’re saying. He convinces himself of anything but the truth because it is too immensely painful and shatters everything he knows. It is his downfall. Even Tiresias, when Oedipus claims Tiresias and Creon are working together to stop him, says, “Creon is not your downfall, no, you are your own” (Line 432). It is foreshadowing, and this moment can even be said to be the climax of the play: the protagonist’s own downfall caused by their fatal flaw.

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The Winter’s Tale is a fascinating combination of tragedy and comedy that primarily focuses on telling the story of the demise and growth of a family. The patriarch in that family is Leontes, the king of Sicilia. Not much is said on what kind of king Leontes is, but he seems like he has a normal and pleasant character. That is until Polixenes, king of Bohemia, and childhood friend of Leontes is about to leave after visiting both Leontes and Hermione, Leontes’ wife, that Leontes’ true feelings are shown. There is a very sudden abruptness to this shift. Leontes is overcome with jealousy when he sees Hermione and Polixenes interacting saying, “…But to be paddling palms and pinching fingers, as now they are, and making practiced smiles” (Page 6). He jumps to the conclusion that they have been having an affair and that Hermione is pregnant with Polixenes’ child, and not his. Leontes has no evidence for this, but he creates outlandish scenarios and claims towards innocent people, similarly to Oedipus. Hermione is shocked and hints at Leontes’ eventual suffering saying, “…How will this grieve you, when you shall come to clearer knowledge…” (Page 22). Polixenes manages to get away with the help of Camillo, but Hermione is forced into prison. There, Hermione gives birth to a daughter. Paulina hopes that the child will sway Leontes’ mind, but he stands strongly with his position and asks that the child be taken away. An answer to all of this comes from the Oracle of Delphi that completely denies Leontes’ suspicions and proves Hermione’s innocence, but Leontes is like a boulder not willing to budge no matter how hard you push it and decides to put Hermione on trial. As this trial occurs though, news of his son, Mamillius, dying spreads, which in turn causes Hermione to collapse and die as well. Seeing the error of his ways, Leontes pleads for forgiveness and continues to live in sorrow as the play jumps forward. We find ourselves back with Leontes still miserable and guilty for having let his jealousy blind him. No longer do we see the misogynistic and cruel man from before, but someone who talks about his wife saying, “Whilst I remember her and her virtues, I cannot forget my blemishes in them , and so still think of the wrong I did myself: which was so much…” (Page 79). The harsh reality of what happened to both his wife and his son has made him confront that he was the one who influenced both of those deaths and how in the wrong he was. It seems that this is typical of “protagonists” to realize their anti-hero traits after they suffer dire consequences or are forced into confrontation with said consequences. Contrastingly to Oedipus, Leontes does get a happy ending where he is reunited with both the daughter he initially abandoned and with Hermione, to which he has an intense and visceral reaction to seeing her. He realized his mistakes and was given a second chance.

Speaking of second chances, the play Everyman grants their protagonist the same. Everyman is a morality play that is created for the purpose of teaching morals to those who view it, hence the name. The play begins with God sending Death to seek Everyman because God believes that there is a lack of care and that people are “…drowned in sin…” (Everyman). Death tells Everyman that he is to be taken on a journey to the afterlife where he will be judged by God. Everyman asks many to accompany him, but the two that are the most telling of the protagonist’s character are Goods and Good Deeds. Everyman is already a representation of people that are not doing well in the eyes of God, so turning to Goods before Good Deeds makes sense. Goods are meant to represent the materialistic things we seek for comfort that don’t provide any value to us, yet we find ourselves turning to. Goods are the opposite of what is actually considered “good” in this scenario. Goods tells Everyman “…my love is contrary to the love everlasting” (Everyman). Goods leaves and immediately after that Everyman goes to Good Deeds, who is incredibly weak because of the lack of good deeds Everyman has done. However, Good Deeds gains strength as Everyman goes on their pilgrimage and makes amends with their sin. Good Deeds is the only one to go with Everyman to the grave, showing the moral of the play. If you do good deeds, you will be saved by God in the afterlife. Everyman is the closest to a realistic protagonist that we have because they are meant to represent everyone. Being greedy and sinful is anti-heroic, but they salvage themselves by making good actions, which is an important message, religious or not.

When looking at Oedipus, Leontes, and Everyman, the common thread seems to be that they all ended up realizing their anti-heroic traits or “hamartias” (Mentioned in Aristotle’s Poetics as a term for a character’s “fatal flaw”) and corrected them or sought forgiveness. Leontes and Everyman both received happy endings after learning their lessons, Oedipus suffered and was brutally stripped of his power. Oedipus was too prideful. His natural intuitiveness and what made him great was pushed too far. While it is true that everything that happened was prophesied, Oedipus worsened the matter by being cocky and ignorant. Leontes was overcome by jealousy. He too was ignorant and blindly made up his own ideas from his insecurities, but, with Leontes, we see more of the intense regret and guilt that consumes him. Everyman was sinful and materialistic. Everyman doesn’t represent this aggressively, like the other two protagonists, but seeks help in his pilgrimage from everyone, but Good Deeds. They know that Good Deeds is drained from Everyman’s sinning. Everyman redeems themselves by seeking salvation. These plays are all from different times, authors, and genres, showing the universality and reliability of having protagonists that are not perfect because people are imperfect. Though most representations of these flaws are quite aggressive, they each go through the journey of having these flaws, asserting them, recognizing that they are a problem, assessing them, and then handling them.

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Anti-heroic Traits In Oedipus Rex, Winter’s Tale And Everyman. (2022, Jun 16). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 25, 2024, from
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