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Critical Analysis of 'Oedipus the King' Tragic Hero

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Oedipus Tyrannus should be regarded as an ideal form of Greek drama as it contains the two most important components to be considered a quality Greek tragedy as well as Oedipus has the characteristics of an ideal tragic hero.

The two most important principles of a well-written Greek tragedy are an eloquent plot and sound character traits. According to Aristotle, the plot is the “soul of a tragedy” and is by far the most important feature (Poetics VI, page 8). Aristotle defines plot as “the arrangement of the incidents”, describing not the story itself but the way the incidents are presented to the audience, and the structure of the play (Poetics VII, page ?). He describes the whole of a tragedy as having a “beginning, a middle, and an end,” focusing on how the outcome of a tragedy depending on a cause-and-effect chain of actions, is far superior to those that rely solely on the character and personality of the hero (Poetics VII, page 10). Fitting the requirements of Aristotle, Oedipus Tyrannus has a complex plot with a beginning, middle, and end. The beginning, where a “deadly pestilence” hit his country and Oedipus promised to find a solution, started the cause-and-effect chain, bringing some form of conflict, where the hero took action to “save [his] city” (lines 32, 85). The middle of the tragedy portrayed Oedipus persisting inquiries about his birth parents, soon finding out who his real parents were. These events were led by cause and effect and led to the downfall of Oedipus, an important trait of Greek tragedies. END OF PLAY EVIDENCE HERE. **should I discuss Aristotle’s belief that plots should be complex, having both “reversal of intention” and “recognition” of catastrophes??**

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Oedipus Tyrannus also follows character concepts, the second most important feature of tragedy. According to Aristotle, “Character is that which reveals moral purpose, showing what kind of things a man chooses or avoids” (Poetics VI, page 9). To Aristotle, actions speak louder than words, therefore, he believes a character should be “good” regarding his moral purpose (Poetics XV, page 17). Oedipus, a man of action, was determined to help the people of his country, with no regard for how difficult the task may be (line 83). Furthermore, Aristotle believed characters in a Greek tragedy should “aim at propriety,” meaning staying true and appropriate to their gender (Poetics XV, page 17). In Oedipus Tyrannus, Oedipus is cast as a warrior in order to save the city. With Oedipus seen as a “man of experience” and the “most powerful in all men’s eyes,” he is expected to fight for the kingdom, just as any man should (lines 46-47, 51). Furthermore, Aristotle states good characterization should also include being “true to life,” meaning realistic (Poetics XV, page 17). For example, Oedipus is realistic once he realizes he is the reason a plague is spreading throughout his country. To save the people, Oedipus tells Creon to “cast me out as quickly as you can, away from Thebes,” as that is the only realistic way to get rid of the disease (lines 1697-1698). Moreover, a character should have “consistency,” meaning staying true to themselves (Poetics XV, page 17). Once his motivations were established, Oedipus was consistent in the search for the truth for his parents, regardless of what stood in his way. By portraying all of these character traits in one way or another, it proves Oedipus Tyrannus follows the basic requirements of a well-thought-out Greek tragedy.

In Poetics, Aristotle outlined the characteristics of an ideal tragic hero. The “object of imitation” must be “better than in real life” in tragedies, a man who is superior to the average man in some way (Poetics II, page 4). In the case of Oedipus, he is not only superior in his social standing but he. OEDIPUS'S EVIDENCE GOES HERE. Furthermore, Aristotle states that tragic heroes must incite fear and pity (Poetics XIV, page 15). More specifically, if a “tragic incident occurs between those who are near or dear to one another,” the scene will successfully incite pity from the audience (Poetics XIV, page 15). In Oedipus Tyrannus, Oedipus incites pity when he finds his beloved wife, Jocasta, to have hung herself. As he takes her body, he gives a “dreadful groan” and tears stream down his face (line 1509). This scene evokes feelings of pity and sympathy, only an ideal tragic hero could create. The “ignorant” actions of Oedipus left Jocasta to do an “irreparable deed,” for which he blamed himself (Poetics XIV, page 16). Moreover, Oedipus is an ideal tragic hero as he is imperfect. According to Aristotle, a character should have “some great error or frailty” in order to have a “change of fortune….from good to bad” (Poetics XIII, page 14). As with every tragic hero, Oedipus suffers from hamartia, a great mistake that causes a downfall. Throughout the tragedy, he is blind to the truth and stubbornly refuses to believe the warnings of Teiresias. With all of these qualities, Oedipus portrays the characteristics of an ideal tragic hero outlined by Aristotle.

While some may say Aristotle’s Poetics is judgmental and strongly opinionated, Aristotle made rather fair points in other ways. Regardless, with Aristotle being one of the highest-regarded philosophers known to man, his words should be held at a higher level than others.

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Critical Analysis of ‘Oedipus the King’ Tragic Hero. (2023, April 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 8, 2023, from
“Critical Analysis of ‘Oedipus the King’ Tragic Hero.” Edubirdie, 21 Apr. 2023,
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