Catharsis is the feeling of pity or fear for someone whose misfortune is undeserved. In the texts, “Hamlet”, by William Shakespeare, and “Oedipus the King”, by Sophocles the audience experiences these feelings for the main characters. It is easy to feel this way for these characters because it is basic human nature to be compassionate for others. We do so because it is easy to imagine ourselves in someone else’s shoes.
It is easy to feel pity for Hamlet. At the very beginning of the play, we learn that Hamlet’s father has died. Within one month of his tragedy, his mother has been remarried to Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius, his father’s own brother. Hamlet has enough to deal with, but then he meets his father’s ghost, who tells him Claudius murdered him. All of this leads Hamlet to suffer tremendously throughout the play and leads him to contemplate suicide. He begins to seek revenge for his father’s murder. Hamlet has a chance to kill Claudius but does not do so because if he killed Claudius while he was praying he would not go to heaven. This shows Hamlet is a compassionate person, although Claudius may deserve to die. In Act 4 Scene 7, the audience knows that Claudius and Laertes have the plan to kill Hamlet with a poisonous sword. We fear for him because Hamlet is unaware of this, and is playing fair. In the end, the audience deeply pities Hamlet when his mother drinks the poison, and Hamlet has been stabbed with the poisonous sword. This is when it all sinks in that Hamlet has truly lost everything, his life, family, and friends. We sympathize with him because we know he did not deserve to suffer from so many losses in this time or die. All of this was because he wanted to avenge the death of his father. Many of us can sympathize with him because we have all suffered losses in our lives.
The fact that Oedipus stabbed himself in the eyes to blind himself is reason enough for the audience to pity him, but there are a few more things to pity. It seems Oedipus’s life was cursed from the very start. As a child, he was abandoned by his parents and left to die. Oedipus grows up to be a good father, husband, and king of Thebes. Because of this, he is extremely cocky and arrogant. But, his ego comes crashing down as he finds out that his marriage and children are a product of incest, and that he had killed his very own father. We pity Oedipus because he was unaware of his cursed fate, and we know this is not his fault, his life changed in the blink of an eye. He was content with his life as he knew it, and was an honorable king. Oedipus did everything he could to make good decisions in his life, but that did not matter, his fate was already set. There was nothing he could do to change it. But, the fact that he stabbed himself in the eyes and blinded himself, that alone is enough to pity.
As the audience, we pity the main character in both of these texts because they cannot change the fate of their lives, they were both doomed from the beginning. We may pity them or fear for them because we can put ourselves in their shoes, and imagine what it's like to live like them. Some may even know someone that can relate to these characters. We fear that what happened to them could happen to us, both of the things that happened to them were out of their control. These two texts teach us that we cannot change our fate. Both of the characters try to act on this, such as Oedipus blinding himself, or Hamlet killing his family members. They think these actions will change their fate, but in the end, it does not. These two texts teach us that we cannot change our fate, and we can learn from their stories and actions.