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Hamlet And Oedipus Rex: Tragic Heroes

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Two classics, “Oedipus Rex,” written by the great Greek playwright Sophocles, and “Hamlet,” work written by the world famous and renowned English author William Shakespeare. Both works are identified by their arduous search for justice and revenge, a very important factor in their respective dramas (Shmoop). Hamlet’s story revolves around the death of King Hamlet of Denmark, the succession of the throne to his brother, who marries Hamlet’s mother. In addition, Hamlet is shown as a son deeply displeased by the way his mother is acting; he is also hesitant because he wants to know the truth about his father’s death and revenge it. In Comparison, the story of Oedipus presents his attempts to expel the plague, that has invade Thebes after Laius’ death, the king. To achieve this, Oedipus must banish the king’s killer. From that moment, he begins a search for the killer, without knowing that it was him all along. Both works are identified as a tragedy; the term tragedy is associated with the type of dramatic work with fatal actions that generate fear and compassion. The characters of a tragedy inevitably face a supernatural force or different situations in life, events that lead to fatality. The main character of the tragedy usually ends up dead or morally destroyed; a tragic hero.

“To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them?—To die,—to sleep…Thus conscience does make cowards of us all; And thus the native hue of resolution is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought; And enterprises of great pith and moment, with this regard, their currents turn awry, and lose the name of action.” (3.1). Hamlet doubts all his decisions, he waits to fulfill the duty of revenge, murdering his uncle, who in turn murdered his father, King Hamlet. The pressure of revenge leads him to be doubtful and become indecisive. The prince’s character is emphasized when he is compared with Claudius or Laertes; both man acted quickly and firmly when the time came. Instead, Hamlet delayed his actions until he was dying to avenge the death of King Hamlet as his last opportunity to do so, he kills Claudius. Laertes, in the other hand, was a man of action, he would live up to his word and complete the plan.

Moreover, Hamlet’s hesitation provokes the indirect death of various characters of the play. Polonius is assassinated by Hamlet as he spies on him and his mother, Gertrude, leading to Ophelia to become mad. Ophelia who was Hamlet’s love interest loses her senses when she finds out about her father, also the prince’s attitude towards her contributed, she lastly lets herself drown. Laertes, who is Polonius’ son and Ophelia’s brother, wants revenge for their deaths, he proceeds to verse Hamlet in fencing. Next, Gertrude drinks poison destined for Hamlet, Laertes is cut by his own poisoned sword, Hamlet is also cut. Lastly leading to Hamlet forcing his uncle to drink from the poisoned glass, consequently, the prince dies. However, if Hamlet had taken action in Act 3 Scene III, “Now might I do it pat, now he is a-praying, and now I’ll do ’t. And so he goes to heaven. And so am I revenged. That would be scanned: A villain kills my father, and for that, I, his sole son, do this same villain send to heaven.” Claudius would have been dead and all the other deaths could have been prevented.

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At the same time, Oedipus stands as a tragic hero also, pride and salvation of the city, ends up being his downfall, dishonoring and leading to misfortune. As Oedipus already knows he has been cursed since birth to marry his mother and kill his father. However, Oedipus never intended to kill his father, nor to sleep with his mother, but to avoid precisely that fateful fate predicted by the oracle, fleeing from Corinth and from those he mistakenly believes his parents. Nor has he wanted to kill his real father, King Laius, whom he kills by chance, nor has he been particularly attracted to his real mother, Jocasta, with whom he marries in a political marriage to occupy the throne of Thebes after killing the Sphinx. Also has four children with her, Antigone, Ismene, Polynices and Eteocles.

All these facts are outside his intentions and outside his conscious impulses. Lucid and blind, innocent and at the same time guilty, he situates himself, at the beginning of the work, beyond the human condition; saving the people from the curse of the Sphinx, their superiority approaches that of the gods. The oracle was right, Oedipus innocent and naive, yet he does not know of his past. Eventually the truth is revealed and causes havoc among the people of Thebes. Therefore, he ends up excluded from the community, reduced to nothing, like a beast. Their insight and willingness to know and favor their own destruction. Ingenuity, which once opened the doors of the kingdom of Thebes, ends up becoming his own enemy. ‘To a strange land he shall soon grope his way. And of his children, inmates of his home, he shall be proved to be the brother and assassin of his sire’ (Sophocles 472-477). According to the prophet, the oracle has fulfilled its prophecy and now Oedipus must be exiled and punished for his crimes in order for Thebes to be free of plague. ‘He tore the golden brooches that upheld her queenly robe, upraised them high and smote full on his eyeballs, uttering words like these, ‘No more shall ye behold such sights of woe, deeds I have suffered and myself have wrought; henceforward quenched in darkness shall ye see those ye should ne’er have seen; now blind to those whom, when I saw, vainly yearned to know.’

Such was a burden of his moan, whereto, not once but oft, he struck with his hand uplift his eyes, and at each stroke the ensanguined orbs bedewed his beard, not oozing drop by drop, but one black gory downpour, thick as hail’ (Sophocles 1266-1278). As a tragic hero, Oedipus is destined to suffer, so when the truth is reveal and his wife, and mother, realizes this she hangs herself. The king can not bear to live through what he has caused and does not want to see, he takes Jocasta’s brooches and with them pulls his eyes out.

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