Macbeth And Oedipus Rex As Didactic Tragic Plays

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The concept of tragedy, and the popularization of the emotion as a genre of written form, cannot be spoken about thoroughly without considering the two plays that defined the genre - Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. Macbeth is a play written by William Shakespeare that tells the story of the titular character, who hears of a prophecy dictating his eventual rise to king, and this spurs he and his wife to form a plot to kill the existing ruler. The other text, Oedipus Rex, written by ancient playwright Sophocles, also follows the titular character in an attempt to uncover the murderer of the existing king, Laius. Despite the similarities of the nature of these plays, they also have differences in their interpretations of their kings, the concept of fate and the role the queens play in their narrative.

Both Oedipus and Macbeth deal with the concepts of kings and their importance in their play where they share similarities and differences in the presentation of their kings, such as the role in their downfalls and how they handle their fate. In Macbeth, the titular character is told of his rise to the throne. He caused his own ruination by rushing his rise to the throne by assassinating the previous leader, willingly put his downfall into motion with the help of his manipulative wife. Not only this, but as Macbeth deals with the concept of fate, he strives for the future where he is king detailed by the three sisters and pushes it into motion by his own hand. On the other hand, Oedipus becomes king because he slays a noble creature - the Sphinx. He too has a prophecy that details him killing his own father, and mating with his mother. His responsibility for the murder of his own father is dubious at best, however he feels remorse for the dead king and is unaware of his offending actions. Oedipus curses the people who allowed for him to live, saying,

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“ It was a thankless act. Had I perished then,

I would not have brought such agony

to myself or to my friends.”

Similarly to Macbeth, Oedipus is aware of his fate, yet attempts to run from it and attempts to avoid it vehemently. Not only do the two texts share the concept of kinghood, but further explores the idea of fate.

Both Oedipus and Macbeth deal with the concept of fate a great deal. In Oedipus and Macbeth, fate is the primary motivator and major influence in the process of both texts, pushing both titular characters to react to the future that was predicted. In Macbeth, the titular character’s fate is given to him by three witches, dictating the eventuality of him becoming king. Macbeth reacts to this by colluding with his wife to kill the existing king in order to force fate to fruition. He and his wife are motivated primarily by fate, and look forward to the materialization of what the witches say. On the other hand, Oedipus’ fate is that he will kill his father and marry his mother, and doing such bring destruction upon his city. He is relayed this prediction by The Oracle, and hearing so, reacts by turning his back on his adoptive family in order to avoid his fate. Oedipus dreads his fate, and all involved in the predictions make attempts to avoid it. Fate is a shared concept in both texts, where the titular characters are aware of the predictions, however the difference is seen in how they both react to it.

The final front that both Oedipus and Macbeth share is their representation of queens and the importance roles they play in the two texts. In Macbeth, the queen in question is Lady Macbeth, a cunning and cruel person who manipulates her husband into murder by putting his hand into motion for him. When Macbeth speaks of his fate, Lady Macbeth curses him out saying, “You do unbend your noble strength, to think so brainsickly of things.” In the end, Lady Macbeth commits suicide due to the torment of what she had done. The queen in Oedipus is Jocasta, the mother of Oedipus and the wife of Laius, the previous king. She is a fair and kind woman, who does not wish to bring children into the world due to the curse laid upon her husband and detests the fate of her family. She too attempts to avoid fate by ordering for the murder of her own son, but it fails. When the truth of the murder of her previous husband comes out, similarly to Lady Macbeth, Jocasta kills herself in her chambers. Despite both texts sharing a queen as one of their main characters, the queens themselves are vastly different in personality and their roles in the plot.

Tragedy as a genre, cannot be considered without acknowledging the two greats of the genre - Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Both of these plays share three concepts - kinghood, queendom and the idea of fate. However, how these concepts play out in the plot of the play differ but also share similarities. Macbeth on one hand has the protagonist see fate, and his fate, in a positive light that he and his king fight for, and put into action, whilst in Oedipus Rex, the titular character attempts to run from his fate, and in doing so, unknowingly obscures the truth of the murderer of his father. Both authors have efficiently produced a text that achieves the characteristics of the tragedy genre, and work as the accomplished play they are.

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