Essay Sample on Drama: King Oedipus as a Tragic Hero

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Carnegie Mellon University
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Research paper
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Aristotle laid the foundations for determining who a tragic hero is, in his famous Poetics. These parameters were meant for literary criticism of Greek tragedies. Aristotle utilized the concepts of fear and pity as well as catharsis to evoke emotional attachments between the audiences or readers and the tragic heroes in Greek drama (Waldock, 1991). Readers are drawn to the circumstances which lead a tragic hero to succumb to fate. When a literary reader encounters fear as circumstantial to what the character goes through, and finally pities them after a tragic ending, then Aristotles philosophical theory has achieved its purpose.

A close examination of Sophocles King Oedipus reveals how complicated a character he is: his ability to garner pity from the audience, the audiences fears for what might befall him and the emotional tension between with the tragic hero and the audience (Sophocles & Roche, 2004). One of the proofs that King Oedipus is a legitimate tragic hero is that he comes from a noble family. His biological parents: Laius and Jocasta are King and Queen of Thebes respectively. Even his foster parents, Polybus and Merope, are King and Queen of Corinth. The Aristotelian requirement of a tragic hero is that he must gain a lot of respect for the audience (Sophocles et al., 1989). He has to be a better and larger version of each in the audience. King Oedipus royal affiliations and the fact that he solves the sphinxs riddle that no one had ever solved allow abundant respect and emotional attachment to come his way.

A typical Aristotelian tragic hero must have a harmatia,' a moral weakness, a mistake, or error in judgment. This characteristic should not be inborn but rather consequential so as not to make him lose respect. On the other hand, purely accidental or spontaneous errors would take away the fear that the audience has for him. His failing must not be from idiosyncrasy or whimsicality. King Oedipus lack of knowledge for his identity and origin fits him into a tragic hero (Owen & Cameron, 1969). His arrogance leads him to see himself as a god. In the Poetics, an ideal tragic hero has neither a clear vision nor the ability to see all perspectives of any matter (Aristotle, 1907). He sees a clouded, one-sided fact and acts on half-truths, not from sound reasoning but the feeling that comes first to his mind first. King Oedipus harmatia provides fertile grounds for his fate to come to fulfillment.

The fall of King Oedipus after the universal truth of his identity solicits a lot of sympathy and pity from the audience. His suffering, intensified by his gorging of his eye, increases the disastrous effect of compassion. The fact that he blinds himself rather than committing suicide symbolizes the inevitable totality of the Greek fatalism (Barstow, 1912). His blindness brings him physical darkness only allegorical to the intellectual and religious oblivion that King Oedipus experiences. Since he is not dead, his agony in darkness is a source of the pity considering, the fact that he is never responsible for his fate. The three parameters described in the Poetics all manifest themselves effortlessly in King Oedipus rendering him an ideal tragic hero.


Barstow, M. (1912). Oedipus Rex as the Ideal Tragic Hero of Aristotle. The Classical Weekly, 6(1), 2.

Sophocles, ., & Roche, P. (2004). The Oedipus plays of Sophocles: Oedipus the king, Oedipus at Colonos, Antigone. New York: Plume.

Aristotle. (1907). Aristotle's Poetics. Oxford: B.H. Blackwell.

Owen, W., & Cameron, A. (1969). The Identity of Oedipus the King: Five Essays on the Oedipus Tyrannus. The Classical World, 62(7), 278.

Sophocles., Yeats, W., Clark, D., McGuire, J., & Yeats, W. (1989). The writing of Sophocles' King Oedipus. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society.

Sophocles, ., & Roche, P. (1996). The Oedipus plays of Sophocles: Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone. New York: Penguin.

Waldock, A. J. A. (1991). Sophocles, the dramatist. Cambridge [England: University Press.

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