Oedipus as a Tragic Hero
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The foundations of Greek tragedy were laid down by the philosopher Aristotle in his famous “Poetics” which discussed the characteristics of a tragic hero. In this composition of philosophy and literary theories, Aristotle’s ideas revolve around three crucial effects to audience members. First, the audience must develop an emotional attachment to the tragic hero. Next, the audience must fear what may befall the hero. Finally, once misfortune strikes, the audience pities the suffering hero. Clearly, for Aristotle’s theory to succeed, the tragic hero must be a complex and well-constructed character, as is seen in Sophocles’ Oedipus the King. Like any tragic hero, Oedipus elicits the three needed responses from the audience far better than most.
Oedipus’ nobility and virtue are the first keys to success as a tragic hero. Nobility is a main component of his character, which ensures that the audience has respect for him. The dynamic nature of Oedipus’ nobility earns him this respect. First, Oedipus is actually the son of Laius and Jocasta, the King and Queen of Thebes. As well, Oedipus himself believes he is the son of Polybus and Merop, the King and Queen of Corinth. Thus, he is noble in the simplest sense because his parents, biological and assumed, are royalty. Finally, Oedipus’ royalty and respect are attained when he solves the riddle of the Sphinx and is given dominion over the city as a gift. Thus, the audience develops a great respect and emotional attachment to Oedipus who is described as noble through his roots, and heroic through his actions.
Moreover, it is Oedipus’ hamartia, which defines him as a tragic hero. In Aristotle’s opinion, all tragic heroes must have a hamartia which neither inherent in their characters or entirely accidental. If either of these scenarios were to occur, the audience would not be able to respect of fear for the hero. Oedipus fits this precisely, for his basic flaw is his lack of knowledge about his identity. Furthermore, Oedipus bears no responsibility for his flaw and the audience fears for him because he cannot change the tragedy’s outcome. Instead, Oedipus exhibits another characteristic of the tragic hero, hubris, overbearing pride, which leads him to disregard reasonable