Friday, 16 August 2013

Oedipus Rex as a Tragic Hero


According to Aristotle the tragic hero must be a person of noble birth and prosperity whose misfortune results, not from depravity or vice but from some hamartia (a tragic flaw or an error of judgment from the hero). Further Aristotle is of the view that the tragic hero should be an intermediate sort of person, neither completely good nor completely bad. Aristotle gives the example of Oedipus as a great and successful tragic hero.

Cause Of Oedipus’ Misfortune

It is very difficult to say that the misfortune of Oedipus results from some flaw in his character or some error of judgment committed by him. Oedipus is, no doubt, rash, impatient, imitable, and passionate. Further he is very proud of his intelligence and believes that he can find answer to every problem. Yet if we take his tragedy to be the basic action of incest and parricide then these flaws of Oedipus are quite irrelevant.

It is Oedipus who proclaims a severe punishment for the murderer of Laius and says that he will award punishment even to himself if he is found guilty. It is by his words that Tiresias is angered and prophesizes that Oedipus will turn out to be the murderer of his father and the husband of his mother. Further Oedipus provokes him by making fun of his blindness and this leads Tiresias to predict that Oedipus will become blind and will leave Thebes like a helpless beggar. Although the predictions can not be taken as responsible for the action mentioned in them, yet they add to the suffering and humiliation of Oedipus. So, one may say that Oedipus commits the fundamental mistake of thinking himself equal to the gods and of being able to solve every problem.

Character And Fate

Greek tragedy is generally believed to be the tragedy of fate, in contrast with Shakespearean tragedy which is regarded as tragedy of character. Whether or not it is true of other Greek tragedies, it is inapplicable to Oedipus Rex. At the most we can say that both character and fate play a part in the tragedy of Oedipus. Oedipus is certainly the victim of adverse chances, like his encounter with passenger whom he killed not knowing that he was his father. But his own character can not be put aside in the context. It is because of his character as a great discoverer of truth and a man determined to find out what he has decided to discover that Oedipus meets with tragic end.

In the scene where he is cross-examining the shepherds, Jocasta begs him not to carry investigation further but he pays no heed to her words. The Theban shepherd also begs that he may not be asked to disclose what he knows, but Oedipus forces him to tell the whole truth.

Oedipus’ Goodness

It can be said that the tragedy of Oedipus is the result more of his good qualities than his bad ones. To Oedipus the discovery of truth is more important than his own good and safety. He decides to carry on investigation knowing that it will not produce any result which will be safe for him. He is so honest with himself that he inflicts the punishment of self blinding when he learns that he has committed horrible crimes against his parents. He even insists on Creon to banish him from the city as demanded by the Oracle.

Pity And Fear

There is, of course, a great sense of pity and fear for Oedipus who has in vain been searching for his parents. All this while he has tried to avoid doing wrong to them by leaving Corinth and who yet finds that he has unconsciously become guilty of the gravest offences against both his parents.

Along with pity there is also the feeling of great terror. Suffering of Jocasta and Oedipus seems to us largely undeserving. This mystery of undeserved sufferings does inspire a sense of terror in us.