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Tragic Flaw: Aristotle Vs. Oedipus

Oedipus is a play written by Sophocles that many have heard. Few, however, would not be surprised to discover what Oedipus has discovered at the end of the play, that our tragic hero has killed his own father only to marry his mother. Many ask how this play could be a tragedy? What is the definition of tragedy? Aristotle’s ‘The Poetics’, is a work in which he tried to define what tragedy was. Aristotle decided that the hero, or at least the main character in a tragedy must be centrally good, but must bring about himself his demise, due to a fatal flaw, known as ‘hamartia’.

The character must show traits of nobleness . Were the character not noble, the audience would not care about the person, and would not notice his fall. In all classical literature this rule hold true but in modern literature playwrights have proven that and audience can care less about productive heroes. All heroes of tragedies were noble and tried to do good but failed themselves. Oedipus was a good man. He solved the problem with the Sphinx, which is how he became king of Thebes in the first place. Oedipus was a religious and god-fearing man, believing in oracles and acting on them.

Oedipus understood his people very well, to the extent that when he was that he ought to consul the oracle to figure out Apollo’s wishes by the people. He is very ironic because he does not understand himself or realize anything that should seem plain and simple to him. Oedipus is very decisive, he sorts things out quickly and effectively, without much trouble. As well as understanding his people he cared deeply for then. He once said: ‘I grieve for these, my people, far more than I fear for my own life’-line 105

The irony of these words are very evident because Oedipus is determined to find the killer of the late King Laius, even if the tables turn on him. Oedipus always want his people to be justified and in these terms he has a great sense of justice. When he discovers Laius has been murdered he soon decides he will solve his assassination. Even though Oedipus is very justifiable he is also an enraged person with a brutal temper- he got angry when a messenger insists he is not the child of Polybus. As did he when it also happened in Corinth, when a drunk exclaimed that he was not Polybus’ son.

He became irate with the prophet Teiresias, when he asked Oedipus to look closely at himself before furthering his search for Laius’ killer. Oedipus was also creditable or proud. This might be his conceitedness over solving the sphinx. He would not consider himself a killer at the suggestion of Teiresias, and even charged Teiresias and Creon with a plan to scheme against him. Aristotle said that tragedies should correspond to the Three Unities- time, place and action. Oedipus occurs in real time. All the action takes place in one full day, with numerous people arriving to thicken the plot.

Throughout the story there are references to past events and people that have happened long before. Aristotle also said that everything must happen in the same place. All the action takes place in Thebes, just outside the palace. Events that happened elsewhere are related to by messenger or flashbacks. Jocasta’s death was an event such as this since no one was killed on stage. Ultimately, there is the Unity of Action- the play concerns Oedipus’ story only-there are no sub-plots or other complications form the real excitement of the play. Oedipus is the tragic hero of which Aristotle’s concept of tragedy was based.

For if we give ourselves up to full sympathy with the here there is no question that the tragedy won’t arouse our fears. According to Aristotle, the man who attains perfect happiness in the world is the wise man who sees in all their aspects the facts or the forces with which he is dealing, and he can balance and direct his own impulses in accordance with reason. Oedipus is the exact opposite. He is the man who only sees one side of a matter, he is driven by his uncontrolled emotions, and acts in accordance with imperfect vision. He meets a fate most pitiful and terrible, in accordance with the great laws the gods have made.

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