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The fifth century BCE is the golden age of Greek dramas. During that period, Sophocles wrote an outstanding tragedy named Oedipus Rex. Over the centuries, Oedipus Rex has been regarded as the Greek tragedy par excellence. In the Poetics, Aristotle listed many requirements of a successful tragedy. Oedipus Rex is Aristotle’s ideal tragedy because it fulfills so many requirements for a successful tragedy.
To begin with, Aristotle believes that “the first and most important part” of his ideal tragedy is plot. He requires the plot of a tragedy to be single and complex, which means there should be only one plot that includes peripeteia and anagnorsis. Additionally, all plots should have pathos. It is obvious that all those requirements are satisfied in Oedipus Rex. Peripeteia, which means reversal, occurs when Oedipus hears the news of Polybus’s death. The news first sounds good, but reverses to be a disaster in a moment. Anagnorisis means recognition, emerges in the story when Oedipus knows that he kills Laius. Oedipus kills his father in ignorance but learns the true relationship from a Theban people. Pathos means suffering. It is important for a successful tragedy because a destructive or painful act will earn the audience’s sympathy. When Oedipus finally understands the truth, he is so suffering from it that he blinds himself. In all, Oedipus Rex meets all Aristotle’s requirements of the plot of a tragedy.
As the second important part of a successful tragedy, characters are required by Aristotle to be good, appropriate, true to life, and consistent. All characters in Oedipus Rex meet those requirements, and Jocasta is a perfect example. She is the queen of Thebe, and she commits suicide because she cannot bear the shame of the immoral truth.
Except fulfilling requirements of all characters, Oedipus Rex also meets the specialty of a tragic hero. The most important character in a tragedy is the tragic hero. Aristotle requires that this character should have an elevated status but imperfect, which means the character should be higher than common people but falls below. Oedipus, the king of Thebe, is absolutely high-ranking. However, he falls to the bottom when he recognizes that he kills his father and gets married to his mother. Oedipus might have left the plague to take its course, but pity for the sufferings of his people compelled him to find out the truth. He might have left the murder of Laius uninvestigated, but piety and justice required him to act. Teiresias, Jocasta the Theban people, each in turn tries to stop him, but in vain; he must read the last riddle, the riddle of his own life. What causes his ruin is his own strength and courage, his loyalty to Thebes, and his loyalty to the truth.
In addition, Aristotle also mentions in the Poetics that the hamartia of a tragic hero is very important for a good tragedy. The Greek term “hamartia” means “tragic flaw.” The character’s flaw must result from something that is also a central part of their virtue, which goes somewhat awry. Aristotle indicates that a truly tragic hero must have a failing that is neither idiosyncratic nor arbitrary, but is somehow more deeply imbedded — a kind of human failing and human weakness. It is obvious that Oedipus is a tragic hero with hamartia. His basic flaw is his lack of knowledge about his own identity. Moreover, no amount of foresight or preemptive action could remedy Oedipus’ hamartia; unlike other tragic heroes, Oedipus bears no responsibility for his flaw. The audience fears for Oedipus because nothing he does can change the tragedy’s outcome.
Another requirement Aristotle mentions in the Poetics is catharsis. Aristotle uses the term catharsis to refer to the purging of excessive emotions of a person. In Oedipus Rex, Sophocles perfectly evokes catharsis to make the story to its climax. By watching the tragedy and feeling the strong emotions of fear and pity on behalf of the characters on stage, audiences experience a kind of cleansing of the soul. So the catharsis from watching tragedy gave the spectators a shared experience that bound them closer together. The catharsis occurs at the end when Oedipus, driven by the guilt of the impermissibility of incest and the emptiness caused by the loss of his beloved mother, blinds himself.
Fulfilled so many requirements by Aristotle, it is obvious that Oedipus Rex is a perfect tragedy. It has a proper plot, characters, tragic hero, hamartia, and catharsis. Those two works are outstanding for us to research on, so we can feel the beauty of Greek tragedy and write out a good tragedy by ourselves.
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