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Oedipus Rex Written By Sophocles English Literature Essay

2400 words (10 pages) Essay in English Literature

5/12/16 English Literature Reference this

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Since I was a child my grandmother has told me many stories from Ancient Greece which have been passed down from generation to generation. The most interesting type of Greek drama in my opinion is the Tragedy. I believe it to be the most interesting because, Tragedy as Aristotle believes “depicts the downfall of a good person through some Fatal-error [ἁμαρτία (Hamartia)], producing suffering and insight on the part of the protagonist and surrounding pity and fear on the part of the audience”. Pity and fear are emotional responses of pain and suffering. The effect of a tragedy is that we feel relief in the end though release of emotions [catharsis (κάθαρσις)], and emotional tension is felt. This would be similar to feeling to being relieved after watching a scary movie.

“Oedipus Rex”, written by Sophocles, is believed to be the best classical example of a tragedy. A matter of fact Aristotle claimed it to be perfect, and his ideas on tragedies written in The Poetics were modelled based on the tragedy of Oedipus Rex. Aristotle said for a play to be a tragedy said it must possess these characteristics: 1 – the play has a very well-constructed plot that stimulates the emotions of pity and fear, and achieves catharsis, 2 – the play shows the downfall of an exceptional human being belonging to high value, 3 – the plot involves a reversal of fortune (catastrophe) and a recognition of what has happened, the protagonist suffers because of a hamartia (tragic error), 4 the protagonist’s error is caused by hubris (ηθβρις), a form of pride that goes before a fall.  Also a perfect tragedy can be divided into 7 elements which are Plot, Character, Thought, Diction, Song, and Spectacle. Oedipus Rex uses each one of these elements successfully, and therefore is considered the “perfect tragedy.”

What kept tragedies innovative is that no tragedy followed the same structure entirely. They diverged from the ideal structure in their own way. They did this to keep the stories unique and interesting. We can see evidence of this in modern day films like, Spike Lee’s to do The Right thing.

Spike Lee is using the structures from Ancient Greek Tragedy, in his film “To do the Right Thing”, and can be proved by comparing it to Sophocles, “Oedipus Rex”.

Following the structure of a Greek tragedy, Spike Lee’s Do the right thing is an example of a modern day Greek tragedy because it includes a chorus, Aristotle’s 3 unities, and includes a tragic hero

Argument 1 – Oedipus Rex, and Do the Right Thing BOTH use Aristotle’s 3 unities.

Aristotle crafted three unities or rules for how to make a perfect tragedy. The 1St unity is “the unity of time” which states that the story should not exceed a single day in terms of action. The next, “unity of place” states, there should only be one setting. Last was the “unity of action”, which stated that there should be only one plot action with a beginning, middle and, an end with cause and effect chains incidents. It contains no side stories or subplots that did not directly contribute to the story.

The 3 unities are embedded in Oedipus Rex. The story takes place in front of the palace of Thebes, within a day restriction, and the action involves searching for the identity of the murderer of King Laius. There the action is in one solid motion, with no sub-plots, and a chorus is used to provide and pre-knowledge the audience should know to understand the play correctly. It’s not about him killing his father, or marrying his mom that is tragic, it’s the realization of him finding out the crimes he committed that is tragic.

Similarly, Spike Lee also follows the 3 unities in Do the Right Thing. The span takes place for about 24 hours’ time, Beginning with Mookie counting his money to the following morning where Mooking is receiving his salaray from Sal. The action covers a one block area of Bedford, New York with a street scene, apartment complexes, and the pizzeria. I would even go far to say that the block can be considered a stage. [These places, which represent work, home, and the public arena, are treated as symbolic of the settings in which racial conflict occurs.] There is one solid action that is built around a hot day where racial tension is boiling as does the temperature. This is shown by several cause and effect chain incidents that gradually build up throughout the film. (I.e Hall of Fame, and the boom-box in the pizzeria scenes)

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Argument 2 – They both use a Greek chorus

A Greek chorus is used in drama to entertain the audience, enhance function of the plot, and explain characters and events. Some members of the chorus had spoken interactions with other characters in the play. They comment on characters and situations as these characters appear and as these situations develop in the play. Sometimes as comically, observant, or melodramatic, the chorus basically react to the events onstage. Their reactions can be how the audience should or should not interpret what it is seeing. These can be seen in both “Oedipus Rex”, and “Do the Right Thing”.

In Oedipus Rex the chorus made up of dancers and singers. In this particular play they are elders who represent the community of Thebes. In the play they have 3 main messages to tell the audience. In the beginning the chorus pray to the gods that Thebes be saved from the plague. In the middle, the chorus inquiries into the identity of Laius’ killer. In the end, the chorus comments on the course of the action in the drama.

For example the Chorus at the beginning of the play tells the audience an understanding of what has been going on in the play. “Thebes, city of death, one long cortege and the suffering rises wails for mercy rise and the wild hymn for the Healer blazes out clashing with our sobs our cries of mourning- O golden daughter of god, send rescue radiant as the kindness in your eyes! – Chorus, 211-217 (Fagles)” The chorus lets the audience know the city of Thebes, is under trouble. Not only does it provide commentary, it sets up the next scene.

Old corner guys and the 4 kids, and narrator are the kids.

The Wise-Old man is the ….

The Blind Man is the….

Sal is the? Protagonist

Mookie is protagonist (he sort of plays like a mediator between everyone else – connector)

The way Greek chorus is used in Do the Right Thing is to illustrate social conditions. The characters who are the chorus in this film are the 3 men who are commenting from the street corner. They are not so much individual characters as three voices representing the effects of white racism/underclass culture on the community. Also DJ Mister Senor Love Daddy, acts like a narrator and gives up to date commentary of what’s going on and sets the tone on how the audience should react to it. For example, a quote from the movie, “Mookie: You garlic breath, pizza slinging, spaghetti bending, Vic Damone, Perry Como, Luciano Pavarotti, Sole Mio, non-singing motherfucker.”, “Pino: You gold teeth, gold chain wearing, fried chicken and biscuit eating, monkey, ape, baboon, big thigh, fast running, high jumping, spear chucking, three-hundred-and-sixty-degree basketball dunking, titsun, spade, Moulan Yan. Take your fucking pizza-pizza and go the fuck back to Africa.”, “Stevie: You little slanty eyed, me-no-speaky-American, own-every-fruit-and-vegetable-stand-in-New-York, bullshit, Reverend Sun Myung Moon, Summer Olympics ’88, Korean kickboxing son-of-a-bitch.”, “Officer Long: You Goya bean eating, fifteen-in-a-car, thirty-in-an-apartment, pointed shoes, red wearing, Menudo, meda-meda Puerto Rican cocksucker. Yeah, you!” “Sonny: It’s cheap, I got a good price for you, Mayor Koch, how-I’m-doing, chocolate egg cream drinking, bagel and lox, B’nai B’rith Jew asshole.”, “Mister Señor Love Daddy: Yo! Hold up! Time out! Time out! Y’all take a chill! Ya need to cool that shit out! And that’s the double truth, Ruth!”

In this scene, all the different ethnicities ” in which representatives from the black, white, Korean, Hispanic, Jewish, and other communities are shown making bitter racial comments about each other. The montage functions as a rhetorical pivot around which the remainder of the story turns and is meant both to demonstrate that racism exists in every culture and show its absurdity.

Also there is a lot of music playing in the movie that changes the vibe of the movie — Elaborate of this further. Include how Radio Raheem is blasting his boom-box playing “Fight the power” and why it is significant

— the music comes on in between scenes its sets the mood for the upcoming scene,,,,,,

Chorus comes inbween scenes, talk about what ius going on and they add to the social commentary… racist… etc. – social coommmentary stating their views, they are sort of like the communitys opinion.


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Argument 3 – Both Have Tragic Heroes

Along with Chorus, tragedy includes Tragic Hero’s. The hero is usually the protagonist of the play. The character must be a good person to make the effect of the tragedy work. According to Aristotle, There are 4 features of a tragic hero. 1st The hero had to be at an elevated position (i.e. high-value person like a king) He is good person and respected. In fact the more “good” and “admirable” the character the more catharsis and grief the audience will feel towards the downfall of the character. 2nd the character makes a mistake which causes his reversal, usually this comes from the characters act of hubris. 3rd because of the tragic error the hero experiences a reversal from happy to sad, and finally 4th the character has recognized his own error cause his reversal, and by the time this happens it’s too late to fix. The Hero’s downfall must be a result of some personal error or decision. (Downfall cannot just be bad luck, the hero always must bear some responsibility for his own doom).

Oedipus the King of Thebes is the protagonist of the play. He is highly respected and recognized for saving the city of the Sphinx (quote?) We can see examples of this from how the chorus praised him at the beginning on the play. His major error (Hamartia) that lead him to misfortune was his excess pride (hubris). We can see examples of this hubris when Oedipus kills his father for merely bumping into him on the crossroad, and also when Oedipus tries to change his fate from by the Oracle that he will kill his father and marry his mother. It could be said that Oedipus felt like he was above everyone else including the gods. His reversal of fortune and his recognition happen when he finds out from the messengers, that he was indeed adopted. He recognizes that he himself was the murderer he was searching for this whole time, and the other half of what the oracle said came true, he finds out that he married his mom.

After this to make it even worse, Joscota then hangs herself, and Oedipus blinds his own eyes because he believe that he must suffer as a result of this misfortune. He is kicked out of the city and had lost everything including his children. The audience can’t help but to feel the emotions of pity and fear as we are engaged with the character of Oedipus for most of the play. Catharasis is felt mostly due to the fact that he had no idea he killed his father and married his mother until the discovery scene. The audience knows all of this, and there is tragic irony, which makes the play much more intense as the characters slowly find out the truth.

The character structure in spike lees to do the right thing is similar to one of an ancient Greek play. There is a Tragic Hero, which at first glance would be Mookie, but looking under the lens of Aristotle’s Poetics, the tragic hero in this film is Sal. Sal follows the qualities of a Tragic Hero. Sal’s, a well-respected man in the neighborhood and owned the local pizzeria for over 20 years, while most of the community in Bedford did not even have a job. He was much more finically and socially powerful then most of the characters.

Sal would like his shop to continuing running in the future. He even said that he would like to change the name of the restaurant to “Sal and Son’s” for example. But by his pride “hubris”, he gets into trouble, we can examples of hubris by Sal when through his overly Italian characteristics, as a very proud pizza-shop owner. No one crosses his line, like when Radio Raheem blasts his Boom-Box inside his shop, and when Bugging Out, tells Sal to put a “brother” on the Hall of Fame, because currently it only has pictures of Italians. Sal’s Hubris as an Italian man refused stating it’s his own shop and he can do what he wants. The fatal end result of this hubris is the death of Radio Raheem and Sal’s Pizzeria being burned down which is uncontrollable and the audience can’t help but to feel catharsis. Sal seemed to be a good guy, and had a reversal from good to sad.

The next day, Mookie finds Sal in front of his destroyed pizzeria and demands for his pay-check. Sal then blames Mookie for the place being burned down. His reason was that he threw a garbage, shattering the shop window, and led an entrance for members of the angry community to storm in and destroy the pizzeria in retaliation to the incident. Mookie’s response was basically someone died and that doesn’t compare to the pizzeria being burnt down. Sal accepts responsibility for this error (Hamartia) and the two men show respect for each other.


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