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Oedipus Rex as a Tragedy

Oedipus Rex by Sophocles

Central Concept – Oedipus Rex as a Tragedy

The conception of tragedy that seems central to Oedipus Rex is that of human suffering which arises in a mysterious way. They partly out of man’s own action and which, when faced manfully, exalts the human suffers to a level little below that of the gods. The Sophocles hero is a man of a strong personality, great initiative, and a very strong sense of self-respect. The plot of a typical Sophocles tragedy is tight and well integrated. Although the dramatist makes skillful use of character contrast, in general, the tragedies are dominated by a single figure. The chorus is kept in the background in so far as the action of the drama is concerned. But it plays an indispensable part in the evocation of the desired mood and atmosphere. One of the richest features of Sophocles tragedy is his masterly use of tragic irony.

TWhat is the basic plot of Oedipus?

Aristotle singled out the plot of Oedipus Rex for the highest praise. Since his time the greatest superlatives have been used for the plot of the tragedy. Coleridge was another critic who valued the plot of Oedipus Rex very high, for he placed it among the three best-constructed plots in the world. One may go even further and say that no work of literary art can ever hope to equal the master. That’s what Sophocles has here displayed in the handling of the plot. The most noteworthy feature of the plot of this play is its sheer inevitability.

Each incident arises quite logically out of the one that has gone before. Aristotle’s test that no incident should be capable of being deleted or exposed without detriment to the play here is perfectly applicable. Again reversal and recognition here are an integral part of the plot. The resolution is expected and yet full of unbearable suspense. The plot has also been described as that of a typical detective story. The main action is the discovery of the murderer of Laius. Although that itself is secondary to the eradiation of the plague from the city, which can be done only by the expulsion of the murderer. (Reading: Oedipus Rex as a Tragedy)

Establishment of Justice

The working out of the plot seems to establish justice at the highest level. “The real instruments by which fate works, are men’s unbridled passion; it strikes down the murderer by the murdered, and punishes the crime by the crime. But justice appears beyond and above these furious impulses. And, directs them, despite themselves, to that mysterious goal towards which it tends”. The recognition that is made by Oedipus is that of man’s insignificance and the undependability of human happiness. This recognition is affirmed not only by Oedipus is that of man’s insignificance and the undependability of human happiness. This recognition is affirmed not only by Oedipus himself but also by the chorus.


Oedipus is superhuman, yet the play possesses universality Patricide and incest are not common actions. Yet the delusion of happiness, and the committing of unwitting crimes, it’s a universal theme. The element of universality is enhanced by the presence of some of the other characters, notably Jocasta, Creon, and the chorus. Oedipus also wishes to know who he is and this theme of the quest for identity has great universal relevance. Oedipus is a symbol of man, who is elated by good fortune, only to be disappointed all the more when that good fortune gives place to disaster. It is because of the universal element in Oedipus tragedy that the chorus holds him as an example before others. In fact, they do so more than once first they express this just after Oedipus has discovered his identity and parentage. They exclaim:

Show me the man whose happiness was anything more than an illusion
Followed by disillusion
Here is
the instance, here is Oedipus, there is the reason
Why I will call no mortal creature pappy

The second occasion is at the end of the play when the chorus sing the exude, the exit ode:

Sons and daughter of Thebes, behold this was Oedipus,
Greatest of men, he held the key to the deepest mysteries

Pity and Terror

According to Aristotle, tragedy arouses pity and terror and through these brings about catharsis or purgation. Although there is great controversy about the real meaning of catharsis, there is no doubt that the story of the fall of Oedipus is full of great pity and terror. Through these emotions, were being made to think deeply about human life. Pity and terror are abused also by the fact that Oedipus efforts to avoid living with his parents, so that he may not commit the crimes of incest and parricide, bring him to his parents, home he might otherwise have never met.

Other instances of tragic irony also produce pity and terror, e.g. the efforts of Jocasta and the Corinthian Messenger to soothe Oedipus’s fears. These efforts only increase his perturbation by telling him that Laius was killed at a place where three roads meet exactly the place where Oedipus killed an elderly man. The man who very much resembles Jocasta’s description of Laius. The Corinthian Messenger only succeeds in proving that polys were not the oracle concerning parricide as thought by both Jocasta and Oedipus. The Theban shepherd who took pity on Oedipus and saved his life is now found to have done the greatest cruelty to him. PIty and terror are aroused also by the fate of Jocasta.

Characer of Fate

Fate plays a part in the tragedy of Oedipus. Oedipus is certainly the victim of adverse chances and in this sense, fate plays a part in his tragedy. Another view is that the action of Oedipus Rex moves in two places at the same time. On one plane Oedipus is a completely free agent. While on the other he is a helpless puppet in the hands of the gods. Yet on the whole the play must be classified as a tragedy of character. As one says, what happens to Oedipus is the natural result of his virtues and vices, which combine with those of other people. It is a tragic chapter from life complete in itself, except for the original oracle and its repetition. Sophocles is not trying to make us feel that an inexorable destiny or a malignant god is guiding the events.

Oedipus Rex – Moral Wisdom

Does the Oedipus cycle end? Traditionally, Oedipus Rex has been regarded as a play, which enshrines much moral wisdom. Although the wisdom itself has been identified variously. One view is that the play teaches man to restrain himself within the range of his finite qualities and not to view with the gods. What Oedipus ultimately attains is elf knowledge of a very bitter type of this knowledge applies to all humanity.

This knowledge cures him of his earlier conceit that he is all-knowing. The play makes it evident that for Oediupus if for no one else, self-knowledge s an appalling and humbling experience. There is, at first sight, no universal meaning discernible here. Oedipus has a singular past to learn about and there will always be readers to say that this has nothing to do with them. There was moreover, a commonly accepted way of understanding the phrase:

“Know your limitations, especially in relations to the gods, and stay sophrosyne. A word usually best translated as modesty or self-restraint.”

Other than that, people also ask questions about What are the three parts of Oedipus Rex? and How many plays are in the Oedipus cycle? You can find the answers to these questions about Oedipus Rex in the additional articles at Fictionistic.

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