Oedipus: The Perfect Tragic Hero Essay, Research Paper
When there is the mention of a hero in literature, the image of a tall, strong man on a pure colored horse, with a sword drawn and the shield held up, crying out to his men the honor and good they will bring in defense of their homeland, may come to mind. This, though, is not the image Sophocles gives to Oedipus, yet Oedipus is considered a true hero. Even if he is not depicted as a great war hero, or one who does some great deed to the benefit of humanity, he is the image of the perfect tragic hero, having normal, imperfect qualities, yet facing the consequences of his actions with dignity.
Oedipus’ personality is clearly demonstrated throughout the play. The first quality he shows is his love toward his people: “I grieve for you, my children… And while you suffer, none suffers more than I.” Yes, there are moments when Oedipus turns to rage, such as when he is accused by the blind prophet, Teiresias, as the killer of the former king, Laius, or when hears from a drunkard that Polybus is not his real father. But he cares about his people so much, he digs relentlessly to find the truth, even after he realizes the killer is himself.
He also seeks the truth, never hiding anything he knew, nor covering up what he had done in the effort to save his own life. After Jocasta tells him what was said to her about the death of Laius, Oedipus remembers what had happened in his travel to Thebes and immediately tells it to his wife, even though the story puts the blame of Laius’ death on him. Then afterwards, a messenger declares Polybus the false father of Oedipus and tells him of his past. Jocasta realizes where this is headed and tries to make Oedipus stop, but Oedipus insists on learning the truth. Despite the repeated warnings from the shepherd that was brought in, Oedipus finally learns the complete truth.
Oedipus’ perseverance to find the truth leads to the punishment he himself pronounced. Instead of hiding his sins, like many probably would have done, he faced the consequences of his actions. He accepted them without a single whimper, and for that he is the perfect tragic hero.
Oedipus is the tragic hero and main character of Sophocles’ play. He is the cause of many deaths and sufferings, whether directly or indirectly inflicting them. At the start of the play, Oedipus is depicted as a loving king, taking good care of his people and doing whatever he can to ease their pains. After realizing his mistakes and suffering the consequences, he became even more humble and kind, but with weak spirit and mind. He had a short temper and flared out with suspicion and distrust. This occurred first when Teiresias accused him of killing, and later when Oedipus suspected both Creon and the blind prophet of plotting against him. However, throughout the whole play, one aspect of his personality was clear: his endless ambition to find the truth. Even when it finally dawned on him that he truly was the son and killer of Laius and the son of his wife, he just had to gather the last piece of the great puzzle to satisfy himself.
Jocasta is the wife of Oedipus, but also, with such ironic cruelty, his mother. She breaks up the quarrel between Oedipus and Creon, and later assures Oedipus he is not the killer of Laius. Jocasta is very incredulous. She had learned about the fate of her newborn son and had sent the poor child to die. When the story is told that Laius was killed by robbers, she stops believing all that the prophets and oracles say, since her son did not kill his father as prophesized, and so she uses this line of reasoning to comfort Oedipus. However, Jocasta suddenly becomes a hypocrite, turning completely around and presenting herself in front of the temples of the gods, especialy Apollo’s, in an effort to calm Oedipus down.
Creon is the brother of Queen Jocasta and, unfortunately, both brother-in-law and uncle of Oedipus. He was sent to the oracles at Delphi to try to find out what had to be done to rid Thebes of the plague. He was accused by Oedipus of trying to overthrow him when he declared Oedipus the killer of Laius. Creon is usually calm and quiet. When he and Oedipus had the heated argument over who killed Laius, Creon calmly reasoned with him, saying he was quite comfortable where he was, influencing the rule while being relieved of all the responsibilities of kingship. Creon was very kind and forgiving toward Oedipus after he suffered the emotional shock of Jocasta’s death and the physical shock of his self-inflicted blindness. He listened to Oedipus’ requests for the care of his daughters and eventually the final one of exiling him from Thebes.
Teiresias is the blind prophet who denounces Oedipus as the killer of Laius. His qualities are characteristic of all prophets: he has a potent knowledge of the future, thanks to Apollo and his oracles, and denounces others in an almost indifferent attitude. He simply says Oedipus himself is the killer and then unemotionally listens to Oedipus’ raging accusations of plotting against him and his throne. He prophesies that Oedipus will be turned blind, carry a stick around with him, and be cast off from the land a beggar, which, of course, turned out to be true.
The Greeks loved irony. They were especially fond of dramatic irony, which is the kind of irony where the audience knows more than the characters do. The audience came into the theater knowing the play, due to the myths and legends that circulated throughout their culture. Still, this did not detract from enjoying the play, since the audience would often find themselves at the edge of their stone benches.
The first hint of irony was given when Creon returned from his mission to see the oracles at Delphi, apparently bringing good news to Thebes: in order to get rid of the plague all they had to do was find the killer of Laius and banish him from the land. The audience knows this is not actually good news, at least not to Oedipus, since he is the killer. However, the first true example of dramatic irony was when Oedipus pronounces the punishment for whomever the killer of Laius was. Since no one had come forward as the killer, Oedipus assures his people he will pursue the investigation of Laius’ death “as I would fight / For my own father,” but the audience knows Laius really was his father.
Later, after Jocasta stops Creon and Oedipus’ bickering, she asks the chorus what happened. They reply, “Ask not / Again; enough our stricken country’s shame. / To let this other rest / Where it remains, were best,” in other words, “Don’t ask any more. There might be some problems later.” Yet Jocasta followed her husband’s wishes to see the shepherd, only to find out he was the one whom her son was given to.
In an attempt to help Oedipus in his quest for truth, Jocasta goes to the holy temples of the gods. She asks Apollo to save them from the curse. Apollo, though, was the one who prophesized Oedipus’ fate of killing his father and marrying his mother. Apollo certainly was not going improve matters for Jocasta or Oedipus.
The Grecian plays of Sophocles’ time observed three basic unties, in order to enhance the use of irony: the unity of time, the unity of setting, and the unity of character. Oedipus Rex was no exception.
Oedipus Rex observed the Unity of Time by only portraying the play’s events within a day. The history behind Oedipus’ birth is not in the play itself since it is assumed the audience already knows it. The play continues uninterrupted throughout. Toward the end of the play Creon mentions “the sun above us,” perhaps still indicating there is still light outside.
The Unity of Setting is clearly shown. All scenes occur in front of the King’s Palace. The people of Thebes gather there at the start of the play, and even the temples where Jocasta goes are found right outside the palace doors. When Oedipus was summoned to hear the messenger’s news he came out through the doors of the palace instead of leading them inside. The attendant goes outside from the palace to describe what had just taken place inside to the chorus, whom represented the people of Thebes. In the end, Oedipus is not immediately sent away from Thebes. Instead, he is led into his own home, the palace.
The most obvious use of the three unties was the Unity of Character. Oedipus, and only Oedipus, is the sole main character. The whole play revolves around him. If it was not for him there would not be a play, if any less was not possible. Even if he was not the main character, at least his personality had to be used. It was his ambition for the truth that led him from one thing to another into the final realization of his mistakes. Furthermore, it was his acceptance of his consequences that made him a tragic hero.