Many things can describe a tragedy. However, according to definition of a tragedy by Aristotle, there are only five. The play has to have a tragic hero, preferably of noble stature. Second, the tragic hero must have a tragic flaw. Because of that flaw, the hero falls from either power or death. Due to the fall, the tragic hero discovers something. Finally, there must be catharsis in the minds of the audience.
Oedipus Rex qualifies as a tragedy. It fits all the characteristics as defined by Aristotle. The tragic hero of a play is a man of some social standing and personal reputation, but sufficiently like ourselves in terms of his weaknesses that we feel fear and pity when a tragic flaw, rather than an associate, causes his downfall. Oedipus is the tragic hero in this play for many reasons. Even though he does not know it, he fulfills the oracle’s prophecy by killing his father, Laius, and then sleeping with his mother, Jocasta. His father was just a tragic mistake. Oedipus thought that the person he killed was just a random person that was harassing him.
Oedipus definitely has a tragic flaw; it is his quickness to take a position and stubborn adherence in spite of personal hazard. Oedipus makes decisions publicly for all to hear, making reconsideration difficult for a proud person such as himself. When Creon returns with information from the oracle concerning the ills of Thebes and wishes to tell Oedipus privately, as we learn later that it could be bad news for Oedipus. Oedipus tells Creon, Let them all hear it. It is for them I suffer, more than for myself. This was the first time that Oedipus is confronted with the idea that he might have fulfilled the prophecy. He is the one that is named as the killer of Laius. Oedipus directs any inhabitant of Thebes that know of any facts of Laius’ murder to come forward without fear of reprisal, concurrently forbidding the withholding of information.
Oedipus reaffirms his stand to avenge the murdered king promising the consequences do not diminish because of one’s position: And as for me, this curse applies no less If it should turn out that the culprit is my guest here, Sharing my hearth. Oedipus has said all of this before knowing any evidence. If he had just one clue that he could have been the unwitting culprit, would he have acted differently? As a strongly principled man, Oedipus, like Socrates when faced with compromising his principles, chooses death over compromise. When Oedipus realizes he may in fact be the culprit, he says You are aware, I hope, that what you say means death for me, or exile at the least.
Oedipus’s quickness to take a position causes him to gouge his own eyes out and lose his power. It also costs Oedipus his wife and mother, along with his kids. No one will marry his daughter, because she has come from an incestuous marriage. Since no on e will marry his daughter, and his wife killed herself, Oedipus gouges out his own eyes in order to no be able to see what the world has done too him. The only problem is the fact that almost all of the Thebes know what he did, so they know that he killed Laius.
Oedipus discovers that he has to do something to recover from his fall from power. The chorus cannot believe that even a great man like Oedipus, was brought low by destiny. He abdicates the thrown to Creon, and asks him to take care of his kids, and Creon agrees. He tells his kids to have a better life than he did. He feels that he is messing up his kids’ life more than his own, especially his daughter. He thinks that no man in the world would marry her because of her incestuous birth.
From the audience’s standpoint, they can take away many meanings from this play. In the times when this play was written, the audience believed that the gods controlled what was going to happen to them. It was their destiny. Oedipus Rex proves to strengthen their belief in the gods. This is done by Oedipus fulfilling everything that was prophesized for him to do. Laius and Jocasta sent Oedipus to his death, but the Shepard couldn’t do it. Oedipus then hears the prophecy in Corinth, and flees. On his subsequent journey, he kills his father, comes to Thebes, and marries his mother.