Oedipus as a Tragedy by Aristotle’s DefinitionA tragedy by definition is “a drama which recounts an important and casually related series of events in the life of a person of significance, such events culminating in an unhappy catastrophe, the whole treated with great dignityand seriousness”. The Greek tragedies are plays based on myths which were well known and enjoyed by audiences. Most of the plays encompassed certain elements that Aristotle identified in his Poetics.

The five Aristotelian elements for a tragedy are: 1. The tragedy must make the audience feel fear and pity toward theactions that take place on stage, and the play should inspire the audience to live better lives; 2. The hero must be of high importance in his society (king, god, etc.), and possess a tragic flaw; 3.

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There must be a change of fortune involving a reversal; 4. The plays must be written in the formal language of poetry; 5. The plot must bring together the three unites of, Action, Time, and Place. Also, it isgenerally accepted that most tragedies end unhappily and contain a significant amount of dramatic irony. Oedipus the King, written by Sophocles in the 400’s BC, is about a young Greek who was fated to murder his father, marry his mother, and while in the process become the king of Thebes. This play is no exception to Aristotles’ definition of a tragedy.

The play includes all the key elements of a Greek tragedy,and also contains all the parts of a Greek play such as a Prologue, a Parados, an Episoda and Stasima, as well as an Exodus. In the prologue, Oedipus is introduced as the King of Thebes (which means he has a very high role in his society) and has just learned the reason that his kingdom has been cursed with a devastating plague. The gods have cursed Thebes because the murderer of the former King, Laius, was never punished. Oedipus vows to avenge the death of Laius by finding and killing the murderer. This is ironic because Oedipus is the killer of Laius, and the audience knows this because they are already familiar with mythological background. This type of irony is known as dramatic irony, which is an important element in any Greek tragedy.

The reversal in this play is most definitely when Oedipus hopes that his investigation of Laius’ murderer will bring him and hiskingdom happiness; when in fact, the complete opposite of this transpires and the conclusion is catastrophic. The plot itself follows Aristotle’s’ characteristics of the unity of Action, Time, and Place. The action is unquestionably a series of closely related events because all of the main incidents sequentially occur one right after the other. The plot’s time is most definitely within 24 hours, and the setting does occur in the same place (in the palace of Thebes).

The other two elements that Aristotle includes in his definition of tragedy are: the language of the drama, andwhether or not the drama evokes feelings of fear or pity for the action that is taking place on stage. I’m sure that Oedipus the King made the audience feel pity for Oedipus, and the play probably did inspire the audience to live a better life. The play is written in the formal style of a poetry. In conclusion, Oedipus the King follows all of the characteristics of a tragedy by Aristotle’s definition. Including the fact that a tragedy uses direct action to recount a myth rather than a narrative voice.

Finally, the end of the action is clearly unhappy which is probably the most important element of alltragedies.


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