Aristotelian Tragedy


Aristotelian Tragedy Essay, Research Paper

One may argue that the Greek playwright, Sophocles modeled his play Oedipus Rex on Aristotle’s definition and analysis of tragedy. Since according to Aristotle’s definition, a tragedy is an imitation of action that is serious, complete and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished artistic ornaments, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not narrative with incidents that evokes pity and fear of a persons emotions. Also Aristotle identified the basic six parts a tragedy as being plot, character, thought, melody, diction and spectacle which he considered the least important. Therefore the controversy of Sophocles modeling his play Oedipus Rex on Aritotle’s analysis of tragedy can be argued out since the play Oedipus Rex is a classic Aristotelian tragedy. However this conception is totally fallacious since it is a well known fact that Aristotle lived a century after Sophocles.

According to Aristotle’s explanation of character, a basic element in every tragedy, he defines character as what makes as “ascribe certain moral qualities to agents” ( Sophocles 240). The issue of character is evident in the protagonist, King Oedipus, in the play Oedipus Rex. Using King Oedipus in the play as an ideal model it can be deduced that he is very rash and makes very hasty decisions. For example his rashness can be seen from manner in which he pronounces judgement on the person responsible for the plague of the city of Thebes after Creon returns from consulting with the Delphic Oracle. He pronounces judgement on no other person but himself since he is the cause of all the city’s woes. His hastiness can also be seen in the manner in which he forces Teiresias to reveal his destiny and father’s name even though the seer warns him by saying that this day will give him his parents and at the same time destroy him.

Also, Aristotle’s description of thought can be found in Sophocles Tragedy, Oedipus Rex. From Aristotle’s definition, the element of thought is “the power of saying what ever can be said for the occasion or what is appropriate for the occasion ” (Sophocles 240). Thought is also shown in the things one says when proving a point. For example when King Oedipus in the play accuses Creon of conspiring with Tiresias to take his crown when he lashes out to Creon that ” thou knowst , if this Tiresias Had not combined with thee, he would not thus Accuse me as the murderer of Liaus” (Sophocles 261).

The most essential part of the play from Aristotle’s point of view is the plot. The part of the story which puzzling, contains the tragic flaw or fate of the agent and the fall of the agent that evokes pity and fear from the audience. Oedipus in the play is a tragic hero since he has a tragic flaw that leads to his fall. According to Aristotle the general plot of tragedy is that the hero should be of great influence who moves through a reversal of good fortune to misfortune due to a result of a tragic flaw or fate . For example consider the position of King Oedipus at the beginning of the play and at the end of the play. Also Oedipus has no control of his fate since he change fate which is that he is he is destined to kill his father and marry his mother. Aristotle further explains that a tragic hero in the plot must be of noble birth who makes an error of judgement and must suffer the consequences of his action. Hence Oedipus ends up gorging out his eyes at the end of the play due to his the road rage which cuased him to kill his father. Also Aristotle’s idea of a complex plot is found in the play Oedipus Rex. Complex plots have recognitions and revesrsals. A reversal is a change from of a situation to the opposite. In the play Oedipus Rex, consider how the shepherd who comes to free Oedipus about his fear of parentage actually does the opposite. Suffering which is also a part of an Aristotelian tragedy is show in how Oedipus ends up miserable in the end as a poor blind man

The other three elements of tragedy as defined by Aristotle that is Melody, Diction and Spectacle can all be traced in the play. With regards to Melody Sophocles makes the chorus know the story line of the play hence making it very easy for the audience to understand the play. Diction that is the style of Oedipus and spectacle which includes the visual effects and stage appearance makes the audience appreciate the play wholeheartedly.

Therefore from the manner in which the Sophocles’ play Oedipus Rex contains all the six basic elements of poetics: plot, character, melody, diction, thought and spectacle, Oedipus Rex can be described as a classic Aristotelian Targedy.


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