Character Sketch of Oedipus in Oedipus Rex

Aristotle considers tragic hero as a person holding high position in life, who falls into misfortune because of some weakness or fault in his character. Aristotle says that a tragic hero should be a ‘good’ person, but not a ‘perfect’ one. Similarly, he should also not be an utter villain. It means a tragic hero is neither a paragon nor a scoundrel.

Oedipus is a king who possesses good qualities of character. He is a good king, a great well-wisher of his people, an honest and great administrator and an outstanding intellect. So he is very fit to be a hero of tragedy. He has a great respect for his family. He is always ready to sacrifice himself for the well-being of his family. He is a good son, good husband and a good father. Similarly, he believes in the prophecies of gods and prophets. As a king, he is always ready to serve his people and helps them in all possible means.

However, Oedipus is not a ‘perfect’ person; he has his faults. He is hot-tempered, hasty in his judgment and very proud of his intelligence. We see him quickly getting angry with Teiresias because he thinks that Teiresias had conspired against him. Such kind of hasty behaviour is unbecoming for the king like Oedipus. Even his treatment of Creon is not acceptable. He hurriedly reaches to the conclusion that Creon, his brother-in-law, must have planned to dethrone him by calling him the murderer of King Laius. Oedipus is also a person of excessive pride in his own wisdom. That is why he looks down upon Teiresias for his failure to solve the riddle of Sphinx. In fact, it is because of his pride that Oedipus losses much of the sympathy of the audience.

Oedipus has already committed the crimes which make him sinner in the eyes of the gods, in his own eyes, and in the eyes of other people. It was so because he had killed his father and married his mother. But it would be wrong to say that Oedipus suffered because of his sin of pride. When he came to know about his fate from the oracle, he tried his utmost to avoid the fulfilment of the prophecies. It was completely in a state of ignorance that he killed his father and married his mother. His tragedy is a tragedy of error, not of any willful action. However, if he would not have been so proud and behaved a little more carefully, it would have been possible for him to avoid his quarrel with King Laius. But his pride did not allow him to think calmly and made him commit the great sin.

It is certain that his pride plays a vital role in the tragedy of Oedipus. But it is also true that chance was equally responsible for his tragedy. From the beginning, it is seen that Oedipus was driven by chance. For example, it was just by chance that he came to the place where three streets met and got involved in a quarrel with King Laius. This chance meeting resulted in the murder of Laius. Further, it was again by chance that Oedipus comes to Thebes and solves the riddle of Sphinx. As a result, he was offered kingship of Thebes and then he married to Jocasta. All these chance happenings led him to commit the greatest of all crimes. Naturally, he was destined to be punished for his crimes.

The above discussion shows that King Oedipus has all the qualities to be the hero of a tragedy. He is a character which falls prey to his pride and also to the powerful hands of destiny. The error he commits due to his excessive pride leads him hurriedly towards his downfall. But it should also be remembered that Oedipus was more a puppet in the hands of his destiny who takes a vicious turn that destroys him completely.

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