Tragic Flaws of Oedipus Rex Essay


The designation of Oedipus’tragic flawdiffers from reader to reader and from critic to critic. Some critics are of the position that inordinate haughtiness and assurance of Oedipus is the chief cause of his calamity. He harbors undue intuitions against Tiresias and Creon ; in one topographic point he goes so far as to show some uncertainness about the prophetic natures of prophets and truth of their prognostications. It is barely likely that even a combination of all these would be equal to what Aristotle considered to be a serioustragic flaw.and it would non be really relevant to the point at issue even if he did. for Oedipus has committed incest and parricide old ages before the action of the drama began. and before he exhibited any of the weakness mentioned above.

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It would barely be logical to state that the Gods punished Oedipus for a offense which he was to perpetrate many yearss subsequently. Another position is that the present weaknesss of Oedipus may be taken to agencies that he was he was ever like that. and his calamity comes due some built-in or unconditioned unsoundness in his character. However we get no indicant of this in the drama. One critic spell to the extent that Oedipus has no tragic defect. [ 1 ] Whereas Know ( 1984 ) is of the position thar Oedious’ calamity takes topographic point due to tragic defect [ s ] and destiny has no portion to play inOedious Rex.

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Tragic Flaw and its Different Manifestations:

The construct of the tragic hero that we gather from Aristotle’sPoeticssis that he is a extremely esteemed and comfortable adult male who falls into bad luck because of some serioustragic flawi. e. tragic defect. Aristotle gives the illustration of Oedipus and Thyestes. which means that harmonizing to him. it was Oedipus’tragic flawthat was straight responsible for his autumn. Although the significance oftragic flawis far from certain. its most frequent applications is in the sense of false moral judgement. or even strictly rational mistakes. Among Greeks no crisp differentiation between the two existed. It is by and large believed that harmonizing to Aristotle thetragic flawoff Oedipus consists in some moral mistakes and it has been tried to place assorted moral mistakes in Oedipus.

Distinguished Professor Butcher has identified four possible scope of significance of Aristotle‘s Hamartia i. e. tragic defect. The foremost of these intensions is an mistake due to ineluctable ignorance of fortunes whereas an mistake caused by unknowingness of conditions that might hold been identified and for that ground to some extent morally blamable is another manifestation of the sense in which the termtragic flawwas used by Aristotle.

The 3rd sense is “A mistake or mistake where the act is witting and knowing. but non consider. Such Acts of the Apostless are committed in choler or passion. ” Where as 4th one is “A mistake of character distinct. on the one manus. from an stray mistake. and. on the other. from the frailty which has its place in the perverse will…a defect of character that is non tainted with a barbarous intent. ” [ 2 ] This essay will seek to analyse all these manifestation of tragic defects present in the character of Oedipus in Oedipus Rex.

The important point is that whether Sophocles wants us to believe that Oedipus has fundamentally unsound character. One manner of make up one’s minding this inquiry is to analyze what other characters in the dramas say about Oedipus. The lone consequence that we can get at in this manner is that Sophocles intends us to see Oedipus an basically baronial individual. In the opening scene of the drama. the priest of Zeus refers to him as the greatest and noblest of work forces and the divinely divine Jesus who saved Thebes from being destroyed by the Sphinx. The Chorus besides considers him to be baronial and virtuous. They refuse to believe in Tireseas accusals of him. When calamity befalls Oedipus. non a individual character in the drama justifies it as a day of reckoning which has deservedly overtaken Oedipus. ( Dodds. p. 39 ) So there were certain other tragic defects that were moving behind the drape to convey about Oedipus calamity.

Oedipus’ inordinate Pride and Obsession with Intelligence ;

Oedipus seems to be obsessed with his ain intelligence and this leads him to really unfortunate and uncomfortable state of affairss. This tragic defect of Oedipus laps over with his pride as he is highly proud of the fact that he was able to work out the conundrum of the Sphinx which had proved excessively much for any other individual. He thinks that Gods has capacitated him with intelligence and wisdom to work out conundrum that the Thebes is afflicted with. Oedipus even taunts Tireseas on his inability in work outing the Sphinx’s conundrum. He says ;

And where were you. when the Dog-faced Witch was here?

Have you any word of rescue so for our people?

There was a riddle excessively deep for common marbless ;

A visionary should hold answered it. but answer there came none

From you… . . ( 12-16 )

After naming the forecaster false prophesier. Oedipus boasts of his ain accomplishment in holding solved the at a loss which proved excessively much for the unsighted visionary ;

Until I came—I. nescient Oedipus. came—

And stopped the riddler’s oral cavity. thinking he truth

By mother-wit. non bird-lore. ( 17-19 )

So he describes Tireseas prognostic cautiousnesss as the caprices of a overzealous and opposes the seer’s prognostication with statements of his ain. Assurance and pride in his ain wisdom is an outstanding characteristic of his character that besides brings his calamity. Here Oedipus fulfills the traits of Aristotelean tragic hero as he possesses a baronial tragic defect. The adult male who sets out on his new undertaking by directing foremost for the venerable visionary is non missing in pious fear ; but we besides observe that Oedipus manifests unrestrained haughtiness in his ain rational accomplishment.

No visionary found the solution. this is Oedipus self-praise ; no bird. no God revealed it to him. he “the utterly ignorant” had to come on his ain and hit the grade by his ain humor. This is a justified pride but it amounts excessively much. This pride and assurance induce Oedipus to contemn prognostication and experience about superior to the Gods. He state the people who pray for rescue from poignancy and wretchednesss they are afflicted with if they listen to and follow his advice in order to acquire a redress.

Compulsion with truth:

Last his grim chase of the truth is demonstrated when he believes he is the liquidator and that Polybus was non his male parent. yet he continues with his hunt with the statement. “I must prosecute this trail to the terminal. ” ( p. 55 ) . These features were merely fuel to the fire and added to the pride created a blazing that consumed him. Bernard Knox eulogizes Oedipus’ “dedication to truth. whatever the cost” ( p. 117 )

Oedipus Thoroughness ;

Another features of his character that contributes toward his calamity is Oedipus’ hankering for thoroughness. His speculative nature is non content with anything which is either halfhearted or uncomplete. Nor can he digest any hold. He damns that the way of the prophet should be given consequence at one time. As earlier. Oedipus speaks on the footing of the workings of his ain mental modules that has been tested clip and once more and have proved their intelligence.

Oedipus’ Goodness ;

It can be said that the calamity of Oedipus is the consequence more of his good qualities than his bad 1s. It is his love for Thebes which makes him direct Creon to Delphi to confer with the Oracles. It is the same attention for his topics which makes him proclaim a prohibition and a expletive on the liquidator of Laius. It is his absolute honestness which makes him include even himself within the expletive and the penalty.

He is angry with Tireseas because he is unable to digest the fact that although the prophesier says that he cognize who the liquidator of Laius is. he refuses top give the information to the male monarch. His fury and heedlessness is due to the fact that the multitudes are enduring and Tireseas does non supply the murderer’s name. Oedipus can non but see this as a clear manifestation of the seer’s disloyalty to his metropolis.

To Oedipus the find of truth is more of import than his ain good and safety. Even when it seems that the probe that he is transporting on will non bring forth any consequence which will be him. he decides to transport on with it. He is so honorable with himself that he inflicts the penalty of self-blinding and ostracism from the metropolis of Thebes. So his moral goodness besides seems as a tragic defect that brings his ruin.

He replies by stating “Sick as you are. non one is ill as I. each of you suffers in himself…but my spirit Groans for the metropolis. for myself. for you” . ( 62-62 )

Intellectual Blindness:

Some critics are of the position that major tragic defect of Oedipus is his rational nearsightedness. He has a limited vision and is unable to measure the state of affairss in a right position. Robert L. Kane ( 1975 ) puts this preposition in this manner ; “He [ Oedipus ] was the victim of an optical illusion” . ( p. 196 ) The apposition between “outward impressiveness and inward sightlessness of Oedipus and the outward sightlessness and inward sight of the prophet” ( Kirkwood. p. 130 ) depicts two types of sightlessness i. e. physical and rational. One is related to physical sight whereas the other. the most baneful type of sightlessness. pertains to insight. Tiresias is physically unsighted but whereas Oedipus is blind intellectually. This intelectual blinness of Oedipus besides contribute greatly to take him to his tragic finish.

Oedipus possesses immaculate physical vision throughout drama except in the terminal but he remains blind to the world sing himself. At one point in the drama. he has the ability to see but he is non willing to make so. He rational vision comes with his physical loss of sight but he is unable to project away the psychological “slings and arrows” and mental agonies that rational sightlessness has afflicted on him. So his sightlessness. both rational at the start of the drama and physical at the terminal of the twenty-four hours. is the worst.

Blindness interweaves with the chief secret plan from the really start of the drama when Oedipus says. “I would be blind to misery non to feel for my people kneeling at my pess. ( 14 ) ” It manifest that he refers to blindness that if H will non acknowledge the hurt of his people.

This shows his physical sight but rational sightlessness as he himself was the cause of those afflictions. Subsequently he acknowledges that although Tiresias is physically unsighted but has prophetic power when he says. “Blind as you are. you can experience all the more what illness haunts our metropolis. ( 344 ) ” . Tiresias response refers to the gravitation of Oedipus’ inability to see his hereafter. He says. “How awful – to see the truth when the truth is merely hurting to him who sees! ( 359 ) ”

Subsequently on Oedipus denounces his ain recognition of Tiresias as a visionary and abuses him by stating. “You’ve lost your power. stone-blind. profoundly deaf – senses. eyes blind as rock! ( 423 ) ” and “Blind. lost in the dark. endless dark that nursed you! You can’t ache me or anyone else who sees the visible radiation – you can ne’er touch me. ( 425 ) ” . It is illustrated that it is Oedipus who is blind intellectually as he is non willing to grok the state of affairs and to understand the truth. In rejoinder to his slur. Tiresias refers to pip signifier of sightlessness that Oedipus is enduring. He says. “You with your cherished eyes. you’re blind to the corruptness of your life. to the house you live in. those who live with – who are your parents? ( 470 ) ” and foretell. “Blind who now has eyes. mendicant who now is rich. he will fumble his manner toward a foreign dirt. a stick tapping before him step by measure. ( 517 ) ” .

These supportive texts clearly manifest that Oedipus was afflicted with terrible rational nearsightedness as he was unable T see the truth that was permeant all around him. Actually he was unwilling to see truth around him. prior to his physical sightlessness and afterwards as he blinds himself non to detect the things around him. His is the most insidious signifier of sightlessness. Kirkwood says in this respect ;

The contrast

Oedipus Sluggishness ;

Oedipus can be held guilty due to another tragic flaw—his inability to take appropriate preventative steps. It is said that he fails to take logical stairss and safeguard s which would hold saved him from perpetrating the offenses.

“Could non Oedipus…have escaped his day of reckoning if he had been more careful? Knowing that he was in danger of perpetrating parricide and incest. would non truly a prudent adult male have avoided quarrelling. even in self-defence and besides love-relations with adult females older than himself? … existent life I suppose he might. But we non entitled to fault Oedipus either for sloppiness neglecting to roll up a manus list or deficiency of self-denial in neglecting to obey its injunctions. ” ( Dodds. p. 40 )

Anger and Rashness:

Oedipus has necessary human weaknesss. One of them is that he rashly leaps into decisions. Choragos points this out in scene II after a long address by Creon who tries o take the underfed and hurriedly formed intuitions of Oedipus about Creon. They say. “Judgments excessively rapidly formed are dangerous” ( II. 101 )

But Oedipus justifies this. reasoning that swayer have to take speedy determination. He says subsequently on. “But is he non quick in his fraudulence? / And shall I non be speedy to block him? ” ( II. 102-103 ) Subsequently at the decision of scene II. Creon indicates the same tragic defect in his character by stating. “Ugly in giving. as you were ugly in fury! / Nature like yours chiefly tortures themselves. ” ( II. 151-152 )

It is this heedlessness that makes to non simply fishy Creon but accuse him and even declares that he deserves the sentence of decease. The heedlessness can be observed in his intervention of Tireseas. Oedipus does non miss analytical thought but his heedlessness does allow him to weigh up the state of affairs justly and he makes headlong determination. In retrospect we see that heedlessness of Oedipus has something to make with the slaying Laius at the custodies of Oedipus. The self-blinding besides is an act of heedlessness although Oedipus attempts t give several statements in favour of it. Some critics regard this heedlessness of Oedipus to be his tragic defect.

His bad disposition is demonstrated in the bicker between Teiresias and himself. where Teiresias utter the prophetic truth and Oedipus rejoinders. “Do you think you can state such things with impunity? ” and subsequently attributes him as a. “Shameless and brainless. sightless. mindless drunkard! ” ( p. 36 ) . His character is farther marked with intuition about Creon to whom he considers as a plotter. Kirkwood is of the position that “The Creon he [ Oedipus ] is combating is a figment of his imagination” ( Kirkwood. 1958. p. 132 ) and nil else. He says with mention his tete-a-tete with Tiresaeas. “Creon! Was this trick his. so. if non yours? ” So here his imaginativeness works together with choler and heedlessness.


All the above-named manifestation of tragic defect. their supported statements and positions of the critics clearly proves the thesis that Oedipus ineluctable ignorance was the major factor of his calamity because he was unable to turn up that the adult male whom he assaulted on the hamlets to Thebes was his male parent. Second. if he would non hold been occupied by his aspirations. he would hold perchance explored the horror of his title and could hold avoided the extra slippery state of affairss by non get marrieding his female parent. Third. his “conscious and intentional” act includes his determination to “bring what is dark to light” ( 133 ) .

Furthermore. as consequence to disclosure of Tireseas. he charges Creon with confederacy and slaying and denounces Tireases as an accoutrement. Although these actions were knowing and convey Oedipus to tragic terminal but have a clear background that illustrate that these actions were non “deliberate” . Fourthly. all these mistakes originate from a hasty and stubborn disposition. undue choler and inordinate pride that compels him to an energized curiousness. With the development of the secret plan. all these attributions of his character leaps back with amplified force on his caput that eventually culminates at his calamity. Knox ( 1957 ) sums up in this manner ;

“the actions of Oedipus that produce the calamity root from all sides of his character ; no one peculiar action is more indispensable than any other ; they are all indispensable and they involve non any one trait of character which might be designated atragic flawbut the character of Oedipus as a whole” ( 31 ) .


Bloom. Harold. Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. : New York: Chelsea House Publishers. 1988.

Butcher. S. H. Aritotle’s theory of Poetry and Fine Arts. Hell and Wang: New York. 1961.

Dodds. E. R. On Misconstruing the Oedipus. Greece & A ; Rome. Vo. 13. No. 1. ( Apr.

1966 ) . Pp. 37-49.

Cook. Albert Spaulding. Oedipus Rex. a mirror for Grecian play. Prospect Heights. Ill. :

Waveland Press. 1982.

Gould. Thomas. Grecian calamity. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press.


Gould. Thomas. Oedipus the King: A Translation with Commentary. Englewood Cliffs.


Kane. Robert L. Prophecy and Perception in the Oedipus Rex. Transaction of the

American Philological Association. Vol. 105 ( 1975 ) . pp. 189-208.

Kirkwood. G. M. A survey of Sophoclean play. Ithaca. N. Y. . Cornell University Press.


Knox. Bernard. Oedipus at Thebes. New Haven. Yale University Press. 1957.

Knox. Bernard. Introduction toThe Three Theban Plays. New York & A ; London: Penguin Books.


O’ Brien. John M. Twentieth century readings of Oedipus Rex ; a aggregation of

critical essays. Englewood Cliffs. N. J. . Prentice-Hall. 1968

Segal. Erich. Grecian calamity: modern essays in unfavorable judgment. New York: Harper & A ; Row.


[ 1 ] Segal writes in his distinguished work Grecian calamity: modern essays in unfavorable judgment:

“Oedipus does non hold a tragic defect. This position rests on a misreading of Aristotle and is a moralizing manner out of the distressing inquiries that the drama means to inquire. Sophocles refuses to give an easy reply to the job of suffering” ( p. 76 )

[ 2 ] For elaborate treatment on these manifestations of the termHamartia.delight see Aritotle’s theory of Poetry and Fine Arts by S. H. Butcher ( pp. 310-315. )

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