Essay: Oedipus the King and Antigone Sophocles' Plays

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Oedipus the King and Antigone

Sophocles' plays, Antigone and Oedipus the King, could be described as the epitome of Greek tragedy in terms of Aristotelian requirements. Particularly, Oedipus presents the most common image of tragedy. Antigone in turn does not provide such a clear case for the Aristotelian tragedy. Indeed, some critics have argued in favor of Creon as tragic character in this play. Others however have provided compelling arguments in favor of Antigone's status as tragic heroine in the play. The argument presented here will also be in favor of Antigone as tragic heroine, with comparisons to Oedipus to provide evidence in favor of this. In order to accomplish this, Aristotle's requirements of the tragic hero will be summarized, with a discussion of the two plays and their respective heroes to follow.

According to Larry a. Brown, Aristotle makes a distinction between tragedy and comedy in terms of the former having noble characters at its center and the latter characters of a less noble nature. The authors emphasizes the importance of properly understanding the concept of the "noble" character. This does not necessarily refer to noble birth, but more importantly to moral character.

This is an important criterion when applied to the plays in question. Initially, Oedipus does not believe himself to be of noble birth. However, the nobility of his character propelled him to kingship, despite his shady past and the fact that he murdered the rightful king. Through his actions as king, he proves himself noble to the citizens of the city. In the opening scene of the play, the citizens recognize him as royal, and indeed as noble, and as "First in the common accidents of life, and first in visitations of the Gods." Oedipus is not only regarded as noble in the eyes of his subordinates, but also as particularly favored by the gods.

Antigone, as Oedipus' daughter, is also of noble blood. Her nobility also however extends far beyond her blood. Patricia M. Lines goes as far as stating that "…Antigone's brilliance is so dazzling that we overlook her flaw. After all, she has formulated a great and noble truth and maintains it with courage. She asserts God's law over man's law."

Throughout the play, Antigone maintains the courage of her conviction, even to the point of death. Indeed, Charles Segal (p. 152) notes that she is noble enough "to defend a valid and necessary aspect of civilization, the rights of the family and the proper treatment of the dead." By standing up to Creon in insisting upon the burial of her brother, Antigone exceeds the new king in representing the values of her society, as a truly noble person by both birth and nature should.

Creon in turn has taken kingship from Oedipus by building upon the tragedy of the original king. He is noble by birth, but far from this by character. Indeed, Segal (152) notes that he is opposing values that he should be defending, as Antigone does. The gods require a certain treatment for the dead. Creon is however taking divine law into his own hands and thus offending what should be his own sense of nobility.

When submitted to the Aristotelian criteria for the typical tragic hero, Creon fails to measure up. He is of noble birth but begins his role in the play as a flawed character. The flaw is not tragic. Rather, the flaw is a major determinant of his actions. The true tragic hero is ruled by a drive towards the noble. The hero's fall is made tragic by a flaw that temporarily overrides the nobility. It is tragic because the audience identifies with a hero that is both noble and human, precisely because of his or her fall.

This is a description that fits better with Antigone than with Creon. Creon is primarily flawed, while Antigone and Oedipus are primarily noble. They are both concerned with representing what is best for the people and family in their charge, as well as the principles that govern these.

Those who argue against Antigone as tragic hero however note that she appears as perfectly noble character throughout the play. As mentioned above, this nobility appears to overshadow any possibility of a flaw. One might argue however that the flaw is much more subtle than that of Oedipus, for example.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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