Literary Analysis of Sophocles', Oedipus the King

Essay by parham637College, UndergraduateA+, February 2005

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Sophocles' Oedipus the King was considered by Aristotle to be the faultless model of a tragedy. The reason Aristotle considered Oedipus the King to be matchless was due to the fact that it flawlessly adhered to his stringent criteria of an effective tragedy. In Aristotle's The Poetics he describes how Oedipus the King meets his principles of dramatic composition by its use of a complex plot, simultaneous discovery and reversal and finally the character of Oedipus (291). Aristotle's principles of dramatic composition have been used for centuries as the most comprehensive and consistent criteria in which to critically analyze a tragedy.

The plot is determined by many to be the single most defining aspect of an effective tragedy. The plot of Oedipus is complex and facilitates the fascination of the audience by intensifying the suspense and on the other hand stimulating compassion. William Nickerson Bates wrote of Oedipus the King in his essay "Sophocles: Poet and Dramatist", "He develops his story step by step in such a way as to hold the attention and arouse the sympathy of his audience whether it consist of spectators or a solitary reader" (336).

The plot in Oedipus is considered to be elaborate because the discovery and the reversal coincide simultaneously. This according to Aristotle is the most effective combination of complex actions used in a tragedy (Aristotle, 291). Oedipus' discovery of his birth gives enlightenment to his crimes. Due to this discovery, a reversal occurs when his previous pride and good fortune are then transformed to ultimate humility and ill fortune. Oedipus the foremost of men is now Oedipus the most loathsome and pathetic of men.

An interesting aspect of Sophocles Oedipus is his expert use of irony. Presented in Oedipus is a dramatic irony which keeps a discrepancy between what the readers...