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A Comparison of Hamlet and Oedipus the King


Sophocles' "Oedipus the King" and Shakespeare's "Hamlet",
both contain the basic elements of tragedy, although the
Shakespearean tragedy expanded its setting far beyond that
of the ancient Greek tragedy. The tragic hero of Hamlet
finds himself burdened with the task of avenging his
father's death from the start of the play, and is not
himself the source of the pollution of regicide, while
Oedipus is of course the unwitting fashioner of his own
doom, which is unveiled to him through recognition and
 Sophocles has Oedipus foretelling his own tragedy when
speaking to the people of Thebes. The city suffers because
of the pollution of Oedipus, and irony is shown when
Oedipus suggest that by avenging Laius he will protect
himself, or that by getting children upon Jocasta, the dead
king's wife, he will be taking the place of the son of
Laius, which, unknowingly, is himself. The irony reaches
its peak when Oedipus calls on the prophet Tiresias to help
uncover the murder of Laius and seek an cure to the plague;
the metaphor of vision is ironic in that the blind Tiresias
can see what the seemingly brilliant Oedipus has
overlooked, namely the king's crimes of incest and murder.
 The other major ingredient of the tragic equation, the
purging emotion, is worked out by Sophocles. The hubris of
Oedipus is demolished when he confides in Jocasta
concerning the predictions of the seer Tiresias; she tells
him the story of the murder of Laius, and as she speaks
Oedipus comes to recognize the scene and circumstances of
the regicide as being the same as those encountered on the
road to Thebes. The full hypothesis of his doings come to
him and he cries out to Jocasta. However, when he faces the
shepherd who had found the child Oedipus, and who now
reveals that the child was the same infant who was cast out
to the wolves by Laius; Laius had feared the fulfillment of
a prophecy that he would die by his own son's hands, and
Oedipus now sees that the prophecy has indeed come true,
for he has killed his own father and committed incest with
his mother. He then blinds himself, as if to acknowledge
the charge of the blind seer Tiresias that he was blind in
his pride.
 Hamlet treats the crime of regicide from a somewhat
different point of view, and the young hero becomes a
tragic figure less through the sin of pride than through
his character flaw. In the first act, after he is conscious
of the tormented ghost of his father walking on the
ramparts, Hamlet goes to see for himself, and there he is
convinced to revenge his father death by his father's
ghost. Hamlet's father is a symbol of his conscience and
the corruption of regicide is laid at Hamlet's doorstep.
Hamlet is guilty because he failed to right this wrong, and
the tragic flaw that emerges in his character is that of
indecision. As Hamlet lays the trap for the new King
Claudius, he is procrastinating in order to solve his
self-doubt, although he tells himself that wishes only to
be certain that he is not imagining the figure of his
father's ghost and the strange duty which he must perform.
Although the king gives himself away at the performance of
the play within a play, Hamlet is still inconclusive, and
winds up being sent away to England by the king and his
mother and Hamlet's insanity, feigned or not, has served
him well. As long as Claudius reigns, however, he has
failed in his duty.
 The common theme of "Hamlet" and "Oedipus the King" is
regicide, and self- destruction of the tragic hero is one
way of riding the pollution of that crime, as well as the
incest which has developed out of it. Both plays share the
emphasis on a tragic irony in the chain of events that lead
up to ritual of catharsis, but the plot of "Hamlet" makes a
much more complicated character than that of the classic
Greek tragedy of "Oedipus the King".


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