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Tragedy in Literature

In the tragedies of Sophocles' Oedipus The King and Shakespeare's Macbeth, we see that both authors write about tragic figures in keeping with Aristotle's definition of tragedy. In Aristotle's Poetics, the author defines tragedy as

an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not narrative; through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation of these emotions (O'Brien and Dukore 1-2).

For both Oedipus and Macbeth, their actions are serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude, their stories are told through action with embellished language, and emotions through pity and fear achieve purgation.

Both Oedipus and Macbeth have a tragic flaw, considered necessary by Aristotle to bring great men down in a tragic manner. Shakespeare tells us that Macbeth's tragic flaw is "Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself" (I.viii.27). Oedipus' tragic flaw is that he must find the truth, even if the truth reveals him to be guilty of unspeakable crimes. As he tells his people, "You can trust me; I am ready to help, I'll do anything, I would be blind to misery not to pity my people kneeling at my feet" (Knox 139). Therefore, Macbeth's ambition will cause an otherwise noble warrior's deeds to end in tragedy, while Oedipus' desire to find the truth will undermine his otherwise heroic qualities and cause his ending to be tragic.

We see that both Macbeth and Oedipus engage in actions which are serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude. In both tragedies, the protagonists complete crimes of a horrific magnitude. In the case of Macbeth, he kills King Duncan and various others in order to reach the throne. In the case of Oedipus, his actions are without personal motive or intention, but his crimes are of a similar if not worse magnitude, f


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Tragedy in Literature. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 02:41, December 09, 2016, from