Macbeth and Oedipus Rex Comparison Essay

Topics: Tragic hero, Macbeth, Hamartia Pages: 6 (2247 words) Published: May 27, 2013
A Tragic Hero, as defined by Aristotle, is a man of noble reputation who is admired by society but has a tragic flaw, which leads to his downfall. Shakespeare and Sophocles were both inspired by the theme of Tragic Heroes and have used this theme in their plays Macbeth and Oedipus Rex, respectively. These plays teach us moral lessons and it is imperative to decide which character best fits the title of a Tragic Hero. Undoubtedly, Macbeth and Oedipus are both Tragic Heroes but in different ways. Hamartia is a tragic flaw, which leads to a reversal of good fortune. An analysis of the two characters’ hamartia, the sympathy they gain from the audience, the characters’ roles in their inevitable downfall, and the role of the supernatural will emphasize why Macbeth and Oedipus are both Tragic Heroes in different ways.

Macbeth and Oedipus both had a hamartia. On the one hand, Macbeth’s hamartia was his ambition for power and gullibility in trusting the witches. This ambition made him commit heinous crimes and led him to trust the witches. He kept going back to the witches for more prophecies ever since the first two predictions made by them came true. He said to Lady Macbeth, “I will tomorrow—/ And betimes I will—to the weird sisters./ More shall they speak, for now I am bent to know,/ By the worst means, the worst. For mine own good,/ All causes shall give way. I am in blood/ Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more,/ Returning were as tedious as go o'er./ Strange things I have in head, that will to hand,/ Which must be acted ere they may be scanned./” (Macbeth, Act III, Scene 4, Lines 158-166) Macbeth’s flaw was that he became overconfident because of the witches’ predictions and made impulsive decisions based on these prophecies. He was gullible to believe that the witches were helping him; whereas the truth was that they were his real enemies. He also thought that he could control his fate based on the prophecies but he was mistaken because his downfall was inevitable. On the other hand, Oedipus’ hamartia was his lack of knowledge about his own identity and the curse that was given to him when he was a child. His determination to find out the truth was also a tragic flaw in him. Tiresias said to him, “I say that you have secretly have lived most foully with those who should be most dear nor do you see to what extent of evil you have come.” (Oedipus, Lines 385-387) He had been cursed that he would kill his father and marry his mother. As a result, he was sent away by his birth parents in fear of this evil prophecy. Oedipus was raised by a shepherd and unknowingly killed his birth father and married his mother. He was completely unaware of the crime that he had committed and no amount of foresight or preemptive action could remedy Oedipus' hamartia, unlike Macbeth. Macbeth was well aware of what he had done and his hamartia could have been remedied if he had been satisfied with what he had. He was greedy and had an increasing desire for more power. Macbeth became king by murdering King Duncan in cold blood, which was a horrific crime, whereas Oedipus becomes king by saving the city of Thebes from the Sphinx, which was a noble deed. Macbeth became king by choosing the wrong path of murder, but Oedipus gained kingship with the help of his unselfish deeds. Macbeth and Oedipus both had a tragic flaw, which eventually caused a reversal of their fortunes.

Oedipus and Macbeth are Tragic Heroes, but in different ways. They both deserve sympathy from the audience. The audience can sympathize with Oedipus because his downfall was set before him by the Gods and he had no control over his fate. He had unknowingly killed his father and married his mother but the fact that he had to go into exile for the rest of his life makes the audience feel sympathy for him. He had committed a huge mistake and he had to suffer for the rest of his life, alone in banishment despite the fact that his crimes were unintentional. He says, “For if I...
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