Oedipus: Aristotelian or Formalist Theory

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Teiresias’s speech at the end of scene one of Sophocles’ play Oedipus Rex is fairly short but it is in this encounter between Oedipus and Teiresias where the main conflict of the story begins to unfold. This is a pivotal speech in the play as it helps to develop some of the major themes in the play as well as begin to build up the tragic irony at the center of the story. When this speech is analyzed using either Aristotelian or Formalist theory key elements can be found that are effective in increasing the drama in the play and in tying together one of the play’s central theme. In the Poetics Aristotle outlines his vision of a successful tragedy and states that plot and character are the first two principle features of tragedy. Teiresias’s final speech helps to develop both of these key components of tragedy in Oedipus Rex successfully. During his conversation with the king Teiresias introduces the first source of conflict into the play as Oedipus tries to convince the old man to reveal what he knows about Laios’s murder. Aristotle termed this moment of the plot the “desis” which in modern literary terms is known as the complication which serves to build up the drama of a story towards the climax, and Teiresias’s speech here achieves that purpose. There is also an effective use of foreshadowing in Teiresias’s speech in which he reveals to the audience the twist of fate that Oedipus will experience even though the king at this point is unaware of Teiresias’s true meaning. The reversal of fortune and recognition contained in Oedipus Rex are praised by Aristotle as being characteristics of an ideal plot and the foreshadowing found in Teiresias’s speech help to build up the anticipation towards the revelation of Oedipus’s identity. In the perfect tragedy Aristotle stated that character should support the plot and Teiresias’s final speech was indirectly very effective in building Oedipus’s character. Until his meeting with Teiresias Oedipus was seen a...
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