Empathy in Oedipus the King
Summary: Evaluates how empathy is created, used, and entwined in Sophocles, "Oedipus the King."
Empathy is achieved when one experiences direct identification with, understanding of, and vicarious experience of another person's situation, feelings, and motives. In Sophocles's Oedipus the King, it was the character Sophocle's' task to represent the story without deviation, but to do it in such a way as to evoke the most horror, pity and in particular achieve empathy in his audience. The audience feels empathy towards Oedipus as they are able to associate and relate to his human frailties. However it is not only because of these human frailties that the audience feel empathy towards Oedipus, the tragedy's specific purpose as stated by Aristotle is to "arouse the audience to experience pity and fear", through catharsis. Empathy is also brought about through the collective nature of elements in a Greek tragedy, which include the role of hamartia, the character, the chorus and the inevitability of fate.
Hamartia puts the tragic event beyond Oedipus' control and creates pity in the audience for the inevitable. According to the Aristotelian characteristics of a good tragedy, the tragic character should not fall due to either excessive virtue or excessive wickedness, but due to what Aristotle called hamartia, and it is exactly this which evokes empathy in the audience. The failure of Oedipus, the tragic hero is also due to hubris or a false sense of pride in his own secure position. Oedipus' hubris personality and ego is made evident through the use of recurring images and references to the metaphorical eyes, sight and blindness aided by the use of dramatic irony. When Oedipus refuses to believe Teiresias, Teiresias cries, "have you eyes, And do not see your own damnation? Eyes, And cannot see what company you keep"" Teiresias knows that Oedipus will blind himself; later in this same speech he says "those now clear-seeing...
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