Who are the tragic figures in Oedipus Rex?Oedipus Rex by Sophocles

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

According to Aristotle's definition of tragedy in Poetics, tragic figures are

  1. people of noble stature who have a greatness about them, possessing extraordinary powers, or qualities of passion or aspiration or nobility of mind.
  2. people who are good, though not perfect, and their fall results from committing "an act of injustice" (hamartia) either through ignorance or from a conviction that some greater good will be served.
  3. people whose downfall is their own fault, the result of their own free choice.
  4. people whose misfortune is not wholly deserved, and the punishment exceeds the crime.

Utilizing these criteria, therefore, Oedipus himself, of course, is a tragic figure. 

  • He is of noble stature
  • He has killed his father Laius because of his rage at having been struck
  • His excessive pride prohibits him from comprehending warnings from both Teiresias and Jocasta
  • His downfall, then, is due to his excessive pride
  • His misfortune is not totally deserved because his parents set him out to die of exposure and a shepherd rescued him, carrying him to Corinth.  Therefore, Oedipus has had no way of knowing who is father was.

Jocasta, the mother of Oedipus is also a tragic figure.

  • She, too, is of noble stature
  • Her act of hamartia is the putting of Oedipus out from her home, thinking she will prevent him from killing her husband.  
  • She unconsciously marries her son, not investigating his past
  • Her great misfortune and the ignominy of marrying her son is more than she can bear.

Here is an interesting analysis by the playwright Thorton Wilder of Sophocles's artistry in creating the traguc character of Jocasta

The figure of the Queen is drawn with great precision, shielding her husband form the knowledge she foresees approaching; alternately condemning and upholding the authority of the oracles as best suits the direction of the argument at the moment, and finally giving up the struggle.