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Sophocles allegedly said that he portrayed his characters as they ought to be, Euripides as they are. To what extent would you agree with this statement?

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Sophocles allegedly said that he portrayed his characters as they ought to be, Euripides as they are. To what extent would you agree with this statement? The characters in Sophocles' tragedies are very different to those in Euripides' for a number of reasons; Sophocles tends to give his characters more heroic features, whereas Euripides is more concerned with portraying the human weaknesses of his characters. Indeed, Sophocles' Oedipus is considered Aristotle to be the archetypal tragic hero, suggesting the heroic qualities of the character. Euripides' characters tend to be more flawed, such as Medea with her jealous nature, and Hippolytus, who displays the impious arrogance of youth. The striking realism of Euripides's Electra has been discussed by many commentators over the years, adding to the argument that Euripides portrayed his characters as they are. Throughout Electra we are presented with the horrific concept of matricide, combined with a disturbingly realistic group of characters. The cowardice of Orestes, displayed, for example, in the way in which he killed Aegisthus: 'Orestes...struck him on the joint of the neck' and the self-pitying obstinacy of Electra: 'My misery is unbearable' are far more realistic characters than an audience would usually expect to be portrayed on stage, not only bringing the action of the play closer to the audience, but also making the crime of matricide even more harrowing, as it becomes a far more realistic idea. ...read more.


Antigone, despite her predisposition for martyrdom, is essentially a character acting through her own sense of honour: 'Death longs for the same rites for all', whereas Electra acts out of pure, malevolent vengeance. It is differences such as these in two very similar characters that reinforce the statement that Euripides portrayed characters as they were, Sophocles as they ought to be, for although both of their characters were flawed and committed crimes, the motives of Sophocles' characters tended to be more honourable, and appeared to be more concerned with the will of the Gods rather than personal gain or vengeance. These essential differences may seem to be very small, but our perceptions of the characters are easily manipulated by our assumptions of their motives, and Sophocles manages to instil honour into even the most base aspects of his characters, for instance Antigone's wilful acts of treason, and Oedipus' conceit and inclination to jump to conclusions. The character of Oedipus, who is considered by many to be the epitome of the tragic hero, is characteristic of Sophocles' intentions to portray his characters 'as they ought to be'. The character shows the typical elements of a Greek tragic hero; he is a good man that comes to a bad end due to a 'Hamartia'. ...read more.


Sophocles, on the other hand, in his portrayal of Oedipus, shows us a character who, although flawed, is heroic enough to realise this, and truly regrets his mistakes and ill-fortune at the end of the play, showing an heroic man portrayed as he should be. Throughout his plays, Sophocles portrayed his characters as they should be; heroic, honourable and pious, and even the flaws of these characters do not detract from the fact that they are true tragic heroes, as their motives remain honourable. In contrast to this, Euripides presented his characters in a far more realistic light, although this increased sense of realism does not necessarily detract from the dramatic quality of his plays. The continued fascination with both of these tragedians is for very different qualities, and while Euripides provides more realistic characters, with less impressive motives, more comprehendible aims, and moral standards that the audience are able to understand, Sophocles' characters seem to belong to a higher caste, with far more heroic natures. It is through contrasts such as these that heighten both our understanding and appreciation of Greek Tragedy, and the two playwrights, so precisely summed up in the words of Sophocles, are instrumental to the classical world and its arts. Louise Phillips U6 EYS Sophocles allegedly said that he portrayed his characters as they ought to be, Euripides as they are. To what extent would you agree with this statement? (1999) 1 ...read more.

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