Compare and contrast the use of tragedy in two or more plays:

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Compare and contrast the use of tragedy in two or more plays:

When the term ‘tragedy’ is used, certain plays are at the forefront of ones mind.  There are, manifestly, Shakespeare’s great tragedies – Othello, Macbeth, and Hamlet and of course King Lear; and in the time of ancient Greece, there is the great classic play - Sophocles’ King Oedipus.

The similarities at first seem great. Oedipus and Lear are Kings, and the themes dealt with in the plays are comparable, as are the questions they pose.  Both Kings fall from their pinnacles.  Oedipus finds out that he has committed incest and murdered his own flesh and blood.  Whereas Lear degenerates from being a mighty ruler to a mad beggar.  They are fallen heroes their hierarchy destroyed, reduced to mere men - a tragedy in itself to become loathed and ostracised.

Tragedy tears us apart; it shatters our sense of the world and ourselves.  The terrifying power of tragedy is suggested by Sir Philip Sidney, when he speaks, in An Apology for Poetry (1595), of


high and excellent Tragedy, that openeth the greatest wounds, and show us forth the ulcers that are covered with tissue; that maketh kings fear to be tyrants, and tyrants manifest their tyrannical humours; that, with stirring the affects of admiration and commiseration, teacheth the uncertainty of this world and upon weak foundations gilden roofs are builded…. (117-18), (Bennett and Royle 99)


Pain is an essential ingredient in both plays.  Oedipus evokes a feeling of sheer pain.  Due to a foreknowledge of Oedipus’ story, you read with a sense of dramatic irony.  This happens in King Oedipus, when Oedipus declares that the murderer of Laius should be:

        Expelled from every house/If, with my knowledge, house or hearth of mine

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        Receive the guilty man, upon my head

        Lie all the curses I have laid on others. (Sophocles 32)

He has no idea that he is the murderer himself.  The fact that the reader is aware of this, and he himself is not, becomes almost too much to bear.

When Oedipus utters the line ‘Nor do I exempt myself from the imprecation’. He is saying the guilty will not be protected.   He has no idea that he is denouncing himself as the murderer.  This all provides a backdrop for the play and consequent actions develop into ...

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