Following is an introduction (including a thesis), body paragraph, and outlines for several more paragraphs. You will bring something similar to class.
20 January 2000
In presenting criteria that a tragedy should meet, Aristotle always speaks in terms of contingencies, nuances, and connections. Put another way, his formula for tragedy requires un-formulaic characters and events. The main character should evoke both "pity" and "fear" in equal measure, his downfall initiated by a "mistake" (1030-31). Describing characters who should be "lifelike," "consistent" (even if "consistently inconsistent") and appropriate, Aristotle delineates what today we might call "psychological realism" (1031-32). In other words, he calls for characters with complex but believable motives; when he advocates "good" characters, he means not that they must always do the right thing but rather that they should "reveal in speech or action what their moral choices are" (1031). By consistently resisting an overly predictable narrative, Sophocles' Oedipus the King meets Aristotle's tragic requirements.
To begin with the ending, Oedipus does not fall into the "deus ex machina" trap which Aristotle criticizes. The "dénouement of the plot," Aristotle explains, "should arise from the plot itself and not be brought about 'from the machine'" (1032). A clever use of dramatic irony helps reinforce the connection between the conclusion and the plot of Oedipus. For example, well before Oedipus knows what he has done, his words display a willful personality inclined to act rashly. Promising to find out who killed Laius, Oedipus proclaims, "Whoever killed the king may decide to kill me too, / with the same violent hand -- by avenging Laius / I defend myself" (158-60). Unaware that he is Laius' killer, Oedipus subtly reminds the audience that he will consider killing himself and "with the same violent hand" will destroy his eyes. Providing this hint of the ending very early on, the play prepares the audience for the dénouement by strengthening the bonds between Oedipus the King's plot and its outcome.
The numerous references to sight and blindness serve a similar purpose: they anticipate the conclusion without predicting it.
-- first example: conversation between Tiresias and Oedipus (421-25). Oedipus tells Tiresias, "You've lost your power, / stone-blind, stone deaf -- senses, eyes blind as stone!" and Tireseias responds, "I pity you, flinging at me the very insults / each man here will fling at you so soon" (422-25).
-- second example: Oedipus ultimately blinds himself at play's end.
If the connections between these events seem too obvious, the complexity of Oedipus' hubris keeps the audience in suspense despite the foreshadowing. Since hubris describes both "overweening pride" and "self-confidence," it is Oedipus' largest "mistake" and his greatest asset. At each turn of the play, one can see both the strengths that earned him the title of King and the weaknesses that will topple him from power.
-- first example: the fact that he solved the riddle of the Sphinx (44-45) and that his people turn to him in times of crisis: "his plans will work in a crisis, his first of all" says the priest (56). These facts show his self-confidence to be a great help, a steadying presence in times of danger.
-- second example: Hubris also prevents him from listening to Creon, so include Chorus' advice -- "Believe it, be sensible / give way, my king, / beg you!" (725-26).