Last Updated 04 Jan 2023

The Flaws of Tragic Heroes in Sophocles’ Oedipus the King and William Shakespeare’s Hamlet

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From insane mothers to self—destruction Sophocles’s Oedipus the King and Shakespeare’s Hamlet define how your own noble actions can be your downfall. With similar themes, the plays epitomize what a true tragic hero can be by highlighting each flaw and exemplifying it with each character. We are introduced to Oedipus as the king who saved his kingdom with his wit and desired to save his kingdom again to prove his authority to his people, but due to his overconfidence, he ignored all the signs pointing to his demise throughout his quest to find what happened to the late king. When seeking for help, he calls upon the local prophet but then challenges the prophet’s power. By doing this Oedipus puts himself higher than the gods, attacking the culture and the religion of that time to show how self—centered and boastful he actually was.

Then he continued to neglect his wife’s and the shepherd’s warning to stop his search, because of not only his hubris but also his determination to help the people of his kingdom at the beginning. His intentions to better his kingdom slowly became hunger to uncover a truth that would cause the death of his wife and mother, Jocasta, and cause his blindness. That truth was his fate his prophecy to kill his father and sleep with his mother made him run away from what he considered to be home, but as we know right into the arms of his real parents that also tried to escape their fate. The king tried to test these fates but willfully ignored them, making him a tragic hero. Even when blatantly told how to avoid his fate, Oedipus is overconfident and determined to realize this until it is too late, making the things that once made him great, his tragic flaws.

Unlike Oedipus, Hamlet dies due to his inability to find his truth. Still grieving his late father, the former King, Hamlet watches his mother marry his uncle and take his rightful throne. While dealing with this pain, he is confronted by a ghost that appears to be his father that asks him to kill the new king At first he swears to avenge him because of his loyalty to his father, but after a second thought while waiting for the perfect moment to strike he battles between what is right and wrong. His battle is not that simple though, the battle of honor versus Hamlet’s salvation is his true fight because his religion tells him to never kill a man but he could not let his father’s honor be tarnished. This constant battle drove him to pretend crazy, which he actually became close to the end.

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During this transitional period of beliefs, Hamlet could not favor one side or the other causing him to kill the people around him which only drove him madder. This constant spiral of actions led to all of the main characters dying and paying for their choices, especially Hamlet. He played a part in pushing the people around him to unbearable lengths by his loyalty to his father and his need for a rigid wrong and right. While all admirable characteristics, it makes him a tragic hero, because the end result could have been avoided if he had not gone mad. Both tragic heroes, who led to their own unavoidable demise, faced similar obstacles in the play.

Each character was dedicated to finding a truth, while Oedipus searched for a literal truth, Hamlet looked for the illusive definition of right and wrong. They also had a strong characteristic that led them to their fate, like all tragic heroes do, but in their search for their truths, they tested their limits of freewill and ended up with a horrible tragedy. The characters faced a different demise though. Oedipus ignorantly forced his own fate instead of facing it, while Hamlet showed an actual thought process to his actions, although they were the wrong ones, he showed some compassion when faced with each obstacle. This, making Hamlet a much more tragic hero due to his spiral downfall that could have been prevented.

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The Flaws of Tragic Heroes in Sophocles’ Oedipus the King and William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. (2023, Jan 02). Retrieved from

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