Bad things happen to good people. It’s a life lesson that’s well-illustrated in many plays. Lope de Vega’s Fuente Ovejuna and Sophocles’ Oedipus the King are two prime examples. Fuente Ovejuna features a small Spanish town of the same name which is unjustly oppressed by a man named Commander Gomez and his subordinates. Oedipus the King features Oedipus, a man doomed by a prophecy to murder his father and marry his mother. Many would argue that both plays are tragedies. Although both certainly feature strong tragic elements, thoroughly examining the final condition of the protagonists, society’s final condition, and the way fate is represented in the final scenes of each play proves Fuente Ovejuna is a heroic drama, while Oedipus the King is a tragedy.
The final condition of the protagonist is one of the main factors in determining whether a play is a heroic drama or a tragedy. In Fuente Ovejuna, many argue that the protagonist is the town itself, since each townsperson suffers from the actions of the antagonist, Commander Gomez. This is particularly noticeable in the final scenes of the play, when every member of the town is tortured to reveal the name of Commander Gomez’s murderer. Despite being tortured, the only answer any of the townspeople give the judge is a resounding “Fuente Ovejuna!” When King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella hear of this, they realize they must decide whether they want to pardon the entire town, or execute everyone in Fuente Ovejuna. They meet with the townspeople and announce that since no killer could be named, the town is pardoned. The town rejoices; they fought against Commander Gomez’s tyranny and won, they have a full pardon from the queen and king, and they’re no longer under the control of an oppressive official. They are in a better position than they were at the beginning of the play. Oedipus, on the other end of the spectrum, doesn’t fare nearly as well as Fuente Ovejuna. The final scene of Oedipus the King begins with a messenger, who tells the audience what happened when Oedipus’ mother found out she had married her son and fulfilled a horrible prophecy:
And there we saw her hanging, her body swaying
From the cruel cord she had noosed about her neck
A great sob broke from him, heartbreaking to hear,
As he loosed the rope and lowered her to the ground.
I would blot out from my mind what happened next!
For the King ripped from her gown the golden brooches
That were her ornament, and raised them, and plunged them down
Straight into his own eyeballs, crying “No more! (38-45)
After the messenger delivers his message, Oedipus enters, and proclaims that he cannot stay in Thebes. He banishes himself forever from the city he once ruled. He is in a much worse place than he was at the beginning of the play, which meets one of the biggest requirements of tragedy. The condition of the protagonist is the first feature that must be analyzed when categorizing a play as a tragedy or...