Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex Fulfills All of the Requirements of a Tragedy
Throughout Poetics, Aristotle describes what traits a tragedy must have to be successful. To support these choices, he makes use of a small analysis of many tragedies, including many of Sophocles’ plays; Oedipus Rex is one of the plays mentioned in Aristotle’s Poetics. Some of these traits include a successful plot structure, recognition scenes, and a correct choice for its hero. In Oedipus Rex, Sophocles fulfills all of these requirements.
According to Aristotle’s definition of tragedy, the plot of a tragedy is above all the most important element, and for one to write a successful tragedy, one must have an excellent plot. In his Poetics, Aristotle lists four characteristics that a good plot must have: order, amplitude, unity, and probable and necessary connection. The plot of Oedipus Rex contained all of these.
When Aristotle describes what he means by order, he states that a plot has “a beginning, a middle, and an end.” He continues by saying that by ‘beginning’, he means “that which is not necessarily the consequent of something else, but has some state or happening naturally consequent on it.” Oedipus Rex, for example, begins with Oedipus awaiting Creon’s return with the oracle’s advice on the issue of the plague overwhelming Thebes. The beginning of this play already describes why we have started this way and, as Aristotle put it, isn’t necessarily the consequence of something else. Although we, the readers, know that in fact it is, one hearing the story for the first time would understand the play just as well as a seasoned tragedian. The middle, which Aristotle says, “is consequent and has consequents,” depends on the beginning, just as the story of Oedipus depends on the news arriving from Delphi, and has effects on the end, when Oedipus blinds himself. The end of this play, according to Aristotle, should have no consequent, and in this play, it doesn’t because Oedipus blinds himself and that is the end. However, we in fact know that the story continues with the play Oedipus at Colonus. (Classical Literary Criticism 60‑62).
Amplitude and unity, according to Poetics, seem to go hand in hand. A plot must have unity, “with the different sections so arranged that the whole is disturbed by the transposition and destroyed by the removal of any one of them,” yet he also explains that a successful plot must have amplitude, meaning that for its size, it still must remain unified. The story of Oedipus essentially describes a turning point in an important man’s life, and if simply by length, one could describe importance, this play does it. Yet, as long as this tragedy is, Sophocles does an excellent job of making sure we never lose sight of the whole, not letting us get transfixed by the small details in the story so that we lose sight of the big picture. (Classical Literary Criticism 62)
Because this play involves some...