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Oedipus and Hamlet Characters’ Comparison

The plays, Oedipus Rex by Sophocles and Hamlet by William Shakespeare was written centuries apart but they share common themes, specifically that of a tragic hero, as shown by the protagonists in these two chefs-oeuvres. Both Oedipus and Hamlet seek to avenge the death of their fathers, but in the process, they end up contributing to their downfall due to unwarranted haughtiness. However, despite the dozens of similarities between these protagonists, their differences are also many and clear. This paper discusses two similarities between Oedipus and Hamlet – they are both consumed with vengeance and suffer from hubris, which leads to their ultimate downfall, and one outstanding difference – Oedipus is aggressive, persistent, and energetic while Hamlet lacks these attributes.

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Both Oedipus and Hamlet seek to avenge the unjustified killing of their fathers. The two characters’ fathers are dead in the opening scenes of both plays. On the one hand, Oedipus is not aware that his father is dead – he does not know that Laius is his father. However, this lack of knowledge is inconsequential because Oedipus nevertheless decides to avenge for the deat Laius. In making this uncommon decision, Oedipus says, “I shall fight for him in this matter / as if for my own father, and I shall try / everything, seeking to find the one who / committed the murder” (Sophocles 35). On the other hand, Hamlet makes almost a similar decision immediately after learning that his uncle has killed his father. He vows to avenge this death through whatever means possible (Shakespeare 69). Therefore, the two characters feel deeply obligated to bring justice to the death of their fathers. Even though Laius is somehow responsible for his death and Oedipus contributes significantly to its occurrence, it does not matter in this context, because the underlying issue here is that the two characters share a common trait in the need to avenge the death of their fathers.

Similarly, both Oedipus and Hamlet suffer from unwarranted hubris, which ultimately seals their fate in the closing scenes of the two plays. On his part, Oedipus, albeit unknowingly, pronounces a curse upon himself when he haughtily pronounces the penalty that awaits the person responsible for the killing of Laius. In this case, Oedipus is the one responsible for the death of Laius, and even when the old prophet, Tiresias, confirms that he (Oedipus) is the one behind the killing of his father, he does believe. Out of hubris and arrogance, Oedipus scoffs at the prophet and continues to compound the problem for himself. His haughtiness is so blinding that he cannot see the truth and accept it. Hamlet is also hubristic, which ultimately drives him into self-isolation by severing interpersonal relationships in pursuit of revenge. He is consumed with arrogance, which fuels his desire to exterminate his perceived enemies. Just like Oedipus, Hamlet is consumed with his haughtiness to start imagining the worst that could happen to his adversary, without the pragmatic realization that the same fate could befall him. Therefore, even though Hamlet is not as guilty of murder as Oedipus, they both share the same characteristic – that of unnecessary hubris leading to their ultimate downfall.

However, Hamlet and Oedipus are different in many ways, specifically regarding their personas. On the one hand, Oedipus is belligerent, decisive, and persistent in search of the truth. For instance, after learning about the reasons behind the plague ravaging Thebes, which is the unresolved murder of King Laius, he states clearly that he will find the murderer and prevent such an incident from ever happening to another ruler. His stance is not out of sentimentalism as he embarks on a journey to find the one responsible for the death of Laius. He backs his words with decisive actions. He starts with interrogating every possible witness including Tiresias, the blind prophet. He lacks any form of political duplicity, as he is only interested in knowing the truth. On the other hand, Hamlet is indecisive and he lacks Oedipus’ energy when searching for the truth. For instance, instead of confronting reality and finding out the meaning behind the ghost’s words, he resorts to silent inquiry whereby he observes his uncle’s reaction to a certain play by visiting comedians. In other words, Hamlet is more of a philosopher than a warrior, which is the defining characteristic of Oedipus.

The protagonists in the plays, Hamlet and Oedipus Rex, share common characteristics, but they are also different in certain ways. They both feel obligated to find the murderer behind the death of their fathers and avenge for such unjustified killings as a way of serving justice. Additionally, they are both hubristic and their haughtiness contributes significantly to their ultimate downfall. However, while Oedipus portrays warrior-like attributes by being decisive, belligerent, and aggressive when searching for answers concerning the problems he seeks to solve, Hamlet is philosophical. He is indecisive, and even though he wants to know the truth, he is not as spirited and enthusiastic as Oedipus.

References

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Edited by Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine, Washington Square Press, 1992.

Sophocles. Oedipus the King. Translated by Stephen Berg and Diskin Clay, Oxford University Press, 1978.

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