Oedipus Rex & Hamlet: Compare & Contrast Essay

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Topic: Literature
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In this compare and contrast essay, Oedipus Rex and Hamlet’s characters are analyzed and discussed. Being the creations of two different authors, they still resemble each other in some exciting ways.

Introduction: Similarities between Oedipus and Hamlet

Oedipus is a character of Sophocles’ Oedipus the King. He is in search of the truth but doesn’t care much about the danger it may cause. Hamlet doesn’t need much introduction since he is the hero of Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. This character is a philosopher who loses his mind and identity, chasing the truth.

So there is their first common trait: they both appear in the well-known classic tragedies. Also, they are both truth-seekers. However, Hamlet vs. Oedipus’ comparison shall not end here.

Oedipus Rex as a Tragic Character

Even from the introduction, it seems evident that King Oedipus is always dedicated to solving the issues no matter what. A good example is his reaction to the news about the epidemic in Thebes. It appears that the one who caused it is the killer of King Laius. Of course, Oedipus can’t understand who the murderer is still free and desires to resolve it as soon as possible.

When the curse of Sphinx comes to an end, King Oedipus turns to the current and more relevant issues. He finally decided it is time to take care of them and says that he “will start afresh and once again.”

As he was talking to Creon, who is his brother-in-law, Oedipus declares that finding and catching the murderer is his greatest desire for now. He argues that it would bring peace to the state. Moreover, it would secure his safety as he is the most person there, the King.

It is almost incredible how persistent Oedipus Rex is. On the path of looking for the truth, nothing can stop him. He is almost like the ideal detective. He would never miss a chance to interview the witnesses of Laius’ death. King Oedipus grabs every opportunity to investigate the leads that could possibly help to find the killer.

First thing first, he decides to talk to prophet Tiresias who is limited with blindness, though. After that, he listens carefully to the story told by his wife, Jocasta. Only after all these complex steps, Oedipus dares to hear the shepherd’s real story of his origins.

In addition to all that, King Oedipus seems to show off one of the best qualities all rulers should have. He is strong-minded, even though he can lose control sometimes. No political biases can undermine his determination to find the truth. Oedipus is not even afraid of losing his title and his life.

In his mind, revealing the truth is the only right thing to do in that situation. He also keeps insisting on it because he has no idea that the gods cursed him. Therefore, his actions remain the same according to the plan.

At the end of the day, it becomes a tragic flaw of his. The chorus tries to warn King Oedipus about some details of Laius’ murder. However, Rex has only one answer to that: “Words scare not him who blenches not at deeds.”

It seems that no other line can demonstrate the persistence of the King. He is sure that his position is the only right one. Besides, there is another thought that shapes his behavior. Oedipus is confident that innocent people should not be afraid of the truth since it cannot harm them.

To sum up, King Oedipus aligns perfectly with the definition of the tragic hero. He is not an idol, and he can make mistakes just like other people. He can even pose himself as a good person. However, in the end, the novelty of Oedipus doesn’t protect him from the downfall. That is where the real tragedy steps in.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet: Psychological Portrait

If considering the passionate desire to seek the truth, Hamlet is definitely somewhat behind Oedipus. Unlike the hyperactive King, he shows much less energy on his path. However, it is easily explainable.

Hamlet wants to find out the truth just as badly as his Sophocles’ counterpart. That desire spikes even higher when his mother remarries quite soon after his father died. Her remarkable resilience raises more and more suspicions in him.

At the same time, Hamlet poses himself in the role of the philosopher in the battle for justice. Instead of taking sudden active actions, he prefers reflecting on the situation and contemplating his further steps. It is noticeable from the number of monologues in the play.

What’s more, during his investigation, he mostly uses his inner wisdom and intuition. It is amazing how he comes to the realization that something is not right. After all, his suspicions appeared to be correct.

Hamlet’s character is just as decisive as Oedipus’, but in a little bit different way. Instead of taking straightforward steps towards finding the truth, he uses sneaky methods. For example, he could have just confronted his uncle. Instead, to check the reliability of the information provided by the ghost, Hamlet sets up a scene. From the reaction of his uncle, everything is clear to him.

Therefore, Hamlet is represented as a more inventive character than Oedipus when it comes to the methods of reaching the goal. However, there are many more similarities between them.

Despite being emotionally unstable, Hamlet shows some decent physiological strategies. It is shown in the way he is planning to reveal the murderer. His approach seems quite sane and based on logical observations of human nature.

On the other hand, his mind can only take that much. This tense and critical moment, along with the ghost’s provocations, alter the personality of Hamlet. He gives up his philosophy and decides to step on the path of revenge.

From this moment, his values and ideals are no longer in charge of his actions. Hamlet is led by the desire to fulfill the promise to restore justice in his family. His only aim becomes finding and punishing the murderer of the King.

However, such a bold decision requires more active actions. The prince appears to have a shift in his attitude to life as well. He overcomes his fear of facing conflicts.

Hamlet’s monologues also reveal how much this young man struggles with personality split and the burden of the oath he gave to his father.

Conclusion: Hamlet vs. Oedipus

Pointing out the parallels between the characters of Sophocles’ Oedipus the King and Shakespeare’s Hamlet could take forever. There are apparent similarities between Oedipus and Hamlet shown in this comparative essay. It is easy to see that they are truth-seekers, and they would do anything to discover who the killer was.

However, Oedipus feels such sincere repentance about the unfairness that he decides to investigate the murder of the previous King himself. He takes very active actions and relies on logic and evidence. Hamlet, on the other hand, prefers to reflect on the events and think twice before acting. Moreover, he trusts his intuition more than anything else.

Oedipus Rex & Hamlet FAQ

❓ Who was Oedipus?

Oedipus was a king appearing in Greek mythology. He was ruling the land of Thebes. According to the story, he unwillingly kills his father and takes his mother as a wife. Oedipus is a tragic hero who brings disasters upon himself and his people. Sophocles highlights this part of the King's life in his play Oedipus the King.

❓ How are Hamlet and Oedipus similar?

Hamlet and Oedipus are similar in the way that they both are looking for the truth about who killed the King. They are both tragic characters of the plays. Oedipus Rex, just like Hamlet, finds himself being fooled by his parents. Moreover, they are both so desperate to find the truth that they can do anything, but by different means.

❓ How are Hamlet and Oedipus tragic heroes?

Hamlet and Oedipus are tragic heroes as they possess distinctive traits of this type of character. They both have good intentions despite having many flaws. Both Hamlet and Oedipus Rex are quite noble characters. The actions they take while seeking the truth appear to be life-changing. Their fate is tragic, even if it seems like they don't deserve it.

❓ What is the difference between Oedipus the King and Hamlet?

The main difference between Oedipus the King and Hamlet is in the main characters' attitude. Both Hamlet and Oedipus Rex are chasing the murderers, but the means are different. Hamlet, as a complex character, trusts his intuition and uses sleek methods to reveal the truth. King Oedipus goes with logic and investigates the murder, just like a detective would do.

❓ Who is more resilient: Hamlet or Oedipus?

It might look like there is no difference, but it appears that Hamlet is more resilient than Oedipus. He mastered this quality, and it helped a lot on his path to revenge. Instead of making reckless and hasty choices, he steps aside and reflects on the events and his feelings. It makes him patient enough to succeed in everything.

References

The Randolph College Greek Play. n.d. The Plot Of OEDIPUS THE KING – The Randolph College Greek Play. [online]

Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. n.d. Hamlet. [online]

Delahoyde, M., n.d. Hamlet. [online] Public.wsu.edu.

Sandbox.spcollege.edu. 2015. Hubris: Oedipus’ And Hamlet’S Struggle Over The Golden Mean|. [online]

Dolloff, L., 2006. Oedipus Complex. [online] Uvm.edu.

Classics.mit.edu. n.d. The Internet Classics Archive | Oedipus The King By Sophocles. [online]