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Resilience: Oedipus and Hamlet

Ancient Greek plots and motives are commonly reflected in the European literature of the New Age, which makes the heritage of different epochs comparable. One of the plotlines – discovering the reason for the death of a protagonist’s father. One of the aspects frequently discussed in this context is resilience. According to the Cambridge dictionary definition, this essay understands the notion as “the ability of a substance to return to its usual shape after being bent, stretched, or pressed” (par. 2). This problem is demonstrated by the protagonists of “Oedipus Rex” by Sophocles and “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare. They have different motives, but they appear to be united by the common goal. By comparing and contrasting these two characters, this essay demonstrates the impossibility of defining the most resilient protagonist as they both demonstrate outstanding steadiness in achieving their goals.

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To begin with, it is vital to assess the character of Oedipus Rex. He appears to have an extremely straightforward and direct personality. Throughout the plot, he demonstrates incredible persistence as he does not miss an opportunity to find the details about Laius’ murder (Sophocles). Oedipus grows courage to discover the truth after questioning the blind prophet Tiresias, listens to Jocasta’s version, and, finally, faces the story of the shepherd’s (Sophocles). After realizing his guilt in the crime he was investigating, Oedipus blinds himself and expects death (Sophocles). This appears to be the most convincing aspect of the resilience demonstrated by Oedipus throughout the story. In other words, even though he did not get back to happiness after the adventure, he saved the decency and undoubtedly showed personal growth as a result of the way Oedipus went through.

Another point to be made deals with the character of Hamlet. Shakespearean resilience is an important element of his plots: as Caputo interprets it, “as a tragedy, the play does not recover from disasters so much as it ultimately succumbs to them and triggers a regime shift” (viii). Speaking of Hamlet himself, he passionately seeks the answer to the question of why his mother got married so soon after his father’s death (Shakespeare 60). Unlike Oedipus, the character under discussion seems to have more of a philosophical way of discovering the truth. For instance, he checks the veracity of the ghost’s not by asking directly about the truth but by observing his murderous uncle’s reaction to the comedy play. Hamlet creates a psychological trap to reveal the betrayer: “I’ll observe his looks; / I’ll tent him to the quick. If he but blench, / I know my course” (Shakespeare 173). In a word, Hamlet’s inner tragedy provokes him to be not less persistent than Oedipus discussed above, but in another way: throughout the plot, he goes through a philosophical adventure.

To conclude, it is not unusual when common subjects are borrowed from the ancient pieces by later writers. William Shakespeare appears to be one of them; thus, a comparison of “Hamlet” with “Oedipus Rex” becomes possible. What unites these two plots is the protagonists’ search for answers to the questions about their fathers’ deaths. While Oedipus energetically goes through various challenges and ends up with a more assertive personality, Hamlet also demonstrates outstanding resilience. That is why it seems impossible to assess which version of the seeking characters going through unbearable psychological challenges shows more resilience.


Cambridge Dictionary. “Resilience”. Cambridge Dictionary, Web.

Caputo, Danilo. “Shakespearean Resilience: Disaster & Recovery in the Late Romances”. UC Irvine, 2020.

Shakespeare, William. “Hamlet”. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

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Sophocles. “Oedipus the King”. SLPS, Web.

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