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Who Showed Greater Resilience: Oedipus or Hamlet?


People normally experience crises, problems, losses, adversity, trauma, and other challenges at some point in life. However, there is always the possibility of recovering and return back to the previous position. Resilience is the capacity to recover from difficult or challenging life events and is considered an important characteristic in people’s lives. While some challenges are less impacting and people recover quickly from their effects, others, like accidents, serious illnesses, and the death of a loved person, are traumatic in nature, and one can take longer to recover (Röhe 29). Psychologists state that resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of trauma, threats, tragedies, adversity, and other sources of stress.

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Each event or challenge affects people differently and brings unique emotions, uncertainties, and thoughts. In addition, different people adapt to these challenges differently, with some recovering and adapting quicker than others (Chowdhury 29). Therefore, the resilience process is not the same in every person, and some are more resilient than others. In Shakespeare’s play, The Hamlet and Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, the leading characters face trauma resulting from tragic events that affect their emotions, thoughts, mental status, and actions. Both individuals face situations that test their resilience by overcoming the troubles and challenges that they encounter. Nevertheless, an in-depth analysis of both characters reveals that Hamlet is more resilient than Oedipus, given that he sustains a tough nature and character until the end of the story.

In Oedipus the King, written by the Ancient Greece author Sophocles, the plot revolves around the life of Oedipus, who was the king of Thebes. Oedipus is a determined individual who is ready to use almost any means to achieve his objective of finding and punishing the individual accused of killing the previous king (Chowdhury 29). But the story turns against him when he realizes that he is the person who is responsible for killing his father. In essence, a review of this story shows that the narrative is a tragedy that ends up fulfilling the previous prophecies about the life of the character.

Resilience appears to be one of the profound characteristics that Oedipus portrays and which makes him an outstanding character and leader. After realizing that the plague affecting the population of Thebes is not about to end, Oedipus does not take a direct action that other leaders would decide to use. For example, most leaders would impose strict rules such as isolation of the affected, burning of bodies, and restricting the movement of people. Rather, he is somewhat resilient and decides to wait until those who have expertise and knowledge inform him about the cause of the scourge (Chowdhury 33). Therefore, it is arguable that due to his resilience, Oedipus sends his brother-in-law Creon to the oracle to find the cause and cure of the plague.

Nevertheless, Oedipus’s resilience is tested after the oracle tells Creon about the cause and possible cure of the scourge. He realizes that Laius, the previous king, was killed, and the action is the cause of the problem (Röhe 38). According to the report that Creon comes with from his trip, the affliction of the plague will only end when the person responsible for the murder is found and punished. This report disturbs Oedipus and tests his resilience. Indeed, the realization that Laius was murdered drives Oedipus as he is determined to find the murderer by any means possible.

However, he is resilient again when he decides to ask Tiresias, the blind prophet, about the problem. After the prophet refuses to speak about the issue, Oedipus loses his resilience and blames Tiresias for the plague. But the prophet decides to tell him that he is his own problem. Again, Oedipus is not satisfied and decides to turn to his wife, Jocasta, for advice. However, the advice is even more traumatic and tests his resilience more than he expects. Jocasta tells him, “My child was three days old and the King pierced his ankles and left him for death on the mountainside” (Sophocles 193). Oedipus realizes that he is the person who killed Laius and married his wife, Jocasta, without knowing that they were his parents.

Oedipus becomes less and less resilient when he realizes that he must face punishment for unknowingly killing his own father and sleeping with his own mother. In addition, his resilience is further tested when he finds that Jocasta, who is now his wife and mother, is already dead. When the situation turns out to be tragic, Oedipus loses his toughness and decides to seek assisted suicide. In the end, Oedipus is no longer resilient as he decides to submit to Creon and await the decision of the oracle on his final demise. He tells Cleon, “His command is plain and the murderer must be killed, and I am the evil man” (Sophocles 211). Consequently, it is clear that Oedipus is no longer able to recover from the traumatizing events that he faces and gives up on his life.

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On his part, Hamlet, the protagonist in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, is able to follow the decisions and path of a distraught prince with the same name. Like Oedipus, Hamlet is determined to find the person responsible for killing his father and sleeping with his mother. He wants to search for justice by punishing his father’s killer (Shakespeare 42). Throughout this story, Hamlet remains a highly resilient person who is ready to face death rather than give up on his mission.

Despite being the heir to the throne in Denmark, Hamlet finds that he cannot be the new king. Rather, his uncle Claudius is now the new king and even marries his mother. However, he does not react even though he realizes that something is wrong and that he has been shortchanged. Instead, he shows resilience by taking time to learn and grow older (Röhe 29). Hamlet is worried but decides to remain under the leadership of Claudius instead of rebelling or staging a coup. Readers can understand that most people in history have always taken the opposite direction, such as considering a rebellion, a coup, or an assassination of the new king.

The high degree of resilience in Hamlet is seen after his realization that the person responsible for his father’s death is Claudius. Although he is determined to punish Claudius for the murder and deny him the right to inherit the throne, Hamlet decides to take time. In fact, Hamlet does not fully believe in his father’s ghost, which informs him about the murder. Rather, he takes time to read Claudius’s actions before taking action (Röhe 29). Therefore, he is still resilient even after obtaining a clue about the fate of his father. Hamlet appears to recover from the shock quickly, even though he still plans to revenge for the murder.

Furthermore, Hamlet’s rejection of Ophelia appears to be part of his plan. As he recovers from the trauma caused by the realization of his death and his possible fate, he decides not to be tricked by Claudius, who was part of the game, to use Ophelia to tame him. Instead, he decides to rehearse a play recreating his father’s assassination. During the play, Hamlet watches Claudius’ reactions, which help him confirm that the king was responsible for the murder.

Determined to get revenge for his father’s murder, Hamlet finally kills the king and Ophelia’s brother Laertes. Hamlet states, “Upon the killing I invoke this curse, regardless of whether he is one person and all unknown” (Sophocles 246). Realizing that he is also poisoned, he gathers strength and courage and uses the poisoned spear on Claudius as he says, “the point is poisoned too…the poison must work on you too, the murderous and incestuous man” (Shakespeare 324). Quite clearly, Hamlet is able to recover quickly from the tragic events facing him and rise back to his former state to accomplish his mission before he also dies.


In conclusion, it is clear that both Oedipus and Hamlet are determined individuals. Noteworthy, determination is a critical characteristic that one must have for him or her to bounce back from traumatic events or problems. On his part, Oedipus is determined to return to the state of public health in Thebes by finding and punishing the person responsible for killing Laius. Although his determination contributes to his downfall and tragic end, he continues to search for justice and the well-being of the people. However, he is not as determined and resilient as Hamlet. On his part, Hamlet shows determination to the end, whereas Oedipus submits to Creon. From this review, it is clear that Hamlet shows greater resilience than Oedipus.

Works Cited

Chowdhury, Takad Ahmed. “Treatment of fate in Shakespearean and classical Greek tragedies: A comparison.” Academic Journal Perspective: Education, Language, and Literature 8.1 (2020): 29-38.

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Röhe, Daniel. “Oedipus returns to the opera: The repressed in psychoanalysis and musicology.” International Forum of Psychoanalysis. Routledge, 2021.

Shakespeare, William. The tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine, Folger Shakespeare Library.

Sophocles. Oedipus the King. Franklin Classics Trade Press, 2018.

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