Oedipus the King Essay

Throughout the history of human kind there have been plenty of tragedies among the royal families. Sometimes the murder of a member of a royal family have led to war, like it happened on “June 28, 1914 when the Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated”(Lebow) provoking tension among the European powers of that time, and inciting what later on became World War I. In other occasions the kings are the reason of a kingdom’s problems, as it happens in Sophocles’s play Oedipus the King, where the only way of saving the kingdom of Thebes is by getting rid of the ruling king, Oedipus. Some other times the tragedy stays within the royal family, causing multiple deaths and practically vanishing the heritage of the family.

This situation is described in one of Shakespeare’s finest plays, Hamlet, where the king is assassinated and it induces the other characters in the play to revenge the king’s death causing a major tragedy. These are some examples of the consequences that a murder of a royal family member may bring, but if we analyze the reasons why these tragedies happen we can find some common patterns throughout history too.

While analyzing the plays that take this subject as the main theme of the story like in Hamlet and Oedipus the King, there are some options that could answer the question, why the kings die in the story?. The options I found interested in analyzing to answer this question are: because the discontent of the people in the kingdom, because of envy of those close to the king that are seeking power, and because of the hubris and excessive ambition kings have and are unable to control.

Sophocles wrote Oedipus the King at a time where the people of Athens were having a lot of problems. “The Athenians had just lost a war in 431 B.C., against Sparta and the city was infested with a plague that wiped out at least a quarter of the Athenian population, which they thought it was inflicted upon them by the gods”(Kirszner). Therefore Sophocles was inspired to write a tragedy that involved a discontent kingdom as it was Thebes in Oedipus the King. The fact that the people of Thebes were unhappy has amajor impact in the story that will lead to the tragic life for the rulers of this kingdom.

At the beginning of the story the people of Thebes were threatened by the Sphinx, “a monster with a woman’s head, a lion’s body, and wings”(Sophocles) which killed every young men that could answer a riddle. Oedipus solved the riddle and free Thebes from Sphinx reign of terror, giving him the throne and the hand of the widowed queen Jocasta. Once Oedipus was a king he wasn’t able to keep his kingdom in good shape so the population of Thebes seek for his help as it is stated in the first act of the play where it says, “Our city, as you see yourself, is tossed too much, and can no longer lift its head above the troughs of billows red with death”(Sophocles). This line describes the bad times Thebes was going through, and because Oedipus was loyal to his people he couldn’t let this happen, and tried to help them. While seeking for a reason for all the badness Thebes was going through, Oedipus finds out he is the source of evil and from there his life becomes in nothing else but tragedy.

So, in order to have a tragic ending Sophocles needed to state a prior problem in the story that would lead the king to its unwanted fate. In this story he chose to set a discontent population that would incite the king to help them and find out of the terrible prophecy once was made for him and his family. Hence the fact that the people of Thebes were discontent and suffering could be one of the reasons that lead Oedipus to his tragic fate, because if he as a king had been able to keep his kingdom in good shape he would have never discovered he killed his father and married his mother.

The second reason to analyze that could answer, why the kings die in the story? Is the fact that there are a lot of people who envy those with power and there are some that not even murder would stop them from getting what they want. In the ruling system in which kingdom are established, envy is very common among the royal family members because the hierarchy status is already set and the king is chosen with no criteria except that he is the next in line of the royal family. The way this system of government is set makes it unfair for the other members of the family and the population because they would never get a chance to improve their social status or hierarchy.

Shakespeare in his play Hamlet makes a clear representation of the twisted feelings close members of the royal family may have towards the king. In this play Shakespeare presents the Kingdom of Denmark, where the kings brother knowing that the only way he could become king is by killing his brother he murdered him and takes over the throne. So, in this story the envy Claudius, the king’s brother, has towards the king develops the whole tragedy that would make him kill his brother and then the king’s son, Hamlet, would take revenge on his father’s name and kill the murdered. This feeling Claudius has towards his brother is shown in the play in the third act where he says, “Of those effects for which I did the murther: My crown, mine own ambition, and my queen”(Shakespeare).

The jealousy and envy people have against the royal members had existed since the kingdoms were first established and I think it was what doomed this government system. An example of how envy caused the death of a royal family in history could be when King Louis XVI and the Queen Marie Antoinette were killed by there own people in , because of the luxurious life they were having in the expenses of their working people. The population of France at that time couldn’t resist any more to watch the comfortable life their ruler was having while they were starving so they punished them with death. This happened after Shakespeare had written Hamlet and people already knew that the system of kingdoms wasn’t a fair ruling system but the ones with power would try anything possible before their privileges are removed from them.

Envy is a really dangerous feeling that can make people do things impulsively without thinking them through. In Hamlet Shakespeare describes a situation where the brother’s king is driven by his feelings and is capable of killing somebody of his own family in order to get what he desired , the power of the throne and the queen.

The third reason the kings might be condemn to die in these plays, is because the arrogance and excessive ambition they gain when they get to the throne and they are unable to control those emotions. In both plays, Oedipus the King and Hamlet, there are situations that show the arrogance the kings had and that led them to their tragic fates. In Oedipus the King, Oedipus is an ambitious and arrogant king who thinks he can rescue the people of Thebes, so he wouldn’t give up until he had all the answers he needed to find out where all the evil was coming from. These attitudes led him to find out about the prophecy the Oracle once made for him and his family turning his arrogance into sorrow and forcing him to poke his eyes to stop seeing the tragedy his life had came to.

In Hamlet two kings die throughout the story, but the one that shows the most characteristics of being an arrogant person is Claudius because he thinks he can get away with the murder of his brother and that he would always have the situation under control. This arrogance makes him not get rid of Hamlet and just think he has gone mad, letting Hamlet take revange on his father’s name and kill him.

The kings in these two plays, Oedipus the King and Hamlet, are condemn to die and I think both authors did this because they were trying to show to the spectators that seeking for greatness and power shouldn’t be the major purpose in someone’s life because it can also bring destruction and tragedy.