The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle once identified the key ingredients of the tragedies that his culture is so famous for. These ingredients include a character with a fatal flaw, the realization of the fault for a particular problem and the final sudden reversal of fortune. For many tragedies, the fatal flaw is demonstrated as excessive pride, which usually serves as the driving force of the play’s action.
It is common, even beneficial, to have pride in oneself, but when it becomes expressed as arrogance or in defiance of one’s fate, it is considered excessive and often leads men to engage in activities that will lead to their downfall. Aristotle (1998) stated “the tragic hero falls into bad fortune because of some flaw in his character of the kind found in men of high reputation and good fortune such as Oedipus. ” This attitude, commonly found in men of high station is not specifically identified as pride in the case of Oedipus and, indeed, different readings can place Oedipus’ great flaw in a number of areas.
It seems as if Sophocles intended to emphasize the more common interpretation of Oedipus’ flaw being excessive pride, but other interpretations, such as Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1967 film Oedipus Rex, present other possibilities as the main character is brought through the three primary elements of tragedy. In both the play and the film, Oedipus is quickly demonstrated to have a fatal flaw. In the play, the action opens as Oedipus is approached by plague-stricken masses asking help from him as king.
He responds to their appeals saying, “What means this reek of incense everywhere, / From others, and am hither come, myself, / I Oedipus, your world-renowned king” (4-8). In this statement, Oedipus’ pride in his social position is clear. In the film, though, he is seen as somewhat insecure, even as a child when he cheats at a game, and then as a haunted man with a burning mystery searing his dreams, both showing him to be a man of deep passions. Throughout the remainder of the action in the play, Oedipus’ personality clearly reflects excessive pride in his ability to force things his way.
When Oedipus learned of the prediction that he was doomed to kill his father and marry his mother, he was full of self-pride to defy the fates and leave Corinth. The film depicts this as a heart-wrenching decision to never go near his parents again in order to save them followed by a time of desperate wandering through barren wastelands. While both versions indicate extreme passion involved in the killing of Laius and the claiming of Jocasta, the Oedipus in the play greets his subjects with almost concealed disdain and the Oedipus of the film greets them with sorrow and deeply shared concern.
While Sophocles sets his character up to battle pride, Pasolini prepares him to come face to face with the consequences of passion. It is easy to see the irony in both play and film that if Oedipus had not been so determined to escape and prevent the prophecy, he would have not unwittingly fulfilled it. This is foreshadowed by Creon in the play just before the truth of the story is realized. Creon tells Oedipus, “You are obstinate— / obviously unhappy to concede, / and when you lose your temper, you go too far. But men like that find it most difficult / to tolerate themselves” (814-819). In this one short statement, Jocasta’s brother sums up the entire tragedy. He points to Oedipus’ stubbornness and pride in being unwilling to consider the possibility that he might be the murderer he seeks. As a result of his own impatience and driving desire to bring honor and further pride to his name, Oedipus becomes excessive in his proclamations regarding motives and punishments to be handed down and then suddenly realizes that he cannot escape the horror of his crimes.
This horror is demonstrated in the film to great effect as the confused Oedipus slowly becomes overwhelmed with the possibilities, finally screaming out his confession in a now-customary burst of passion. By the end of the story, Oedipus has come to realize that everything he has done has only served to bring him closer to his evil destiny. In the process of trying to avoid fate, he has committed some of the greatest sins imaginable to him – defiled his mother’s bed, murdered his father and spawned monstrous children born of incest.
Rather than face the truth and unable to take the severe wound to his pride, Oedipus stabbed out his eyes with broaches and walked away from Thebes forever, thereby sealing his doom through further prideful actions. The sudden reversal of fortune has Oedipus walking away from Thebes a blind, homeless beggar rather than the respected king he should have been based upon his more noble qualities. While this is a surprise, it is nevertheless a logical possible conclusion to the events that have taken place.
This concept is brought out to greater extent in the film through the change in setting. Pasolini begins and ends the film in a contemporary setting to when the film was made. While the play suggests that Oedipus went wandering into the desert a self-blinded beggar man, the film indicates that he has been wandering a tortured individual for much longer than a normal lifep. Thus, the elements of classic tragedy are carried throughout both play and film to slightly different interpretations.
In both, a fatal flaw within the character of Oedipus drives his actions that eventually seal his own doom. Seen as it is throughout the various elements of the classic tragedian format of first demonstrating a noble characteristic to tragic proportions, then becoming aware of it and then suffering as a result of it, it cannot be missed that Sophocles was trying to illustrate to his audience the dangers of an absence of humility and common sense when he highlighted Oedipus’ excessive pride.
Pasolini seems to have been more interested in warning his audiences about the sins of excessive passion. This is, in some sense, what Aristotle was trying to communicate regarding the purpose of tragedy, which he describes as “an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play … through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation of these emotions” (Aristotle cited in Friedlander, 2005).
By illustrating the various things that can go wrong when one believes they have no flaws, Sophocles and Pasolini hoped to encourage a closer connection with truth as a means of avoiding Oedipus’ fate. Works Cited “Aristotle. ” Critica Links. (1998). The University of Hawaii. May 21, 2007 Pasolini, Pier Paolo (Dir. ). Edipo Re. Perf. Silvana Mangano, Franco Citti, Carmelo Bene, Julian Beck & Ninetto Davoli. Arco Films, 1967. Sophocles. Antigone, Oedipus the King, Electra. Oxford World’s Classics. Ed. Edith Hall. Oxford University Press, 1998.
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