William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Sophocles’ Oedipus the King are among the most famous dramas in English literature. Written more than four centuries ago, Hamlet is still relevant and continues to be adapted and performed today. It is the story of a prince seeking to avenge his father’s death. He is also faced with various philosophical questions through which the reader greatly learns. Shakespeare presents Hamlet as a highly complex character and is arguably the most analyzed character in all his works. On its side, Oedipus the King is a representation of a Greek myth. The tragedy follows the life of King Oedipus, who unwittingly kills his father and marries his mother (Sophocles, 1994). It is regarded as one of Sophocles’ best works and an exemplary Greek tragedy. The tragedy explores the themes of fate and free will, sight and blindness, as well as the conflict between the state and the individual. Through excellent characterization, Sophocles brings out these themes brilliantly. Though written in different periods, both Hamlet and Oedipus the King carry profound lessons, hence their longevity. Their characters bear similarities and differences that make the plays resonate so well with the audience. In this light, this paper seeks to compare and contrast characters in the two Hamlet and King Oedipus.
Similarly Motivated and Flawed
Both Hamlet and King Oedipus are royals. The former is the Prince of Denmark and the latter is the King of Thebes. However, their motives are the most striking similarity between them. In both plays, the characters are seeking to find the truth regarding the murder of their fathers. The paths they follow to find the truth, however, are different. Protagonists in most Shakespearean plays, as well as Greek tragedies, bear fatal flaws, a characteristic seen in both Hamlet and King Oedipus (Lombardi, 2017). The flaws are meant to push the action and plot and also leads to the character’s downfall, which, in turn, achieves self-actualization. The main characters in both plays bear such flaws, which ultimately contribute to their tragic end. Hamlet is depicted as indecisive and slow to act, flaws that cost him the throne, people he loves, as well as his life. Ignorance and hot-temper are King Oedipus’ fatal flaws. These flaws led to decisions that completely changed the course of his life. For instance, though he was warned against seeking his true identity, he ignored the advice and unknowingly went ahead to kill his father and marry his mother. As such, both characters are fatally flawed, and the flaws directly contribute to their downfall.
Victims of Circumstances
While, as mentioned above, the flaws possessed by the characters led to their downfall, fate, and circumstances also greatly determined the course of their lives. Hamlet finds himself in an involuntary situation that significantly affects his identity. The death of his father and marriage of his mother to Claudius, in quick succession, upsets him. The encounter with his father’s ghost father unsettles him and makes him abandon his rationality and seek revenge (Shakespeare & Furness, 1948). While he was initially a rational and understanding person, his environment changes his personality and makes him insane, though it can be argued that he was feigning madness to achieve his goal. Oedipus’ fate was decided long before he was born. All his actions, therefore, regardless of how noble or heroic, gradually led him to his downfall. Both characters, therefore, had little control over several events in their lives.
While Hamlet and King Oedipus have similar motives, they take different approaches. King Oedipus’ desire to find the truth is much stronger than that of Hamlet. He is committed to solving his problems regardless of the cost. After solving the Sphinx curse, he states, “…I will start afresh and once again / Make dark things clear” (Sophocles, 1994). He also comes across as a remarkably persistent man in his pursuit. He takes every chance and interrogates all the possible witnesses to establish who killed Laius. Besides, he does not show any political duplicity in his attempt to find the truth. Not even the threat of losing his throne or life shakes his resolve. His character can be contrasted against that of Hamlet, who comes across as less energetic and persistent in his pursuit of his father’s murderer. While King Oedipus is a warrior, Hamlet is more of a philosopher. As such, his actions are preceded by intense contemplation and reflection, and hence he is not as decisive and hot-tempered as King Oedipus is. His indecisiveness is seen when he postpones killing Claudius, the killer of his father when he gets a chance. However, the ghost of his father, as well as the oath he gives him, dramatically changes Hamlet’s personality in the course of the play. He renounces the books he has read and lets his actions guide him. In this respect, the character of Hamlet increasingly resembles that of King Oedipus following the change.
Through their strengths, weaknesses, actions, and conflicts, Hamlet and King Oedipus depict themes that are as relevant today as they were several centuries ago. Both nobilities seek to avenge the deaths of their fathers. They also possess fatal flaws that ultimately lead to their fall. Despite these flaws, however, the characters had no control over some of the events that happened in their lives. As noted, their approach to problems greatly differed. King Oedipus appears as a warrior whose ignorance and hot-temper hurts him, while Hamlet is a philosopher whose indecisiveness and inaction leads to his fall.
Lombardi, C. (2017). Oedipus the King and Hamlet: A Descent to the Fathers. Between, 7(14). Retrieved from https://leo.cineca.it/index.php/between/article/view/2812
Shakespeare, W., & Furness, H. H. (1948). Hamlet. University Press. Retrieved from http://rvrhs.enschool.org/ourpages/auto/2011/4/25/38881272/On%20Hamlet.doc
Sophocles, E. A. (1994). Oedipus the King. Classic Productions. Retrieved from http://azactorsacademy.com/uploads/plays/oedipus_rex.pdf
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Essay Example on Hamlet and Oedipus: Literary Classics Relevant Today. (2023, Sep 24). Retrieved from https://proessays.net/essays/essay-example-on-hamlet-and-oedipus-literary-classics-relevant-today
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