Analysis of the Shepherd’s Role in Tragedy

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The Aristotelian definition of a tragedy depicts the fall of a noble hero to the lowest point of humanity following a chain of events often initiated by a single character or event. This fall is often embodied by the hero’s tragic flaw and his futile attempt to overcome the limits of his fate. In the case of Oedipus Rex, the Shepherd functions as the character that initiates the tragic downfall of Oedipus from his kingship to his inevitable exile, a disgrace considered worse than death in ancient Greece. In the dialogue between Oedipus and the Shepherd, Oedipus’s inquisition for the truth overcomes the Shepherd’s rational acts. Initially a humble King of Thebes, Oedipus becomes agitated in realizing his futile attempts to avoid his tragic fate. Oedipus eagerness for discovering the truth about his origin despite the negative outcomes embodies the noble, yet tragic flaw of any good king. The Shepherd’s avoidance of the Oedipus’s questioning exhibits the Shepherd’s strong rationality during this scene. He hesitates in revealing the truth to prudently protect himself and Oedipus from repercussions of reality. The Shepherd insists that the revelation of the truth will result in destruction, “I will be destroyed even more if I do talk” (line 1184). The Shepherd’s fear in this line embodies his rationality and foreshadows the inevitability of tragedy in this scene. The Shepherd continually stalls during his dialogue with Oedipus, but Oedipus’s overbearingness overpowers his resistance, and thus the Shepherd resorts to pleading to the King, “By the gods, master, do not inquire further!” (line 1190). The Shepherd’s futile resistance displays his determination to protect the kingdom and himself, and only when threatened with death did the Shepherd succumb to cowardly behavior and reveal the reality of Oedipus’s fate. Oedipus’s desire to continuously inquire despite the
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