Object and Subject of Sympathy: An Analysis of Hamlet and Oedipus Rex

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The canon of western drama is divided into many categories. One of these belongs to the truly revolutionary playwrights; individuals who radically changed and improved theatre as a whole. William Shakespeare and the ancient Greek playwright Sophocles are two men whose inclusion in this lofty echelon is unequivocally justified. If one were to select a play from each man’s repertoire to epitomize their work, the titles Hamlet and Oedipus Tyrannos would likely surface above the rest. Both plays are classics in every sense of the word, and their success can be directly correlated to the immense substance of their eponymous characters: the dark prince, and the ill-fated king. Not surprisingly, the main themes of each play are embodied in their lead character. Hamlet’s inner moral conflict, his academic musings about the nature of life and death, and his articulate assessment of decisiveness seem to be Shakespeare’s way of asking the audience to consider their own opinions on each of these issues. The lines of Sophocles’ Oedipus are dripping with thematic meaning. The playwright’s messages of fate, irony, responsibility, and universality are wrapped within the persona of Oedipus (Macdonald 148) (Miller 215). Needless to say, the plots of the plays also rest upon the shoulders of Oedipus and Hamlet, as they are responsible for the majority of the action. The interest in comparing the characters lies in the fact that while each of them is essentially “just”, the meaning-experiences of the plays are poles apart, based on the depiction of their respective heroes. The allure of the character of Hamlet is not difficult to distinguish. As a human being, his troubles are easy to identify with; he finds himself forced to correct an unpleasant and painful situation, largely on his own. In addition, the action requested of him conflicts with many of his moral
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