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Oedipus and Hamlet Characters’ Contrast and Comparison Essay

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Updated: Sep 2nd, 2022


There are many literary genres, each of which inclines either to great joy or to deep sorrow. The tragedy describes the grief that came because of the decisions made by the main character. Various literary disputes filled the minds of people even in the heyday of multiple kinds of mythologies when all the accumulated ideas about the world were necessarily linked into a fundamentally indivisible philosophical system that, regardless of the environment in which it was woven, always had two poles in itself: man – woman; light-darkness; good – evil. The tragedy is created precisely by the theme of fatality, which comes from the main character’s decision and leads him to a significant fall or death. The purpose of this essay is to compare and contrast one of the main characters of literature – Oedipus and Hamlet, as well as to determine the qualities and skills of people which make them steadfast under challenging situations.

Main body

The most ambitious of all the problems of a person, including a tragic hero, remains the problem of his finiteness, or rather death, and even more precisely – the feeling of a foregone conclusion of everything. In the play of Sophocles, Oedipus, the king of Thebes, plays the role of a tragic hero struggling with an unsolvable, fatal problem. The idea expressed by Sophocles expresses the senselessness of fighting with one’s fate. That is, Oedipus predicted that he would kill his father and marry his mother. No matter how he tries to avoid it, in the end, he kills his father, marries the dowager queen – his mother, and realizing this, he puts out his eyes and leaves his kingdom, becoming a tramp.

Shakespeare creates his tragic hero – Hamlet, who is also at war with the fate that took his father. In addition, Hamlet also fights with himself in an attempt to give answers to impossible questions. Hamlet’s dilemma is more profound and morally more sophisticated than that of Oedipus. It is the sum of all his mental tosses. Comparing the positions of Hamlet and Oedipus, it can be seen that they both came to a tragic end with terrible consequences of their own decisions.

Probably, there may be such an opinion that fate led both heroes to this path. Gleiser claims that there is such a thing as free will, and it is defined as the ability of a people to make their own choice (Gleiser). That is, the situation of both heroes is quite complicated, Oedipus – by the will of fate, was destined to kill his father and marry his mother, and in Hamlet-he decided to kill everyone with the freedom of his own choice. After all, both heroes could avoid such consequences by making informed decisions, but hasty decisions led them both to a tragic end. In this case, fate could still play a big role, but the heroes tried their best to change it and escape from what was destined.

More about Hamlet

Oedipus had such a complex multi-faceted character trait as hubris. That is arrogance, ambition, stubbornness, and excess pride (TedEd). Of course, the man who defeated the sphinx and saved Thebes from the monster is worthy of respect and reverence, but in Oedipus, the trait of arrogance is too clearly demonstrated. Hamlet was not endowed with a feature of arrogance, but hamartia leads him to a similar ending. People and specific literary characters need to have several qualities that will help them to withstand difficult situations. Such attributes include the ability to think quickly in difficult situations, the ability to think through their steps and their consequences, as well as mercy.

In both of the articles studied, the authors highlight that it is impossible to influence a person’s decisions, and I agree with this opinion. This is because decisions are often based on many external factors that play an essential role in decision-making. In the article, The Choice Is Yours: The Fate Of Free Will author claims that there is someone who makes decisions for a person, but this is not true (Gleiser). Undoubtedly, when someone can contribute their opinion or advice, a person will listen to it and change their opinion. Still, even in this case, the actions directly depend on the individual himself. The author of this article also seeks to show that some decisions are conscious since first, a person thinks and then does. Some actions are already predetermined (as in Oedipus), and nothing will change this. The author suggests that scientists will have the opportunity to redefine people’s actions before they realize their choice.

The author of the article Is Free Will an Illusion? seeks to show, based on scientific research, that people’s consciousness is only a part of the brain process. That is, this author also assumes that people’s actions are predetermined (Nichols). Naturally, this idea takes place, which applies not only to the heroes of plays and myths but also to ordinary people in real life. On the other hand, it is important to understand that people often think through their steps and the brain also participates in this process. There are situations in which people, even after thinking for a long time, make the wrong decisions.

Comparing Hamlet and Oedipus, it can be concluded that Hamlet showed the most significant resistance. He gives himself up to thoughts, he is tormented by doubts, but this time of the hero’s life is by no means barren. Reflection leads Hamlet to the knowledge of life in its most profound contradictions. He buys this knowledge at a high price, at the expense of torment and suffering, but Hamlet passes this learning path with dignity. He is not afraid of any terrible truths that arise before him as a conclusion from his reflections and observations. A weak person by nature would not have survived such a test. Not every soul is capable of knowing the truth through grief and suffering.


In conclusion, the genre of tragedy can be described as an intense struggle of solid characters and passions, which ends with a catastrophic outcome for the characters. Oedipus and Hamlet became characters of exactly this genre, and each of them had their destinies that led to a similar result and free will, which still pre-determined their actions. Oedipus was a successful king, a hero who was proud of and eventually became a blind tramp. Hamlet had a good life, and a beloved woman, but he killed everyone and eventually died himself. They both did not expect that fate would lead them to such an outcome, and even though each of them tried to avoid it, fate decreed that they were both dead.

Works Cited

Gleiser, Marcelo. NPR, 2014.

Nichols, Shaun. Scientific American, 2011.

YouTube, uploaded by TedEd, 2015.

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