The Essence of Tragedy in The Book of Job and Oedipus Rex

The Essence of Tragedy in The Book of Job and Oedipus Rex -...

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The Essence of Tragedy in The Book of Job and Oedipus Rex In the search for the essence of the tragedy, The Book of Job and Oedipus Rex are central. Each new tragic protagonist is in some degree a lesser Job or Oedipus, and each new work owes an indispensable element to the Counselors and to the Greek idea of the chorus. The Book of Job , especially the Poet's treatment of the suffering and searching Job, is behind Shakespeare and Milton, Melville, Dostoevski, and Kafka. Its mark is on all tragedy of alienation, from Marlowe's Faustus to Camus' Stranger, in which there is a sense of separation from a once known, normative, and loved deity or cosmic order or principle of conduct. In emphasizing dilemma, choice, wretchedness of soul, and guilt, it spiritualized the Promethean theme of Aeschylus and made it more acceptable to the Christianized imagination. In working into one dramatic context so great a range of mood---from pessimism and despair to bitterness, defiance, and exalted insight---it is father to all tragedy where the stress is on the inner dynamics of man's response to destiny. Oedipus stresses not so much man's guilt or forsakeness as his ineluctable lot, the stark realities which are and always will be. The Greek tradition is less nostalgic and less visionary---the difference being in emphasis, not in kind. There is little pining for a lost Golden Age, or yearning for utopia, redemption, or heavenly restitution. But if it stresses man's fate, it does not deny him freedom. Dramatic action, of course, posits freedom; without it no tragedy could be written. In Aeschylus' Prometheus Kratos (or Power) says, "None is free but Zeus," but the whole play proves him wrong. Even the Chorus of helpless Sea Nymphs, in siding with Prometheus in the end, defy the bidding of the gods. Aeschylus' Orestes was told by Apollo to murder his mother, but he was not compelled to. The spirit with which he acquiesced in his destiny ( a theme which Greek tragedy stresses as Job does not) is of a free man who, though fated, could have withdrawn and not acted at all. Even Euripides, who of all the Greek Tragedians had the direst view of the gods' compulsiveness in man's affairs, shows his Medea and Hippolytus as proud and decisive human beings. And, as Cedric Whitman says about the fate of Oedipus, the prophecy merely predicted Oedipus' future, it did not determine it. Had Oedipus wish to escape his prophesied future, he might have killed himself on first hearing of it or never killed a man or never`married. The fact that he acted at all, with such a curse hanging over him, explains why, perhaps, he is not entirely a stranger to guilt. But the fact remains that Oedipus presides over that mode of tragedy less concerned with judgement (eschatology) than with being (ontology), less with ultimate things than with things here and now; less with man and the gods as they should be than with man and the gods as they are. In the Christian era, except for an occasional academic exercise or tour de force, there has been no
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This note was uploaded on 01/27/2012 for the course ENGLISH 1301 taught by Professor Hunter during the Fall '11 term at University of Texas at Dallas, Richardson.

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The Essence of Tragedy in The Book of Job and Oedipus Rex -...

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