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Oedipus the King and The Importance of Being Earnest - Book Report/Review Example

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In what ways are the elements and forces that will lead to the tragic/comic conclusion set up In either case, is it clear from the outset that the play is a comedy or a tragedy, or is there possibility for development in either direction
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Oedipus the King and The Importance of Being Earnest
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Download file to see previous pages More than twenty centuries separate the most famous of Sophocles' tragedies and Wilde's comedy of manners, yet we are still able to perceive these two masterpieces as belonging to the same culture, having common origins and conforming to the same esthetic rules. Their adherence to a certain tradition is still remarkably noticeable. Oedipus the King and The Importance of Being Earnest were written by two westerners: the one who stood at the cradle of dramatic art as we now know it, and the other who inherited, absorbed and added a new brilliance to the classical forms on the eve of the modernist era.

Through close textual analysis of the opening scenes of the two plays this essay endeavors to demonstrate, firstly, that driving forces of both plays are detectable from the outset and conform to respective sets of conventions for specific genres. Secondly, it analyses how plot and characterization is used to steer the plays either in comic or in tragic direction. Finally, on the basis of this analysis it argues that exposition of these forces responds in both cases to principles of Aristotelian esthetics, is easily recognized by the audience and attributed to specific genres, and therefore, the tragic or comic outcome of the plays is largely predetermined by their openings.
We will start our analysis with comparing the plots of two plays. In an attempt to rid his city from plague Oedipus discovers that he is the son of Laius and his murderer, responsible for his subjects’ sufferings. In an attempt to secure Gwendolen’s hand Jack Worthing discovers that he is Lady Bracknell’s nephew and therefore Gwendolen’s cousin. Both Oedipus and Jack Worthing are findlings forced by circumstances into a quest for their origins.
The first thing that an attentive reader can become aware of from comparative reading of the plays is that despite their obvious generic and stylistic differences they both employ the same structural element in their plots: a search for and a consequent revelation of the hidden identity, which in case of Oedipus resolves into a catastrophe and in case of The Importance of Being Earnest into a comic climax that ensures fulfillment of character's aspirations.
There are, however, two structural, genre-related differences that should be stressed from the beginning. Oedipus as tragedy is structured around and depends upon this strongly executed and sustained plot. The audience's reaction of pity is constantly reinforced by dramatic irony: we are aware from the beginning of Oedipus' terrible identity. The Importance of Being Earnest, on the other hand, is far less dependable upon its plot; plot is the instrument for stitching together comic sequences, the matter of identity is not resolved until the very end, as suspense forms an important part of comic strategy.
Let us now turn to the opening scenes of Oedipus and see how the main mechanisms of the play are set up. The play opens with a dialog between Oedipus and the priest representing the people of Thebes. The very first words of the kind set the grim atmosphere: the air is full of "prayers and lamentations", and Oedipus overtly asks his people what fear, what sorrow brings them to seek his compassion and help. The priest's reply is equally up to the point: the city is "storm-tossed, and can no longer raise its head/ Above the waves and angry surge of death." (Sophocles, ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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