Essay, Research Paper: Oedipus The King

Theater

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The true Greek tragedy, Oedipus the King, written by Sophocles (496-406 B.C.),
adheres to Aristotles (384-322 B.C.) definition of a tragedy. The first
criterion of a Greek tragedy is that the protagonist be a good person; doubly
blessed with a good heart and noble intention. Sophocles reveals immediately at
the start of the play that Oedipus is such a man. As is common in the Greek
tragedy Oedipus is also an aristocrat. Born of the King and Queen of Thebes he
is of true nobility. Oedipus on the other-hand believes his parents are the King
and Queen of Corinth. Oedipus was abandoned as a baby and adopted by them.
Because that information is known to the audience, and not to Oedipus prior to
the start of the play, it is a perfect example of tragic irony because when he
declares that he will find the murderer he is the man that he pursues. Here he
is told by Tiresias,” I say you are the murderer you hunt” (1235). The theme
of Oedipus the King is not clear-cut. The theme in this tragic play seems to be
you can‘t escape your fate. Contentment leads to ignorance as Oedipus lends
fate a hand in his bitter end. This trait is touched-on in these lines spoken by
Creon. “Look at you, sullen in yielding, brutal in your rage- you’ll go too
far. It’s perfect justice: natures like yours are hardest on
themselves”(Sophocles 1242-1243). Oedipus is a true hero in the Greek tragedy.
He has the fate of the community in his hands along with the noble character to
take care of it himself. He announces his convictions to take this problem into
his own hands and do whatever is necessary to lift the curse. Oedipus addresses
the priests assembled before him, “ You can trust me; I am ready to help,
I’ll do anything (Sophocles 1225). The city has this faith in him and the
priest come to tell him so he will help them lift the curse. “Now we pray to
you. You cannot equal the gods, your children know that...But we do rate you
first of men,”(1226). He also appears to have Apollo’s ear, which makes him
seem all-powerful to the audience; this is another standard of the classic Greek
tragedy. Oedipus told his people, ”After painful search I found one cure: I
acted at once. I sent Creon, my wife’s own brother, to Delphi-Apollo the
Prophet’s oracle- to learn what I might do or say to save our city“ (1226).
Following Aristotle’s qualifications of the tragic hero Oedipus does have a
tragic flaw as is standard in the Greek tragedy. Oedipus has a character flaw
that brings his end. Although it cannot be summed-up in one word there is
evidence that his flaw may be ignorance or blindness to his own fate. This
ignorance unearths a pride that is revealed though out the play. As when Oedipus
tells the chorus/city’ “You pray to the gods? Let me grant your prayers”
(1231). Oedipus is too content with himself and his life to see his end coming.
He throws caution to the wind when he kills a man who is old enough to be his
father. This was done shortly after he had gone to see Apollo.”-and the god
Apollo spurned me, sent me away denied the facts I came for, but first he
flashed before my eyes a future great with pain, terror, disaster-I can hear him
cry,’ You are fated to couple with your mother...you will kill your father,
the one who gave you life” (1246)! Oedipus goes to great lengths to keep his
fate from being played-out. He thinks running away will stop his role in things
to come. And in his marriage to an older woman, he seems to tempt fate by not
questioning his choice, when he knows there were doubts about his being a true
blood relation to his parents. This is revealed to the audience when Oedipus
says, ”Some man at a banquet who had drunk too much shouted out-he was far
gone mind you-that I am not my father’s son” (1245). There are many choices
he makes that can only be accredited to his blind faith in himself. Which is
displayed in a blindness that is transmitted throughout. Oedipus refuses to
believe Tiresias because he is a blind man and he tells him, ”You’ve lost
your power, stone-blind, stone-deaf--senses, eyes blind as stone!’-’this
fortune-teller peddling lies, eyes peeled for his own profit-seer blind in his
craft!”(1235). But Tiresias not only foretells Oedipus’ fate but also
predicts his physical blindness when he tells him, ”I pity you, flinging at me
the very insults each man here will fling at you so soon’ ... ‘This day will
bring your birth and your destruction”(1235-1236). Even though Oedipus is told
time and again. His unremitting blindness keeps him from seeing the whole truth
and allows him to live a contented life as king. The revelation in this play
comes shortly after Oedipus’ wife tells him, "The heralds no sooner
reported Laius dead than you appeared and they hailed you king of Thebes“
(1244). His response to this news tells volumes, “I think I’ve just called
down a dreadful curse upon myself--I simply didn’t know” (1244). He then
refers to Tiresias’ vision dualistically, “ I have a terrible fear the blind
seer can see” (1244). After Jocasta’s late-breaking news, Oedipus recounts
the essentials of when he killed a man at a triple crossroad because the story
correlates to the murder of Laius. He then begins to feel Apollo’s hand in
this. “Wasn’t I born for torment? Look me in the eyes’ ... ‘Wouldn’t a
man of judgment say ... some savage power has brought this down upon my head”
(1246). The reversal in this play comes after Oedipus puts all the pieces
together. The messenger who comes to tell of Polybus’ death is surprised to
find that this news brings Oedipus relief. He then proceeds to recount the
actual facts, ”Well then seeing I came with such good will, my king, why
don’t I rid you of that old worry now...Polybus was nothing to you, that’s
why, not in blood“ (1251). Unknown to the messenger this news only adds to
Oedipus’ worry’s. The truth is coming too close when the messenger says,
“The one who gave you to me, he’d know more...He called himself a servant
of... Laius (1252). Jocasta now knows the truth and begs Oedipus not to question
him further. “Stop-in the name of god, if you love your own life, call off
this search! My suffering is enough ... may you never fathom who you are”
(1253). But his commitment to discern his true origin will not stop the tale
from unfolding. He tells a servant to fetch the man that the messenger spoke of.
The shepard comes and after much pressing reveals Oedipus’ birth parents and
of his fate known at birth:”...the child came from the house ... of Laius...If
you are the man he says you are...you were born for pain” (1256). Upon hearing
this Oedipus can no longer think of himself as good or hide from his fate,” O
god- all come true, all burst to light! O light- now let me look my last on you!
I stand revealed at last-cursed in my birth, cursed in my marriage, cursed in
the lives I cut down with these hands” (1256)! Here is where the roles are
reversed and he becomes the blind man who has seen more than he cares to. After
Oedipus has blinded himself Creon comes to console but also to do his duty to
the gods. Oedipus is to be pitied when he says, "You'd ask the oracle about
a man like me?’...‘By all means,“ Creon replies, “And this time, I
assume, even you will obey the god’s decrees“ (1263). Which is Sophocles’
intent that Oedipus take responsibility for his misgivings and transcend human
limitations. The audience could not possibly watch this misery unfold without
feeling pity, for Oedipus, or being frightened by the extent that he is willing
to go to redeem his ignorance to the gods. After the audience has been told all,
the chorus reminds everyone of his great measures, “You outranged all men!
Bending your bow to the breaking-point you captured priceless glory’...‘you
rose and saved our land” (1257). He might have been able to hide the facts of
his birth from the people but then he wouldn’t be the man of great integrity
and unwavering character that the audience admires. Here Oedipus tells the
chorus, “Now I’ve exposed my guilt, horrendous guilt, could I train a level
glance on you, my country men‘...’Impossible” (1261). If Oedipus had
acknowledged Apollo’s power when he first learned of his fate would he then
have been able to change it? He seems to be an unwitting pawn in an elaborate
game of Apollo‘s, as Greek gods were fabled to do, and here he asks it out
loud. “My god, my god- what have you planned to do to me?”(1244). Was
Oedipus right to refuge himself from the visions and facts to then be crowned
king and idolized before he banished himself? Oedipus did defeat Apollo in some
ways. Because he was able to out run his fate until after he had lived a full
and successful life. And only then when the city was being destroyed did he
resign himself knowing that he could not allow the people to suffer for his
deeds. Works Cited Sophocles. “Oedipus the King.” The Bedford Introduction
to Literature. 5th ed. Ed. Michael Meyer. Boston. Bedford/St. Martin’s. 1999.
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