Analysis of Tragedy in “Oedipus the King”

Subject: Literature
Pages: 5
Words: 1561
Reading time:
6 min
Study level: Bachelor

A common adage goes that destiny or fate can only be delayed but never stopped. Fate is a spiritual aspect thought by people to have the ability to control life. According to many cultural beliefs worldwide, not even the most vital human being can oppose fate. The need to control humans’ lives makes many people care about their ability to master life issues. As such, the search leads to the issue of self will and fate, where the first facet touches on individual’s ability to manage and direct his or her life, while providence touches on the issue of gods’ will. The present work uses the play Oedipus the King and utilizes the king’s emotions and those of his close allies to show how such led to the tragedy in the play. The people’s weak character, as opposed to emotions, is the primary cause of tragedies in life and the foreseers help them understand their potential dark future to develop the right manners to avoid it.

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Remarkably, the Greek world is famous for believing in gods. The republic has several deities who control different things concerning humanity and nature. People in Greece believed that one’s destiny offers the final say in his or her life. Oedipus the King, is a play by Sophocles’, written in around 46 B.C, but holds much sense to date. According to Sophocles, Oedipus is the real son of King Laius (of Thebes) and Jocasta. After the boy’s birth, King Laius, the father, seeks the oracle’s intervention to know about his son’s fate. The oracle tells the king that his son will one day kill him and marry the queen, Jocasta, his mother. The information affects the royal family significantly, where King Laius and Jocasta kill the son after giving birth to him.

King Laius’ plan is executed by giving the young song to a herdsman who is to expose him, the young child, to the mountainside coldness for him to die. The herdsman, however, chooses to keep the boy, who after growing is given to King Polybus (of Corinth) for adoption. On growing, Oedipus consults an oracle in Delphi, Corinth, and learns about his fate, where he chooses to flee, heading to Thebes. However, Oedipus’ move puts him in the way of his destruction, his fate. Looking into Oedipus’ life, it is clear that he had the potential to change his fate if he dropped some emotions like fear, anger, ignorance, and pride. The following discussion, thus, shows how these specific emotions contributed into Oedipus’ failure.

Fear is a common feeling throughout the play Oedipus the King. Several characters in the play exhibit fears that put them into great dangers. Oedipus himself is one of such characters, together with his real father and mother, Jocasta. Exhibiting fear makes Oedipus and his real parents fall into the ‘trap’ of the foretold fate. Oedipus is a nice person, based on his actions in the play. He, for example, flees Corinth not to kill his adoptive father and marry her mother. Oedipus confirms his fear by saying that “when I heard that, measuring where Corinth stands, even thereafter by the stars alone, where I might never think to see fulfilled, the scandals of ill prophecies of me, I fled, an exile” (Sophocles 1096). Such is to imply that if his real parents never feared the oracle’s revelation, nothing would happen to their son and the entire family.

Oedipus’ parents, especially his father, are fearful; his fear develops after he consults the oracle before Oedipus is born. Consulting gods was a common practice among the Greek families during the play. Parents wanted to know the fate of their children to know how best to support them. Being a king, Oedipus would be the heir, thus, pushing King Laius to want to know his son’s destiny from the gods. As such, the oracle consulted by Laius is the cause of the fear among the family members. The oracle told King Laius that his son would kill him and marry his mother, which caused fear in the family. Jocasta confesses that “to Laius once, There came an oracle, I do not say, From Phoebus’ self, but from his ministers, That so it should befall, that he should die, By a son’s hands, whom he should have by me” (Sophocles 852). The admission forms the basis of the family’s fear that their child will once become the cause of pain to the parents.

Fear makes Jocasta and his husband expose Oedipus to his tragedy. Due to the knowledge that Oedipus was meant to kill his father, King Laius and his wife developed the fear of the ‘known’ and, thus, exposed Oedipus to the prophesied bad end. Oedipus’ fear also makes him fall into the trap of anger and ignorance while in Thebes. He (Oedipus) goes to Thebes to avoid his fate, where he experiences both triumph and failures. One of the successes attained by Oedipus was helping the people Thebes solve a parable that saved them from their enemies. On the other hand, Oedipus’ failure to save the people of Thebes from the great plague makes him fearful. The fear makes him lose his tempers, thus, establishing enmity with prophets Teiresias, who could help him realize his true being and resolve the tragedy. Due to fear, Oedipus messes himself and differs from people that can help him. Oedipus would turn around the fate pronounced to his original father, but for fear. The character’s fear and that of his parents make him follow the way of destruction, causing the tragedy.

Anger is another emotion that is to blame for Oedipus’ failure. The king is furious, especially when things are not going his way. In Thebes, for example, king Oedipus’ fury is witnessed through his interaction with Tiresias, the blind foreseer. Tiresias is a gifted prophet who is in a position to help Oedipus revert his tragedy. However, the point that Tiresias finds the truth about Oedipus hurting and chooses to keep quiet on the same hurts Oedipus substantially. Tiresias says it is hard to bear something that hurts someone as a prophet. However, Oedipus never finds the message crucial to seek more meaning to understand the underlying issue. The matter pushes Tiresias to sadly declare that he, Oedipus, is the main cause of the plague facing the city of Thebes. The prophet uses hidden language to tell Oedipus that he is the killer. As such, if Oedipus was a calm person would learn from Tiresias and resolve the matter before it reached the point of her mother committing suicide and him blinding himself out of anger and desperation.

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Oedipus’ ignorance, excessive pride and inflated confidence (hubris) also expose him to his tragedy. The character’s assumption of instructions and directives from people who could advise him, including overseers, depicts his ignorance and extreme pride. For example, Oedipus ignores Tiresias’ advice to stop seeking further information concerning his fate, which he never heeds. Instead of hearing Tiresias’ counsel, he starts scolding him challenging his vision from Apollo that he, Oedipus, is the cause of the problems affecting Thebes. To show his inflated confidence and ignorance, Oedipus says “why so it has, Except for you; it is not so with you; blind as you are in eyes, and ears, and mind (431)!” The statement insults Tiresias’ disability and even ignores the prophet’s power to help. Excessive pride also leads Oedipus to murder King Laius after a confrontation on the way to Thebes. A person with self-control would respect the elders and consider what they say, something that Oedipus lacks due to hubris.

Better still, Oedipus ignores his brother-in-law’s (Creon’s) directive after coming back from the Corinth-based oracle. Creon tells him to proceed cautiously with the search of Laius’s death, but the king never hears. Oedipus also ignores Jocasta’s advice to stop searching for the truth about his life. After Jocasta sensed that the prophecy given to King Laius was almost occurring; nonetheless, Oedipus could not hear such words but continued seeking more information from the oracles. He even vows to punish the killer of King Laius, despite the existence of warnings from Creon and Tiresias. The king does this out of pride, especially because he believes that he is mighty.

In conclusion, it is clear that humans’ factors, such as emotions and intelligence, are to blame for the tragedies they face instead of fate. Oedipus and his parents are to blame for the hero’s plights in the play. Other than retaining the good boy and having him flee from killing his real parents, fear makes both King Laius and Jocasta give Oedipus away to have him die. Therefore, the feeling of fear initiates the series of misfortunes that affect King Laius’ family and exposes Oedipus to his sad end. Oedipus also has many chances to change his fate in the play. However, fear, anger, ignorance, and excessive pride, among several other vices, make him continue digging his grave. Intelligence, for example, makes Oedipus earn his mother as a gift from the people of Thebes after killing his father on the way to the region. Oedipus’ poor or weak character is, thus, the cause of his tragedy, and not fate. What foreseers do in the play is help people know their potential dark side of future life to avoid, as opposed to directing them to the bad endings.

Work Cited

Sophocles. Oedipus Rex. Newburyport: Open Road Media, 2020.