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Analysis Of Oedipus The King

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Elements of Oedipus the King’s Inner Character

“Oedipus the Rex,” or Oedipus the King, is renowned by some to be the “par of excellence” for Greek tragedy (Brunner, 1). The second produced of the three Theban plays by Sophocles, “Oedipus Rex” shows a variety of character qualities of the king that may not have been shown without the extreme circumstances he was subjected to. What elements of his character are revealed through the course of the play? There are distinct elements, positive and negative, that are revealed in Oedipus’ character from events prior to the play’s beginning, during the play’s development, and after Oedipus knows for sure that he is the son of Jocasta and Laius.

History Prior to the Play’s Opening Scene

There is much of the story of Oedipus that happens before the play has ever begun. Oedipus, the protagonist, was born to King Laius and Queen Jocasta of Thebes. When an oracle told the king that “he should die by a son’s hands, whom he should have by me(Jocasta the Queen) Laius had his sons ankles “pinned” and “cast him out” (28). The boy was given to a servant with orders to kill him. The servant reluctant to kill the child abandoned him in the mountains of “Cithaeron’s wooded dells”(39). A Sheppard found the boy, who didn’t have enough money to raise him, and named him, Oedipus that means “swollen foot” (Brunner, 1). The Sheppard then gave Oedipus to a man from Corinth who in turn gave the baby to the fruitless King Polybus of Corinth. Oedipus was raised to be a king in Polybus’ household. When a drunk called Oedipus a “changeling” he went and asked Polybus if he really wasn’t his son (30). The king “took the scandal grievously” but Oedipus still had to know for sure so he consulted an oracle (30). That was a great quality of Oedipus; he always had to know for sure. He wanted to know the truth. The oracle told him that he “should wed [his] mother and produce a race intolerable for men to see, and be [his] natural father’s murderer” (31). In order to not kill his parents Oedipus fled Corinth. I think that Oedipus left so there was no chance, in his mind, of the prophecy coming true or for his father to hear the prophecy and having him killed.

A prime defect in Oedipus’ character was his anger. He was set to rage easily. He was a proud son of a king so he felt justified in everything that he did whether it was right or wrong. Along the road to Thebes, Oedipus bumps into King Laius and they argue about who should have the right of way. King Laius “thrust” upon Oedipus, he became “enraged” and he did “slay them all” (31). Oedipus’ pride led him to fulfill that part of the oracle’s prophecy. His pride drives him to his ultimate down fall.

Oedipus was an intelligent man. He had a knack for solving riddles. A sphinx was controlling Thebes with a curse and no one could rid the city of her. Oedipus confident in his abilities approached the sphinx. The sphinx gave Oedipus a riddle to solve: “What is the creature that walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon, and three legs in the evening” (Brunner, 1)? Oedipus answered correctly by saying it was man. The sphinx was distraught that her riddle had been solved and threw herself off the side of the wall breaking her curse over the city. His reward for freeing the city was to be married to the newly widowed queen, Jocasta, who was his real mother. This fulfilled the rest of the oracle’s prophecy (Brunner, 1). This must have pleased Oedipus greatly. He was raised to be a king but he abandoned a sure kingdom because of the oracles prophecy. He must have feared he would never be a king. Perhaps the reward for getting rid of the sphinx and being crowned king was well known. If it were that would probably have been Oedipus’ motivation for challenging the sphinx. To the best of my knowledge if Oedipus had gotten the riddle wrong the sphinx would have killed him.

Oedipus had a rough start but seemed destined to be a king. He had qualities of a king like being intelligent, demanding and seeking the truth, and doing things that he would not have normally done had it not been for the best interest of his family and himself. He also had characteristics of his personality that could have been bridled and would have saved him many hardships. He was very proud and easily angered. These are two qualities that any king will suffer in spite of.

Oedipus’ Prior to Play Characteristics Revealed

Positive: Had to know the truth of things

Had love for his parents and didn’t want to hurt them

He was intelligent

Negative: Easily enraged


Oedipus’ Character During the Play’s Development

Sometime after Oedipus is kingвЂ"maybe years after, “Long seasons might be numbered, long gone by”(23) since Lauis was king, there is a sickness that plagues Thebes. King Oedipus tries to console the people by empathizing with them. Empathy was not a strong attribute Oedipus possessed. His speech seems rather condescending as if he were saying I don’t have the plague but I suffer from it worse than you because I have to hear you complain about it all the time. To his credit at least he tried to be empathetic. He says “You are all sick, I know it; and in your sickness there is not one of you so sick as I.” (5) As a king he must try to understand his people but he does it in such an awkward way. While he pities his people he also pities himself. “For in your case his own particular pain comes to each singly; but my heart at once groans for the city, and for myselfвЂ¦Ð²Ð‚Ñœ(pg. 5) I think that the only reason that he pitied the people of Thebes was for his own benefit, to maintain control. Had he neglected them they may have risen up against him or not obeyed his word.

Soon Oedipus learns that the plague is supposedly a direct result of the man that killed Lauis, the previous king, was not put to justice. To end the plague Oedipus swears, superciliously, that he will



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