Critical Analysis of the Play - Oedipus the King

Published: 2021-07-10 05:15:10
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Vanderbilt University
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Critical thinking
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The play Oedipus the King examines how destiny can shape ones fate. All the experiences that King Oedipus faces have been determined by the Gods. However, the more he tries to move away from the prophecy, the more he finds himself closer to the fulfillment of the prophecy. In this paper I will examine the importance of play in the ancient Greece, the role of the gods in the play, the significance of the riddle of Sphinx, the role of destiny, significance of knowledge vs. blindness as used in the play, and finally explain the significance of oedipal complex concept in the play.

It is admissible that the Greek drama played a significant role in promoting the civic, political, and moral education to the community at that time. The play King Oedipus contains the educational elements that portray the civic role of the play. King Oedipus was a great and wise king; for instance, he was the only person who could answer the Sphinxs riddle that eventually made him fit to rule his people (Grene 2). Even as a king, Oedipus consulted his counsel. The civic educational elements present in the play include the leadership of King Oedipus. As the king and citizen of Thebes, the king has a responsibility of protecting his people. After Oedipus learnt how his destiny has shaped his fate, he decided to remove his eyes while her wife and mother, Jocasta decide to commit suicide because they both could not stand seeing the curse befall the people because of their immoral acts and sins. As a result, the king steps down from the throne and lets another person rule the people of Thebes while he gets banished. The play King Oedipus can still play a significant role in teaching civic responsibilities in the contemporary society. The end of King Oedipus rule marked the beginning of democratic reform in Thebes. It also marked the end of the curse that befell the people of Thebes because of their king. For instance, Oedipus says that the Oracle has declared that until the man who killed King Laius is found and killed or expelled from the country is when the people of Thebes shall have peace (Grene 10).

The play King Oedipus could not have been successful without the involvement of the Gods. First, because the gods were considered an important part of the ancient Greece, it could have been impossible to exclude them in the play. Secondly, the destiny of Oedipus was pre-determined by the gods when he was still a child. The prophecy by the oracle, the mouthpiece of the gods, that the child shall kill the father and marry his mother serves as the role of the Gods in this case. The Oracle represented the presence of the gods on earth. The entire life of Oedipus is shaped and determined by the Gods, except towards the end that he acts in contrary to the expected and does what has not been prophesied. It is the prophecy made by the Oracle that made Oedipus father sends him away to another land so that they could avoid its fulfillment. Therefore, the gods played an important role in the development of the plays plot. Therefore, since the Oracle played a significant role, so were the gods who revealed themselves through the Oracle.

It is important to note the fate of Oedipus had long been determined by the gods even before he came back to Thebes. By the time he was answering the riddle of the Sphinx, he had already fulfilled a portion of the prophecy of killing his father. On his way to Thebes, Oedipus met a man on the road and he killed him not knowing that he was his father, King Laius. However, I think that it is the riddle of Sphinx that demonstrates the beginning of the cycle of destiny and fate that led to the ironical twists and turns in the play. No one could answer the riddle posed by the evil Sphinx; however, it is only Oedipus who could answer the riddle correctly (Grene 2). It is important to understand that Oedipus did not come back to Thebes to become a king. As a young man, Oedipus learned about the prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother. However, he did not know that the people who raised him were not his biological parents. Therefore, he ran away with the aim of avoiding the fulfillment of the prophecy. However, after answering the riddle posed by the Sphinx upon his arrival in Thebes, the people were pleased by his wisdom and made him a king. The people of Thebes believed that with his wisdom, Oedipus could make a good king since their king, Laius, went to a journey and has not been seen ever since. However, after taking the kingship role is when the twist and ironical turns started to emerge. After fulfilling the prophecy of becoming the king, strange events started befalling the kingdom. Plague erupted and as the counsel and priests started looking for answers, various revelations were discovered about the life of Oedipus. Therefore, it is correct to argue that the riddle of Sphinx triggered the beginning of a cycle of destiny and fate which led to the concurrent cycle of ironical twists and turns in the play.

Almost through the entire play destiny is considered to have played a significant and major role in the life of Oedipus. Although it is important to note that Oedipus had not the idea that whatever he was doing with the aim of avoiding the prophecy was actually moving him closer to its fulfillment. The events in the play have been majorly shaped by the destiny. Oedipus life has been in control of the gods from the time he was born until the time he learns that he actually fulfilled the prophecy that he has been running away trying to fulfill. I think Oedipus should not be blamed for the tragedy in the play because he only acted as a man who tried to prevent the worst from happening. I think the people who should be blamed include both biological parents and the parents who raised him for having kept the secret from him. Oedipus had about the prophecy after he had grown up into a man when the Oracle told him that he would kill his father and marry his mother. Since he believed that the parents who adopted him were his biological parents, he ran away. In this case, we can see that Oedipus was trying to prevent the prophecy from happening, but the people who should have been truthful to him could not tell him the truth.

Oedipus was considered a wise and great king. However, as Tiresias said, not everyone with the eye could see the truth that he, a blind man, could see. The paradox of blindness vs. knowledge and ignorance vs. knowledge is depicted in the conversation between Oedipus and Tiresias. Tiresias said that no need to have knowledge if it does not bring profit to the man considered to be wise (Grene 10). In this case, he referred to Oedipus who could not see that he (Oedipus) was the victim in the whole situation. The blind man, Tiresias turns out to be the wisest of all because he can see the truth that even the people with the eye could not see. Oedipus ignorance to realize the truth blinds him from seeing the truth that Tiresias has been trying to tell him all along. Oedipus calls Tiresias a fool and yet he is the one being fooled by mistrust for everyone. For instance, he tries to accuse Tiresias and Creon of colluding together to take the throne. Tiresias is significant in the play as helps Oedipus opens his eyes to see the truth about his destiny. Through the argument between Oedipus and Tiresias, the truth about the prophecy is revealed. Tiresias helps bring light into the darkness that Oedipus has lived for almost his whole life. The character of Tiresias impacts the play in a significant way. It is through him that people learn that it is Oedipus who killed King Laius. He contributes to the development of plot as he introduces the climax of the play through his revelation about the man who killed the king.

I believe that there is a demonstration of the oedipal complex in the play King Oedipus. The oedipal complex is where the child desires to engage in sexual involvement with the parent of the opposite sex. This is exactly what happened in play between Oedipus and Jocasta. Oedipus killed his father without knowing. However, this can be explained in terms of Sigmund Freuds argument that the child can develop the concomitant sense of rivalry with the parent of the same sex. Although he did not want it to happen, eventually he realized that he had fulfilled the prophecy. If the stage is not properly controlled when the child is still young, it can result in a situation as depicted in the play. However, controlling the stage involves making the child aware of his relationship with the parent. Oedipus was not given this opportunity of knowing his parents.

In conclusion, I have examined the importance of play in the ancient Greece, the role of the gods in the play, the significance of the riddle of Sphinx, the role of destiny, significance of knowledge vs. blindness as used in the play, and finally explained the significance of oedipal complex concept in relation to the play. Although Oedipus life had been under the control of the Gods, his actions towards the end show that the Gods were no longer in control of his life. Jocasta committing suicide and Oedipus gouging out his eyes is a clear demonstration that even though the Gods try to control man, every individual can shape his/her destiny.

Works Cited

Grene, David. (Eds.). Oedipus the King. University of Chicago Press, 2012.

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