Oedipus Rex Literature Analysis

Jul 2, 2018
folder_opencategory: Literature

Oedipus Rex or Oedipus the King is a famous tragic play that was written by Sophocles. Undoubtedly, it is one of the best plays written by Sophocles, along with Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone. Because of the same characters and some events that resemble each other, these three tragedies are considered to be the trilogy. However, this supposition is not right due to the fact that the plays were not written in a chronological order. Chronologically, Antigone is the last play, but Sophocles wrote it first, in 440 B.C. The analyzed play, Oedipus Rex, was written in 430 B.C., while Oedipus at Colonus was written the last, in 401 B.C. (Smith 11). As one can see, the three masterpieces cannot be the trilogy; they were written separately, and represent different interpretations of the same myth. It can be proved by some particular differences in plot. The play was first performed in English language on January 15, 1912, at the Royal Opera House, in London. The director of that staging was Max Reinhardt. A popular actor of that time, John Martin-Harvey, starred in the staging (Goldhill 25). Oedipus the King is a rather significant literary work both in Sophoclean works and in the history of literature in general. The masterpiece that was created by Sophocles was assimilated and interpreted by lots of writers, such as Bloch, for instance. Moreover, the play impressed and inspired Aristotle. In addition, it did not leave indifferent even psychologists. As it is known, Freud developed his theory of Oedipus’s Complex (Keitlen 36). Furthermore, the famous French psychoanalyst Lacan, who is considered to be the most controversial psychoanalyst since Sigmund Freud, also inherited some ideas from the play by Sophocles (Campbell 153).

Of course, the main character of Oedipus Rex is Oedipus; therefore, he is first to be mentioned and described. He is responsible, brave and decisive, and one can see it in the episode when he sends Creon to the oracle in order to ask an advice on how to save Thebes and its citizens. In other words, Oedipus really saves the city. As a consequence, Oedipus is rather confident, and of course, he has a good reason for that. The next character that is, undoubtedly, worth mentioning, is Creon. The character is depicted as a rather good, kind and calm young man. Moreover, he is also honest. The most vivid scene, where readers or the audience can see Creon’s nature, is the moment when Oedipus blames him for conspiracy. However, he is not to blame, and being honest, he could burst out with rage, but instead he tries to explain calmly why he does not want the Oedipus’s crown. Teiresias is also a very important character of the play. Teiresias is blind; however, he sees and knows even more than those people who are sighted. In other words, he can foresee the future. Teiresias is a rather symbolic and significant character of the Sophoclean tragedy. The reason for that is that the argument between Teiresias and Oedipus makes readers thinks over such phenomenon of human beings, as fate. Reading the debate between these two characters, one cannot but think if a person’s fate or destiny is decided beforehand or it is up to a person to make choices and decisions in his or her life. In fact, this is the question, which will always bother people. Moreover, no one will ever get to know the correct answer. The next significant character in this literary work is Jocasta, since she is the queen of Thebes. In addition, she plays both maternal and spousal roles to her son Oedipus. Realizing that she and Oedipus committed incest, Jocasta tries to prevent him from knowing this fact, since she worries about his innocence. The next but not less important character of the Oedipus the King is the Chorus. To some extent, the Chorus functions as a narrator. Obviously, all readers lead the read information through the prism of their own perception; therefore, there can appear some misunderstandings. However, antique literature and art are so deep and philosophical that it is inappropriate to miss some details or conclusions that were made by the author. Consequently, the role of the Chorus is rather important, since it describes the events of the play, and explains some actions.

One of the key events of the play is when Oedipus sends Creon in order to get Apollo’s advice. The next significant event is Oedipus’s getting to know that he was the one who killed Laius. Later, Jocasta realizes that she is Oedipus’s mother, and that he killed Laius, his father. She tries to hide this crucial information from her son and husband Oedipus. However, finally, he gets to know the truth. The main theme of this masterpiece is personal choice and fate. Sophocles disclosed this theme by the terrible accident that happened to Oedipus’s family. In fact, no one is to blame in that situation; it was just a trick of fate. The theme shows readers that some events in people’s lives do not always depend on people. The proof for such a theory is Teiresias quote upon the above-mentioned theme: “Well, it will come what will, though I be mute. I have no more to say; storm as thou willst, and give the rein to all thy pent-up rage” (Sophocles 341-347). Obviously, this is also the author’s message to readers. Besides, the major dramatic question of the play is whether people’s lives depend on themselves or on destiny. The given unanswerable question creates suspense and determines the lead subject of this literary work by Sophocles.

The play starts with the awareness of the horrible curse that attacked Thebes. Oedipus sends his brother-in-law to Apollo in order to get to know how to cope with such a disastrous problem. The answer of Apollo is that the curse will be finished if the murderer of the king Laius is found and prosecuted. The main character decides to find the murderer. Teiresias tells Oedipus that Oedipus himself killed Laius. Jocasta, his wife, claims that it is not truth, and Teresias is wrong sometimes. She tells Oedipus that Laius and she were supposed to have a child, who would kill Laius; however, they had killed that child. Therefore, she believes that prophecy was wrong. Some time later, Jocasta realizes that Oedipus is her and Laius’ son, and that he really killed his father. Hence, she tries to disguise it from her beloved son in order not to hurt him. Oedipus is constantly thinking about the situation; he knows that he was adopted and would eventually kill his biological father. As a consequence of this terrible truth, Jocasta commits a suicide, and Oedipus pricks out his eyes and is exiled from the city.

The language that Sophocles used for the play Oedipus Rex is his greatest tool in creating the necessary impression. For instance, one can see it through the following lines: “My fair winds brought me here. Oh God. Again. The pain of the spikes where I had sight, the flooding pain of memory, never to be gouged out” (Sophocles 69). The word “winds” in the first line refers particularly to the metaphor that was presented earlier in Oedipus, as the king, who was the captain of a ship and was able to steer through the most hazardous waters. It is when his “fair winds” turn against him, the fame that Oedipus achieved after he got to the bottom of the conundrum of the Sphinx, and the grandeur he stated as king, primarily thought to be permissions, are now obviously nothing but an indisputable pest. “Fair” means tenderness and good fate, however, that is the contrary of what Oedipus’ batch has brought him. In addition, besides being confusing, the verity that the word “the winds” brought him means incapacity of Oedipus. The author was alluding to the information that Oedipus was destined to do such a terrible thing to his parents through the gods will. For the most part, the play is written in iambic pentameter. The language is rather poetic, with a kind of formal or regular form. When it concerns the Chorus, the iambic pentameter is replaced by rhyming couplets in order to remind readers that the Chorus is apart from other characters of the play.

The obvious masterpiece by Sophocles is an extremely successful play, since it is very deep in its sense. Surely, the play Oedipus Rex or Oedipus the King appeals to philosophy, and discloses a lot of controversial issues of human being. The play by Sophocles gives the readers an opportunity to understand that no matter how powerful the human can be, he or she is not almighty anyway. Therefore, not all the events that happen to people in their lives depend on them. Sometimes the destiny surprises people greatly. In other words, it changes all the plans that were created, and destroys all the hopes. It is the message and the central point of the play. Besides, the play also reveals such themes as determination, knowledge and wisdom, power, the past and memory about it.

Works Cited

Smith, Helanie. Masterpieces of Classic Greek Drama. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2006. Print.

Goldhill, Simon. How to Stage Greek Tragedy Today. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007. Print.

Keitlen, Seymour. Oedipus Complex: a Philosophical Study. College Station, TX: Virtualbookworm.com Publishing, 2003. Print.

Campbell, Kirsten. Jacques Lacan and Feminist Epistemology. New York: Routledge, 2004. Print.

Sophocles. Oedipus Rex. Delaware: Prestwick House, Inc., 2005. Print.

Ramphos, Stelios. Fate and Ambiguity in Oedipus the King. Boston, MA: Somerset Hall Press. 2005. Print.

Sophocles, and Francis Storr. Oedipus Trilogy: Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus & Antigone. Auckland, NZ: Floating Press, 2008. Print.

Westmoreland, Perry. Ancient Greek Beliefs. San Ysidro, CA: Lee and Vance Publishing Co., 2006. Print.

Dawn, Sova. Banned Plays: Censorship Histories of 125 Stage Dramas. New York: Facts on File, 2004. Print.

Fisher, Jerilyn, and Ellen S. Silber. Women in Literature: Reading Through the Lens of Gender. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2003. Print.

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