In the play, Oedipus is one of the major characters. He is depicted as a the man of swift and un-thoughtful of action and yet with great insight. In the beginning, it is visible that it is the traits that he possessed that made him an excellent leader who anticipates and acts as per the needs of his subjects. By the time, the citizens of Thebes request him to help them out with the plague that faced them; he had already sent Creon to the Oracle of Delphi to get advice. However, the swift action habit also sets the stage for his undoing as the play progresses. He tells a story of killing a band of travelers that had attempted to shove him off a three-way crossroad confirming his irrational behavior. At the start of Oedipus the King, Oedipus is incredibly confident and has good reasoning. He saved Thebes from the prevailing curse of the Sphinx and became king overnight. He proclaims his name loudly in a way to suggest that his name was in itself form of healing charm saying, “here I am myself, you all know me, the world knows me: I am Oedipus” (Dawe, 7-9). However, before the play ends, his name had been tainted and become a curse among the people. In fact in the Oedipus at Colonus, the leader of the chorus is terrified to hear his name and cries out in disbelief, “You, you are the man?” (Dawe, 47).
Oedipus was a clear indication of a tragic hero. He has a clear tragic flaw that precipitates his sorrowful fate. Oedipus as the king of Thebes, he was not aware at the start of the play that he had murdered his biological father and married his biological mother, Jocasta. Soon after learning that it was he that had put the kingdom at such terrible risk, he blinds himself using a brooch. He also has a wound piercing through his ankles made by his father soon after his birth that had exposed him (Dawe, 12). This is echoed by his name that was translated as ‘swollen feet’. The tragedies befall him since his birth when he was thrown out and left for the dead by his father to the time that he runs away from where he was brought out fearing that he may murder the man he thought to be his father. He lands in the kingdom where his biological father rules and kills him even after the much effort to evade the fulfillment of the prophecy. The tragedies are what shapes the play and greatly influence the flow and the theme of the play (Dawe, 13).
Oedipus is a man filled with pride, it is the character in him that makes the play takes a certain twist, and turns to support the theme set out by Sophocles. The character in Oedipus of being rational and filled with pride is what Sophocles exploits to advance the play. His pride allows Oedipus to disbelieve and defy the Gods by beginning to hunt for the source of the plague facing his kingdom instead of looking into himself (Gould, 480). In fact, some of his prideful sins occurred long before the beginning of the play. The greatest sin that Oedipus commits seems to take place when he kills a man at a crossroad following a fit of temper and that suggests that there are no deeds that go unpunished. Therefore, Oedipus had to pay the price for his sins. He has to pay the ultimate price for dismissing Teiresias’ judgment and the Oracle’s prophecy as another reminder that the Gods are infinitely of greater power than men (Gould, 482).
Oedipus role in the play emphasized the Power of Fate among the Greeks. The Greeks acknowledged the role of fate as a reality outside the individual that shaped and determined the life of a human being. The character of Oedipus demonstrated the terrifying and unstoppable representation of after among the Greeks in the ancient times (Gould, 489). According to them, fate was the will of the gods that was an unstoppable reality revealed through ritual by the oracle at Delphi that spoke for Apollo in mysterious pronouncements. The promise of any form of prophecy also drew many, but the messages were usually indirect. From the character of Oedipus in the play, one can make out the conservative view held by Sophocles on augury and prophecy. It is because, the oracles in the play speak in an oblique manner and the tragedies that followed Oedipus indicated the power and the might of the gods throughout the play. It also indicated that one cannot run away from their fate. It is demonstrated by the way Oedipus tried to run away from who he thought was his father ion hearing the prophecy that he would kill his father only to land in another kingdom where his biological father ruled and fulfilled the prophecy by killing him. He tried running from his fate, but it followed him all the way (Thomas and Osborne, 69).
Oedipus plays a pivotal role in expressing the theme and Sophocles intended the meaning of the play. Sophocles meant to remind the audience of the power of the gods. It was at a period that most people had begun losing faith in the Gods and thought that they were no longer operation or reigning over their lives. The role of Oedipus in the play works to emphasize the power of the Gods in the way he acted. In the play on his way as he was running away from a prophecy told of his killing his father, he ends up at a crossroad where he kills a man because of his irrationality and short temper. Then the character of Oedipus of irrational thought plays out to emphasize the theme and the intention of the play. He then goes ahead to Themes and tells the story of killing a man at the crossroad (Thomas and Osborne, 69). It is this story that seals his father because it turns out that the same man he had killed was his biological father, and he had to pay the price for it. Even with his charisma and power, he ends up blind as he inflicts it upon himself. The prophecies were all fulfilled through the character of Oedipus and hence demonstrating the power of the gods.
The play also uses the character of Oedipus to emphasize on some on the need to have good morals. Sophocles uses irony when Oedipus becomes the one that leads the search for the people that had killed his father and yet it was he that had committed the crime. Moreover, he goes ahead to mock the blind prophet and yet he was the one that was blind by the end of the play and that he was blind to the truth that faced him. He could not see what the physically blind prophet could see. Moreover, his character is used to warn people of some of the traits such as pride since it is what leads to his downfall. He was once a well-poised leader and king whose name was respected and feared but later became the villain of the society with people not willing to hear of his name. He moves from being a king and fate follows him to his demise where he inflicts pain on himself by blinding himself by himself indicating regret and sorrow for his actions (Haque and Chowdhury).
The misfortunes that follow Oedipus also play a significant role to warn the audience that there are no deeds that go unpunished. Oedipus even with his power and wisdom, went ahead to tell a story of how he killed a man due to his pride to one of his servants. He tried his best to conceal the act that he committed with the help of his mother and wife Jocasta who tries to convince everyone that a stranger killed her former husband (Haque and Chowdhury). However, it is the mistake made by Oedipus in telling the servant about his murder that sets the stage for his undoing since it turns out that at the crossroad, it was where his father was killed, and hence it was clear that he was the murderer. He ends up blinding himself in guilt, which indicated his punishment, and then his mother commits suicide as a way to indicate her pain and regret and guilt.
The character of Oedipus also depicts a concept of Oedipus complex from the psychoanalytic theory by Sigmund Freud. According to this concept, the boy is fixated and sexually attracted to the mother while at the same time is jealous of the father and hence wants to compete for attention of the mother with the father. It is the concept depicted by the character of Oedipus whereby he kills his father and then goes ahead to marry a woman that was old enough to be his mother. Even with the awareness of such a prophecy, he acts irrationally and does not give it a thought (Haque and Chowdhury). He marries Jocasta indicating a sense of attraction between them that may be was the mother to son attraction that was confused for something else but worked well to reinforce and make the play flow.
In conclusion, in the play Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, it is the character of Oedipus that shapes the play. It is the events and his character that puts the pieces of the story together and connects all the other characters in the play. Moreover, his behavior and character are what makes it possible for the writer to bring out the different themes and also attain the purpose of the play since Oedipus’s experience offers the platform for Sophocles to appeal to the audience on various issues in society.
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