Oedipus the King Sophocles' Play Essay

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Oedipus the King

Sophocles' play Oedipus the King is widely regarded as one of the best examples of classical Greek drama, and for good reason. Oedipus is a classically tragic figure, doomed to fulfill a deadly prophecy despite his best efforts to avoid it. However, the very thing that makes Oedipus the King the Greek tragedy par excellence is precisely what sets it apart from other tragedies, both past and present, because the play's position regarding free will and human fate is far more nuanced than one might expect based on the usual tropes of drama and tragedy. While Oedipus does fulfill all the requirements of a tragic hero, complete with the hubris that ultimately causes his fall, the play does not argue for the kind of fatalism and determinism that characterizes many dramatic plays. Instead, the Oedipus the King suggests that fate is ultimately the product of free will, rather than the controlling structure within which will is exercised, because in the end it is Oedipus' actions that determine his fate, and not an overwhelming, possibly divine force. By examining the circumstances of Oedipus' birth and abandonment, his conversation with Tiresias, and his decision to blind and banish himself, one is able to see how Oedipus' fate is not the result of an immutable determinism, but rather the almost-random dictates of free will. Ultimately, the tragedy of the play comes not from humanity's inability to escape its tragic fate, but rather humanity's apparent tendency to run headlong towards it.Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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Essay on Oedipus the King Sophocles' Play Oedipus the Assignment

Before examining Oedipus' story in detail, it is necessary to first account for the seemingly supernatural elements of the play. Obviously, it appears difficult to argue that some kind of supernatural fate does not rule in the universe of Oedipus the King, because the story relies heavily on oracles, prophecies, a seemingly supernatural plague, and even a magical creature in the form of the Sphinx. However, one need not accept the presence of a divine (for lack of a better word) fate in order to account for these features, because they can actually help reinforce the argument that fate is ultimately the product of free will.

Firstly, the magical Sphinx need not diminish the importance of free will, because a fantastic creature can exist independent of a larger supernatural hierarchy. Furthermore, while it is implied that the plague is a result of Oedipus' killing of Laius and marrying of Jocasta, plagues can quite obviously occur for natural reasons, and in fact, history has shown that human beings tend to attribute plagues to supernatural retribution, even when they are really caused by mundane factors such as poor hygiene, contaminated water, or any other number of completely natural reasons. Finally, the oracles themselves can even be regarded as relatively "natural" actors, because even though they appear to have supernatural knowledge of the future and past, in reality they are basing their predictions on naturally available knowledge, and the veracity of their predictions only comes true when individuals choose to act on them. For example, the Oracle of Delphi's prediction that Oedipus will murder his father and marry his mother has no import until Oedipus acts on it, and furthermore, because Oedipus goes to the Oracle in order to determine his true parentage, the Oracle's response is no more supernatural or mystical as a telephone psychic performing a cold reading of a client (Sophocles vii).

However, perhaps the best demonstration of how the play uses seemingly supernatural elements in order to ultimately reinforce the primacy of free will and human action comes when Oedipus consults the blind prophet Tiresias, because Tiresias actually mocks the notion that people can effectively predict the future. Firstly, Tiresias is portrayed as a mystical visionary, but based on his age and station it seems reasonable to presume that he could have discovered the truth about Oedipus' birth without any supernatural means; after all, the shepherd who rescued him survived, and Oedipus himself heard rumors that Polybus and Merope were not his real parents (Sophocles vii, 27). Thus, his reluctance to reveal what he knows to Oedipus need not come from any supernatural… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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