Oedipus Rex Term Paper

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Oedipus Rex

Sophocles' work is at once the paragon of the Greek classical tragedy, one of the essential myths of mankind and a great esthetic achievement. Furthermore, the too well-known plot has been made by Freud into a landmark theory of psychoanalysis. The power of the Oedipus story then comes from the archetypical and riddle-like significance of the events described. The work is so fundamental that it transcends and defies any strictly literary interpretation. The extraordinary and ineluctable coincidence which forms the plot of the play is the core of its fundamental significance. The tragedy knows no respite and no resolution for itself; it is an unanswerable riddle, where all the elements converge at different points. The story is at once paradoxical and uncongenial with any simple interpretation. Freud does explain the myth in psychoanalytical terms, but only to make of it a fundamental complex which underlies the workings of the human subconscious. Thus, any analysis of the Oedipus story may only bring to light the possible connection between the multiple, scattered themes of the play.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Term Paper on Oedipus Rex Assignment

Oedipus Rex treats at the same time of innocence and guilt, crime and incest, the inexorable destiny, the tragedy inherent into the human condition and still a few other themes. The first evidence of the extremely intricate and coincidental structure of the play comes from the riddle which at the center of the plot. Oedipus becomes king and marries his mother after he symbolically manages to solve the riddle of the Sphinx which threatened the life of the inhabitants of Corinth. A wise man, Oedipus identifies the creature who has sometimes two feet, sometimes three and at still other times four as man himself, evolving from infancy to old age: "What being, with only one voice, has / sometimes two feet, sometimes three, sometimes / four, and is weakest when it has the most?'"(Sophocles, 34) by solving this riddle, Oedipus becomes the savior of the city and is proclaimed king as recompense. Interestingly thus, the riddle of the play is reflected in the riddle of the Sphinx, as solved by Oedipus. The curious young man learns from external sources that the parents he knows may be only his foster parents. Thus, he proceeds to ask the most fundamental questions of all for a human being: whence does life come. Victoria Hamilton emphasizes the fact that the question of origin is the most fundamental question of Sophocles' tragedy: "Freud related the riddle of the sphinx to the 'first grand problem of life -- where do babies come from?' This is perhaps the one question -- the question of origin which is the focus of Sophocles' drama -- which has only one answer: my mother and father had intercourse together. From this inter-penetrating couple I was excluded and upon it the fruitful conception of myself intruded."(Hamilton, 223) Thus, in Freudian terms, the child cannot help wonder what happened at the moment of his procreation. The sexual intercourse involving the mother and the father excludes the child from his own coming into existence, and thus the Oedipus complex ensues as a consequence. Hamilton further explains that it is precisely because this fundamental question involved a limit impossible to experience that the child tries to go in between the mother and the father and seek his answer by disrupting the couple which created him: "In this sense, the solution of the question involves a limit, because its answer cannot be experienced. I cannot get in between; the union is forbidden to me. The most I can possibly do is to usurp one member of the couple, an action which would dissolve the very link I seek. That I killed my father, that I, a female, achieved intercourse with my father -- these solutions are not the answers to the original question. They lead only to the two cardinal sins of civilized society: incest and parricide."(Hamilton, 224) the murder of the father however or the incest with the mother are still not answers to the original question, which remains the riddle that it was in the beginning.

Another interesting coincidence of the plot is the fact that the riddle or the word-puzzle solved by Oedipus is formulated in such a way as to include in the short definition of man a hint to his members. This is not accidental, as immediately after the birth of his son, Laius ties his feet together and casts him away in the wilderness to become the pray of the beasts. The wounds at his feet will give him his name as Oedipus, thus creating another coincidence in the text: "Messenger: I loosed the pin that riveted thy feet. Oedipus: Yes, from my cradle that dread brand I bore. Messenger: Whence thou deriv'st the name that still is thine."(Sophocles, 111) Oedipus finds out this truth about himself only late, when he has already become guilty of two capital sins.

As Hamilton points out, Oedipus' almost paranoid search for the truth of his birth shows him as a social nonconformist who is urged to seek answers rather than meekly accept ignorance and his given lot: "In the Oedipus Rex, the curious young man leaves home to seek out the oracle for himself. Between the riddle and its solution lurk the twin dangers of incest and chastity. The chaste man will not ask the question; he conforms. The incestuous man will not accept the answer; he is a social menace."(Hamilton, 220) in a philosophical light, Oedipus' mad lookout for his origins is a search for himself, for the truth about himself. When he is close to finding out the whole truth of his birth Oedipus declares himself confident in accepting whatever may come, and seems to resign himself to his fate: "But I / Who rank myself as Fortune's favorite child, / the giver of good gifts, shall not be shamed. / She is my mother and the changing moons / My brethren, and with them I wax and wane. / Thus sprung why should I fear to trace my birth? / Nothing can make me other than I am."(Sophocles) the infinite irony of this game is that what he is prepared to accept is but the truth of a lowly birth, and that he declares himself the child of fortune, forgetting the essential truth that fate is very fickle and might bring the unexpected: "In this culmination of the luck theme, Oedipus calls himself a child of Fortune, forgetting, as he styles her beneficent, that she is proverbially fickle."(Hogan, 63) it is very significant that Oedipus considers that no truth about himself can really change what he is. Normally, such a statement would be true in most cases, even the tragic ones, but Oedipus really finds out that he is different from what he had thought himself to be. He is the involuntary murderer of his own father and a son and husband to the same woman. If few situations in life could determine a radical change of identity, this one surely does so.

Another riddle in the text is that of the uncertainty of guilt and innocence. The blindness Oedipus causes himself at the end of the play by plucking out his own eyes with the pins in his mother's / wife's dress is also symbolic. Oedipus has been blind all his life and has acted blindly, making himself guilty of the greatest sins. When he has to account for the terrible act of self-mutilation, Oedipus significantly blames Apollo at the same time that he blames himself. According to Hogan, this is not a paradox but in fact a reasonable explanation in the context of the Greek philosophy: "Here, 'the hand... none but my own' acknowledges personal responsibility, and the question that follows gives a personal reason for his violence. In his next speech Oedipus elaborates on his motives for the self-blinding, and there is no mention of Apollo. That does not, for the Greek, entail contradiction, only two complementary ways of accounting for the phenomena: the very nature of Greek thinking about the world requires a religious explanation (Apollo); the same thinking, because it posits man as free, responsible, and rational, must also explain the blinding as a reasonable -- even reasoned, despite the passion -- response to murder and incest."(Hogan, 71) Thus, at the same time, the Greeks believed in an infallible, pre-ordained destiny that no human being could escape, and in the essential freedom of men that made them responsible for their actions. Another riddle in the play therefore remains a riddle to the end, and Oedipus stands on the verge of absolute innocence and absolute guilt.

Furthermore, the play also debates the opposition between wisdom and ignorance, making it unclear which one would be preferable. Despite his extreme guilt and his self-imposed banishment, Oedipus becomes a wise and very influential figure in the subsequent plays of Sophocles's trilogy. As it has been emphasized already, although he seems to be the victim of an inescapable destiny, Oedipus is also responsible for… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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