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Oedipus Rex Essay, Research Paper
Fate played an important part in the plays and literature of the Greeks as is shown in Sophocles’ play
Sophocles lived during the Golden Age of Greece. He is renowned as one of the greatest dramaticist of
western literature. He was a greek through and through as he held important political positions, and he
even served as the priest of the haling diety Amynos. During his life tragedies were popular plays of the
greeks, and Sophocles noted for his writing abilites of the time, made one such play about tragedy. This
play has been the subject of much controversy and has had many diverse things said about it and its
meaning. In his play Sophocles uses fate as a major part of it as he tells a story of a man that unknowingly
kills his father and marries his mother. The greeks highly regarded fate as one of the major aspects of their
lives. The greeks believed that their lives had already been planned out before they lived them and that
things in their lives were going to happen regardless. Fate played an important part in the literature of the
greeks as is shown in Sophocles’ play Oedipus Rex.
Sophocles uses a form of irony in his play to show fate. According to Maureen Howard, “Dramatic
irony, the irony of fate, is the most important element of the play.”(6) According to Bert Cardullo, “Greek
tragedy has been called the tragedy of necessity or fate.”(1) This is shown in the play in the way that
Sophocles takes a highly respected and wealthy man and by the end of the play he has been stripped down
to having nothing. The Oedipus is portrayed is partially debatable as Kimberly Rollins states, “Dodds
counters that Sophocles intended us to regard him (Oedipus) as good, noble, and selflessness. But the play
would seem to indicate that Oedipus, while a clever man, is not a good one.” (1) This is Mrs. Rollins
opinion of the way Oedipus is portrayed and her trying to discredit Dodd’s thoughts on Oedipus. For the
play to effectively show the irony of fate and in itself fate Oedipus would have to have been portrayed as a
good man and of high stature. Believing that Oedipus was a good man would have only made the tragedy
that more tragic as the audience later finds out that Oedipus actually kills his father and marries his mother.
The way that Oedipus finally learns of his fate has been argued over many times. Kimberly Rollins
views Oedipus as one who “ does not unselfishly seek out the truth even though he knows it will be painful
for him; rather, he has no idea of what the outcome of his search will be, denies the truth at every turn, and
threatens those that speak it.”(1) This is going a little overboard in terms of judging Oedipus’s character.
E. R. Dodds sees Oedipus as one who “pursues the truth at whatever the personal cost and has the strenght
to accept and endure it when found.”(qtd. In Rollins 1) This view is more correct of Oedipus as shown in
these lines from the play:
God’s sake, master, no more questions!
You’re a dead man if I have to ask again
Then – the child came from the house…
A slave? Or born of his own blood?
Oh no, I’m right at the edge, the horrible truth
I’ve got to say it!
And I’m right at the edge of hearing horrors, yes, but
I must hear! (1280-1285)
This shows us that Oedipus was ready to kill one of his loyal subjects in order to learn of the truth of his
birth. He knew that he must hear it even if he didn’t want to. This shows us he wanted to know his fate
and was more than likely willing to accept it as he pretty much knew what it was going to be.
Oedipus hears of his dead he has done unknowingly in these lines:
All right! His son they said it was his son!
But the one inside, your wife,
She’d tell it best
My wife, she gave it to you?
Yes, yes, my king
Why, what for?
To kill it
Her own child,
How could she?
She was afraid
They said he
He’d kill his parents (1286-1299)
Oedipus now knowing that he was the son of Laius whom he had killed. He also now knew that he had
married his mother. Oedipus does not try to deny this and shows remorse as he speaks:
All come true, burst to light!
O light – now let me look my last on you!
I stand revealed at last.
Cursed in my birth, cursed in my marriage
Cursed in the lives that I cut down with these hands (1305-1310)
Oedipus now not hiding from the truth but standing before everyone ashamed of his deeds. Oedipus’s
mother, Jocasta now commits suicide as the memories rush back to her and she feels shame and guilt.
Oedipus stricken with guilt and shame himself for what he unknowingly did has come to terms with his
fate. Oedipus says to Creon as he makes his way from the city and into Exile:
I’d never have come to this
My father’s murderer – never been branded
Mother’s husband, all men see me now! Now
Loathed by the god’s, son of the mother I defiled
Coupling in my father’s bed, spawning lives in the loins
That spawned my wretched life. What grief can crown this grief?
It’s me alone, my destiny – I am Oedipus (1490 –1495)
Oedipus accepting his fate knowing there was no way to avoid it he decides to punish himself. He thinks
that death would be to easy a punishment and therefore he pokes out his eyes and exiles himself from the
city. He becomes a blind wanderer of his own free will believing that this punishment is just and is his fate.
Sophocles does a good job of portraying fate in this play. He gives us a glimpse of what life might have
been like back during the time of the greeks. This also shows us that many of the things that are in the
world today such as incest are not new ideas but old ones that have been around for a long time. Sophocles
play must have been highly controversial back during his time as it is highly controversial during our time.
The play shows views on fate the way that the greeks saw it and for the most part most of the ideals in the
play do not hold today as there is not much emphasis on fate these days.
Cardullo, Bert. “Ibsen’s Ghosts and Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex.” Explicator 74 1989: 41-43
Howard, Maureen C. Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. 7 Nov, 1999.
Rollins, Kimberly. On rebutting On Misunderstanding the Oedipus Rex. 7 Nov, 1999.
Sophocles. Oedipus the King. Literature and its writers. Ed. Ann Charters and Samuel Charters. Boston:
Bedford Book, 1997. 1416-1464
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