Over the years, there has been a raging debate on who really caused the downfall and subsequent destruction of King Oedipus. Some scholars believe that Oedipus’ pride and arrogance brought his destruction while on the other hand others claim that Jocasta was responsible for destroying everyone and everything.
Despite the different approaches taken by scholars on the matter, one thing that emerges clearly throughout the play is that Oedipus brought about his own downfall. His arrogance and high headedness clearly emerges as the genesis of all his woes. (Sophocles)
Right from the start, there is rumor that Polybus the Corinthian king is not Oedipus father. When this rumor gets to Oedipus, he confronts his parents who do not appropriately answer his question. Oedipus then decides to approach the Delphic Oracle to seek an answer to his question.
Even the Oracle does not answer Oedipus’ question but instead tells him that he will marry his own mother and cause the death of his father. Instead of heeding the oracle, Oedipus’ pride leads him to think that he can avert this tragic fate. While trying to flee from his destined fate, he ends up killing King Laius who is his own father.
His journey ends in the Thebes Kingdom where Oedipus eliminates the beastly Sphinx and consequently solves the complex riddle of a form that walks on all fours early in the day, on two’s by midday and on threes by sunset.
In recognition of this achievement, the Theban’s appoint him to take over the vacant throne left behind by the demise of King Laius. By accepting this offer, Oedipus agrees to marry the widowed queen who in reality is her mother, Jocasta. It is clear that Jocasta does not play any role in any of these events but in reality, they are Oedipus’ own makings.
Soon after this, a plague rages throughout the Theban land leaving everyone in distress. This causes Oedipus to send his brother-in-law, Creon to seek why the city is experiencing the plague. The Oracle at Delphi reveals that the plague in the land is caused by the unavenged death of King Laius.
Against the people’s wishes to first consult prophet Tiresius, Oedipus goes ahead to pronounce a harsh punishment against the responsible person. Even after Tiresius is consulted, he advises that the matter should be left to rest. However, Oedipus keeps pressurizing him to a point where Tiresius gives an ominous prophecy for Oedipus.
By this time, Oedipus has already declared that Creon is a traitor who has to die. Queen Jocasta intervenes to bring calm between her brother and husband. Upon learning of the feud between them, Jocasta assures Oedipus that he has nothing to worry about since her son was killed in infancy and there is no way he could have been the cause of the Kings death.
At this point, Oedipus learns that the king had indeed been killed at exactly the same spot where years earlier he had killed a man who had blocked his way. As the events unfold and Jocasta senses that Oedipus is indeed her son, she begs him to drop the matter but he decides to have none of this. This leads to the death of Jocasta and subsequent banishment of Oedipus from the kingdom.
From the account of events, it is clear that Oedipus woes began way before Jocasta came on the scene. Most of the things that Oedipus went through were actually caused by his pride and arrogance something that led him to disregard the oracles and the people’s advice. It is therefore only fair to conclude that Jocasta was nothing but a bystander who tried to control things from getting out of hand.
Sophocles. Oedipus the King: The Play in Focus, 2010. Web. 20 Sep. 2010.
There is a variety of elements of drama that writers can choose from, when writing their works. These elements include theme, plot, characters, and language among others. In Oedipus the King, Sophocles uses the element of theme to produce a thrilling composition. The three important themes here include the power of conventional law, disposition to disregard the truth and confines of free will.
Sophocles uses the theme of power of conventional law. The need to bury the dead surpasses any law regardless of how the dead person was evil or unpopular. This comes out clearly for Creon after assuming power in Thebes. After losing his power to Creon, Polynices dies. Unfortunately, Creon being the king commands that Polynices corpse be left unburied for dogs and birds to feed on him and everyone; who had been wronged by this wicked man, see him. (Sophocles 98). Because Polynices was a wicked man, Creon assumes this fact justifies his acts.
It is true that Polynices had insulted everything and everyone including religion and power. However, as the play unfolds, the audience realizes that burying the dead is not tied to state rules and it has nothing to do with citizenship and loyalty, but has everything to do with humanity.
Creon comes to learn, though late; that, the rotting body of Polynices was more of lewdness than punishment. Even though there was no written law in Greece customs to bury the dead, the conventional laws, tied to humanity had power over the state.
Again, Sophocles shows how people have the disposition to disregard the truth. Even though Oedipus knows the truth concerning Laius’s murder, he does all he can to exculpate himself. Oedipus knows very clearly that he killed Laius single-handedly; however, he is clinging to the side of the story that claims that Laius died in the hands of strangers. On the same basis, Oedipus chooses to ignore the oracle while Jocasta overlooks the fact that her son was to kill her husband.
Oedipus knows this very well but in an attempt to feel good they deliberately choose to ignore the truth. The ironical part of this part notwithstanding; the audience cannot fail to see the vehement denial of truth. People have eyes; they see but choose not to acknowledge and accept the truth.
Finally, freewill has limits and this comes out clearly in this story. Prophecy and oracles were respected amongst Greek people during this era. This same oracle had predicted that Oedipus was going to murder his own father and take his mother to bed. On the other hand, prophecy had let Jocasta know that her son would kill her husband and sleep with her.
As events unravel, it is clear to Oedipus that he is that boy talked of in Jocasta’s story; however, he cannot use his freewill to change things. Things have gone out of hand such that, they cannot be restored; not even by freewill.
Sophocles employs the element of theme to communicate with the audience. The theme of this story was to address issues that were affecting the people of Thebes during this time and even in times to come. The audience can easily know what Sophocles meant by writing this script.
This is because even as the audience looks back in real life, the issues addressed here are easy to identify with in the society today. These are not foreign events happening to Oedipus only; no, they are happening in real life, right under the watch of the audience. This element of drama comes out strongly and makes the play compelling.
Sophocles. “Oedipus the King.” Berg, Stephen & Clay, Diskin. Ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978.