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The character Oedipus in Sophocles drama Oedipus the King goes through an unfortunate but necessary character change. From a prideful, heroic king at the beginning of the play, to a tyrant in denial towards the middle, and finally to a fearful, condemned man, humbled by his tragic fate, Oedipus change personifies that which makes an unforgettable drama. When Oedipus is first introduced, he appears to be a confident, valiant hero and reasonably so. Taking into mind the background of the drama, we learn that this foreigner to Thebes arrives at the city limits, braves death, solves the Sphinxs riddle and releases the city from the horrible terror. Only a man like Oedipus, a man possessing tremendous intelligence and self-confidence could have such courage. Although at times Oedipus questions the gods accuracy and authority, the people dont mind because of the great deed he had done.
When Oedipus succeeds, he becomes instantly famous and loved by all because of his courage and intelligence. The citizens of Thebes consider Oedipus actions are special gifts from the gods used to benefit the city as a whole. Because the former king of Thebes had perished, Oedipus married the queen, Jocasta and resecured the throne for his people. Doing this shows not only his love for the queen, but also his willingness to accept a position of prominence and leadership among his beloved people, which is a very noble act. When the dialogue of the drama begins, a very concerned Oedipus questions a priest why the citizens are lamenting and praying. I find it incredible that Oedipus never distanced himself from his people.
Often when someone becomes famous, they tend to forget their roots and assume a status higher than everyone else. He shows that his character is highly estimable and that he realizes all that he has is due to the support of his people. Oedipus shows genuine concern for his people when he is told that the populace is praying to the gods to release the terrible plague that wasted the city's crops and pastures and rendered all Theban women sterile. Oedipus response of feeling the citys pain is not just a statement, but an action also. Amazingly, Oedipus seems to assume the role of the gods with his response, You pray to the gods? Let me grant your prayers. I think it is noteworthy how Oedipus did not just rely on the possibility that the gods would stop the plague, but took a very active role.
Oedipus announcement that he had sent his brother-in-law Creon to the Pythian Oracle of Apollo shows that he is not only a man of his word, but also a man of action. Comparing this to the elections that are coming in a short month and a half, I find Oedipus a great contrast to the presidential hopefuls. Modern politicians make promises to keep the public content and gain support only for the purpose of being elected; Oedipus only speaks truth and keeps to his word. Upon Creons arrival, Oedipus learns of the good news that to lift the plague, the murder of the previous king, Laius, must be found. Hearing that there was only one witness to the murder and that the murderer currently resided in his city, Oedipus becomes upset that the matter was never fully investigated. In another variation of his character, Oedipus assumes the role of an investigator. However, I find that at this point, Oedipus character begins to change.
He swears to solve this mystery, not merely for Laius's sake, but for his own since Laius's killer might attack him next. It seems that the king who cared so dearly for his people becomes a little selfish and thinks of himself. Although not written in the drama, it is my opinion that from here on Oedipus is only concerned with preventing his possible demise at the hands of Laius murderer and that his concern for his citizens is merely a guise. Oedipus calls the people together to inquire if anyone has information that would be beneficial. Ignoring the fact that he is warned that what he may discover could harm him, he presses forward, asking if the killer is among the populace present. Finally, he seems to become angered with the negative response he received and threatens banishment to anyone who withholds the truth. However, more importantly, Oedipus announces that he himself is not exempt from the punishment he had just declared. With this scene, Oedipus seems to take the role of an overbearing ruler overly concerned with the past, not focusing on the task at hand of finding the murderer. Taking the advice of the Creon, Oedipus summons the man closest to Apollo: Teiresias the blind prophet.
Oedipus begs for assistance in finding the murderer, only to have Tieresias announce that he should have never come and wishes to depart. Oedipus seems to become somewhat oppressive when he accuses Tieresias of being an enemy for not responding. After one more plea for a response, Oedipus becomes distraught and angrily claims that Tieresias silence is evidence that he is the murderer. It is my opinion that at this point, Oedipus is at the point of no return. In a society dominated by the gods, the mere thought of treating a messenger with such disrespect and intolerance is appalling. I think Tieresias gave Oedipus more than enough chances to explore other possibilities in searching for the truth.
Fittingly, Tieresias takes the offensive. At this Teiresias, fed up, tells Oedipus what he knows: "You are the cursed polluter of this land. Oedipus cannot believe what has just been said and tells him to repeat it. Tieresias further clarifies his statement: "The killer you are seeking is yourself." Oedipus now takes the role of a paranoid tyrant. Filled with fury, Oedipus calls Teiresias a "shameless and brainless, sightless, senseless sot" and accuses him of conspiring with his own brother-in-law, Creon. charges him with fraud, using the Sphinx's riddle as proof. If Teiresias is a seer, then he should have been able to solve the riddle. But instead, Oedipus was the only one who was smart enough to do so. Clearly Oedipus is not thinking, but rather acting on rage.
If I were Teiresias, I would be concerned for my own life. Saying what he did to a man of power like Oedipus is clearly a dangerous matter. However, Teiresias remained calm through the ordeal and departed when Oedipus demanded that he do so. Oedipus retreats back into his palace. Thebes beloved king, once their greatest blessing, now has become their greatest curse. Creon returns only to have Oedipus again accuse him of being a traitor. The two have a heated argument, which concludes with Creon charging Oedipus of ruling unjustly.
Jocasta does her best to calm the two and tries to establish a trust between them. Upon Creons departure, Jocasta herself questions the accuracy of the prophecies using the example of the prophecy that Laius would be killed by his own son. She explains how their son was taken to a mountain with his ankles pinned to prevent any such event from occurring. However, one statement troubled Oedipus the mention of a meeting of three roads because he once killed a man while in a fit of rage at such an area. Jocasta reveals that the witness fled into the country after the murder. Oedipus orders that this man be brought to the city.
Oedipus character now obsessively seeks information on the truth. Unfortunately for Oedipus, he never expects the truth to affect him in the way it does. Jocasta enters from the house on her way to visit the holy temples and pray. A messenger from Corinth enters with the news that Oedipus's father Polybus is dead. The Corinthians would like to make Oedipus king of both Corinth and Thebes. Overjoyed, Jocasta sends for Oedipus. When he hears the news, he rejoices in the falseness of prophecy.
I realize that Oedipus should be somewhat happy with the fact that he thinks he avoided the inevitable. However, he doesnt seem to be concerned with the statement itself his father had died. He had become so overly concerned with the prophecies that they had dulled his senses to the point that the death of his father meant almost nothing whatsoever. Oedipus is still afraid of the other half of the prophecy that he will marry Merope. But the messenger assures him that he needn't worry about marrying her, because Polybus and Merope are not really his parents. Oedipus questions the identity of the man who gave the baby to the messenger and the messenger tells him that the stranger was one of Laius's servants. The messenger replies that Jocasta should know who he is.
Oedipus turns to Jocasta, who is white with fear. At this moment Jocasta has discovered the truth it was indeed Oedipus who killed Laius. I cannot understand how Oedipus didnt surmise at this moment the truth. The intelligent man who solved the riddle of the Sphinx now cannot realize that his fate has caught up to him. Upon the messengers arrival, he tells Oedipus that he is that same baby. The shepherd reacts with fear and begs the messenger to hold his tongue. Oedipus threatens him with physical violence, and finally, the man confesses that the baby was a child of Laius's house.
This scene is a further illustration of Oedipus change in character. From the man who listened patiently and spoke softly about the plague, Oedipus has taken to threats of violence. He no longer hopes that individuals will help him with the matter he expects and demands that they do. This event can be considered the final piece in the puzzle. From hereon, Oedipus becomes a man humbled with the pain and dejection of knowing the truth as the overwhelming evidence forces him to admit his tragic destiny. He condemns himself stating he was cursed in birth, marriage and in murder.
Yet the transformation of Oedipus character is most clearly demonstrated when he chooses to gouge out his own eyes. Knowing his horrible fate, he makes himself physically blind like Tieresias, the blind man who saw the truth. He further defends his decision saying that nothing that he could see would bring him joy. Consequently, Oedipus can no longer be called a tyrant, yet alone a king, after being humiliated in this way. He can no longer even see or walk without assistance. His attitude towards Creon is also dramatically altered in the way he humbles himself before Creon and the rest of Thebes.
This completes his change in demeanor for the third time in the play. It is my opinion that Sophocles proved that he was a master dramatist with this play. No part of the change of Oedipus character could have been omitted for it would have severely affected the significance of the play. From a prideful, heroic king at the beginning of the play, to a tyrant in denial towards the middle, and finally to a fearful, condemned man, humbled by his tragic fate, Oedipus change personifies that which makes an unforgettable drama. Bibliography: Oedipus Rex.
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