Thursday, September 16, 2010

Oedipus Rex

Fate was a force to be reckoned with in Greek society. No matter how far one runs from it, destiny always catches up to a person and wreaks the same havoc it would have done otherwise.

Case in point: the tragedy of Oedipus. The man was destined to kill his father and marry his mother; an atrocious situation that no sane man of any society would even attempt to cause wittingly. Wishing to avoid his fate, his parents gave him to a shepherd to be left in the wilderness to die. Yet Oedipus is “saved” by the same shepherd, who gives him a life. Unwittingly, however, Oedipus performed all the atrocities he was destined to do. Everything appears hunky dory from the eyes of any person watching from the eyes of the citizens until the unexplained murder of Oedipus’s father must be explained. Oedipus had no idea what he had done, so he put together clues that came from various civilians to eventually realize his tragic fate. He then gouges out his own eyes and banishes himself from the kingdom.

Greek Tragedy 101: The main character always experiences a fall from status that stems from a tragic flaw. Oedipus experienced many such falls; a fall from status, a fall from pride, and a fall in happiness. As the audience learns from the prologue, Oedipus was a great ruler that managed to keep his domain in relative prosperity for most of the time he was ruling. Yet the second the plague beset the kingdom, his prosperity fell as he put together the pieces to the mystery of the murder. While Tiresias warns him of the danger of wanting to know more about the murder, Oedipus keeps asking questions to him and to everyone around him. When the truth is revealed, however, Oedipus is devastated and “blinds” himself to everything.

His parents wanted what would be best for, not only their sake, but for Oedipus’s sake. To their knowledge, they could alter their son’s fate simply by sending him off to some far away mountain to die. Yet in altering one simple event they actually set the prophecy in motion. No one knows whether or not Oedipus’s fate would be the same if they were blissfully ignorant of the future, but in actually trying to find happiness his parents ultimately caused the events they feared. If fate destined one’s unhappiness, then there is absolutely nothing to mitigate the events of the future.

If fate is ultimately unhappiness, then ignorance of it is happiness. The tone of Oedipus Rex starts out fairly cheery, but as the story progresses and Oedipus realizes his fate, the tone becomes progressively darker in character. Even as act 1 unfolds, Oedipus is very prideful and overly confident that he is innocent. As Tiresias, Kreon, Iokasta, and the messengers gradually reveal his fate, the king quickly realizes what he had done and his mood dampens to a much more somber and serious tone. Once the truth is fully revealed, however, he becomes ashamed of his actions and wants to return to a happy time when he was not aware of what he had done and does so by blinding himself.

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