Oedipus the King Term Paper

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  • Topic: Oedipus, Oedipus the King, Irony
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Oedipus the King - Research Paper In the fourth century B.C., Aristotle formulated his own definition and concept of a tragedy, outlining the rules by which he thought a tragedy should follow. Corresponding with Aristotle's view of tragedy, Oedipus the King meets the strict and detailed standard of Aristotle's idea. The handling of the elements of plot is masterly, and even a modern audience has little difficulty in seeing this. In Oedipus the King, Sophocles presents us with a world in which fate is inevitable, pride can be dangerous or effective, good intentions are irrelevant, and sight and blindness may serve a similar purpose. Aristotle points out that a tragedy must contain a protagonist that falls from power and from happiness, and that the protagonist must always be fallible in some way. Lewin writes, "Ultimately, while we can regard Oedipus as both admirable for his leadership skills and noble intentions and imperfect for his overconfidence and harsh treatment of others, he is a figure whose fate inspires pity and terror because of his ability to endure misfortune" (Lewin 1). Sophocles' brilliance in utilizing cosmic irony, or irony of fate, causes Oedipus, the hero of the story, to fall from his throne and ultimately end up in exile. In the first scene of the play, Teiresias, a blind prophet, speaks with Oedipus, who is searching for a cure to the plague killing his people. Teiresias is stubborn at first, stating, "You are all ignorant" (Sophocles 1393). Later, after exchanging some unpleasant dialogue, Teiresias finally tells Oedipus, "You weave your own doom" (Sophocles 1394). Here, it is clear that Sophocles uses foreshadowing through Teiresias' dialogue. In the conclusion, Oedipus realizes his guilt of patricide, "[d]amned in the blood he shed with his own hand" (Sophocles 1414). Immediately, the chorus follows the revelation with their song. The song of the Chorus is not only a noble poem; it serves to point the theme. The Chorus does not blame Oedipus; instead, it comments upon the uncertainty of human life: the fact that "success" does not mean happiness, and the fact that fate cannot be tricked. As we have seen, pity, cruelty, foresight, and bravery have all been employed in trying to circumvent fate, and have actually themselves been woven into the web of fate: the cruel decision of Laius and Iocaste to expose the baby Oedipus, the pity of the shepherd who found it, the decision of Oedipus to give up his life as a king's son by leaving Corinth - all have played their part in bringing about the fulfillment of the prophecy. In the third scene, the messenger from Corinth reveals to Oedipus that Polybos, whom Oedipus thought to be his true father, has died of natural causes. This was to disprove the prophecy of Oedipus killing his father and marrying his mother, although Oedipus is still worried about the latter half of the prophecy: "That is true; only - if only my mother were not still alive! But she is alive. I cannot help my dread" (Sophocles 1409). Oedipus' dread here seems right, but the irony of the situation is that King Oedipus does not really know who his parents are, and that Merope, whom Oedipus incorrectly assumes is his mother, does not have any affiliation with the prophecy. If the connections between these events seem too obvious, the complexity of Oedipus' hubris keeps the audience in suspense despite the foreshadowing. Since

hubris describes excessive pride leading to overconfidence, it is Oedipus' largest "mistake" while also his greatest asset. At each turn of the play, one can see both the strengths that earned him the title of King, and the weaknesses that will dethrone him from power. Relating the Sphinx's riddle and Oedipus, De Quincey writes: [Oedipus] it was, in the most pathetic sense, that went upon four feet when an infant; for the general condition of helplessness attached to all mankind in the period of infancy, and which is expressed symbolically by this image of creeping,...
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