Analytical Analysis on “Oedipus”
And his Tragic Flaw
It has been said that all tragic heroes possess tragic flaws. Whether this statement applies to Oedipus of “Oedipus” the King, written by Sophocles, is still a matter of much debate even centuries after its debut. If Oedipus bares a “tragic flaw,” then he is a man, and therefore is able to exercise his free will in determining his fate. If, however, Oedipus is a tragic hero without a flaw, then he is said to be a mere “puppet” in his story; no matter what decisions he makes, he is helpless against whichever Supreme Being is working against him. Is Oedipus’ treacherous fate the cause of extenuating circumstances, or is there an invisible force controlling his every whim? As the plot weaves in and out of scenes, what seems apparent at first glance shifts as the opposing view gains merit; what was is no longer, until the next scene when it becomes apparent again. Though there is a clear concise victor in the end, arriving at a definitive conclusion amongst the array of possibilities is a tedious task which involves the step by step examination of each intricate detail.
Before he inhaled his first breath, a cursed prophecy had been laid out upon Oedipus which foretold that he would slay his father and bare children with the very woman who bore him; in order to avert this tragedy, his parents cast him out and left him to die – “…his feet pierced so that no one [would] take him up” (Segal,89). Since a child, innocent at birth, has no ability to condemn himself at such a tender age, it must be assumed that this was the work of the gods. What would have become of Oedipus had the prophecy not been revealed? Had he been raised by Jocasta and Laius, and had they not thrown him out to his death, would he still have grown to be his father’s murder and his mother’s husband? It seems much less likely that Oedipus would have fulfilled the prophecy in the event it had never been revealed, which poses the question then: Why did the gods reveal the prophecy to Laius? Was it in order to spare him from some evil tragedy, or was it, in fact, so that they could guarantee its fulfillment? Perhaps the gods knew precisely what would happen when they revealed the prophecy to Laius – perhaps this was their intention from the start. According to author Humphrey Kitto, Oedipus was not a victim of fate. “The gods' foreknowledge does not shackle his will,” he claims; “His character makes his destiny. Had he been less irascible, less hasty in action, with less trust in his own impulses and judgment, all this [suffering] would not have happened” (Gale.) While this statement may apply to Oedipus in his later years, it certainly does not validate the ill treatment that he had received as an infant. And speaking of his infancy and the death sentence that he was charged with before he could walk, how was it that he was able to escape that unjustified punishment? The “exposure of unwanted children was both frequent and legal in Athens,” so why would a shepherd deliberately disobey the orders from his king? (Gale) The fact that Oedipus was spared his untimely death was certainly through no fault or choice of his own; had he been given a choice in the matter, though, it is made quite clear by his statement: “Why did you shelter me? When I was cast upon you, why did I not die? Then I should never have shown the world my execrable birth,” to the shepherd that rescued him what his choice would have been (Sophocles,1420).
Another common opinion among critics is that Oedipus’ lack-of-self-knowledge is his tragic flaw; hence, responsible for all of the misery he endures. If only he had made enquiry into his past to learn his roots, his ultimate suffering could have been avoided, they argue. Oedipus did, however, make inquiry about his origin to his benefactors, the king and queen of Corinth. While at a feast, “a drunken man maundering his cups [cried] out that [Oedipus was] not [his] father’s...
Cited: Segal, Charles. “Tragic Heroism and the Limits of Knowledge.” Oedipus Tyrannus.
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