Bruce's Reviews > Oedipus the King

Oedipus the King by Sophocles
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Aug 16, 2012

it was amazing
Read in August, 2012

We all know the story that this play tells; it has been part of the cultural heritage that most of us have known for as long as we can remember, and many of us have read it any number of times. Each reading brings new insights, new questions, and rather than tell the story once again, I prefer to dwell on the thoughts and questions that this reading brought to my mind.

Wherein lies the Evil in this play? In the prophecy and, apparently, the determinism of the gods that Oedipus will kill his father and marry his mother? In Oedipus’ doing so despite his attempt to avoid this fate and his ignorance that he has but done what Fate decreed? How can he be held responsible for this? In his attempt to outwit Fate, in his attempt to be an independent moral agent, an attempt that may be interpreted as hubristic? Why does he blind himself? Out of guilt? Out of a refusal to look upon his wife and children, the result of his life’s tragic trajectory? Is it an irrational impulse that has no meaning? The play is all about seeing, about revealing the hidden, and blinding is its antithesis. Perhaps Oedipus’ blinding of himself is a symbol of the blindness he labored under in the past, creating a sort of blindness-brief seeing-blindness sequence; maybe seeing is too much to bear. It is interesting to note how hearing supplants seeing as the play progresses. And why does Jocasta kill herself, since she can hardly be blamed for what has occurred? Simply because she has offended an incest taboo, albeit unknowingly? Or is this the final blow for her, the culmination of grief that began when her infant son was taken from her to be exposed and killed many years before? There are many puzzles in this play beyond the obvious puzzle that history hides and that is eventually revealed. This is the story of the overcoming of illusion, of developing clear sight. Is seeing clearly always painful? Is seeing oneself for who one is what we try hard to avoid (Oedipus’ power of denial, of an almost willful blindness to the signs and messages coming to him, is stark)? Is it necessary for healing, however? Do we remain somehow polluted and constrained without the sight that comes through knowledge, or is knowledge itself a source of suffering? Is this the reason why we try so hard to distract ourselves, to avoid the hard job of seeing ourselves without illusions? How interesting, though, that Oedipus is able to become a free moral agent, governed by free will and not by necessity, only when he achieves dis-illusionment.

The gods foretell events, implying determinism, and then hold Thebes responsible for not banishing Oedipus. Why do they hold Oedipus responsible and punishable for something they decreed and that he did unintentionally, indeed for something he tried desperately to avoid? There is an element of Fate or Evil in this play that is beyond rationality, beyond understanding.

The Chorus is all important; its speeches should not be rushed through in order to “get to the action.” It is the conservative voice of the past, of collective wisdom. From the very beginning of the play, the Chorus has premonitions of disaster.

How is each of us fated? What part does chance, fate, or determinism play in our lives? To what extent do we take responsibility for our actions, for the pattern of our lives? For what are we responsible and for what are we not? How does intention change our responsibility for our actions? In what ways are we blind to what we do, to what we have done, to how these have changed or influenced our lives and the lives of others? To what extent do we live in perpetual ignorance of the effects of our lives and actions? And once we know ourselves, can we live with what we once were, where we once were, or is all irrevocably changed? At what price do we gain knowledge of ourselves, of reality? Oedipus gains such knowledge only through living his life in reverse, moving from his present into his past.

It is easy to see how texts like this have survived to speak to readers and the watchers of drama through millennia. The themes are universal, the questions perennial, the mysteries haunting even as they are unfathomable.
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02/17/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Bayan Wonderful! You said it all :)


Anne Zappa Oedipus is in pursuit of his truth only to blind himself when he finally stumbles upon it. Some irony HAAA!!!


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