Showing posts with label Oedipus Rex. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Oedipus Rex. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Role of Fate in the Downfall of Oedipus in 'Oedipus Rex'

For the Greeks, `Fate` means the foretelling of what will happen. It is the essential part of Greek tragedies and epics and in the case of `Oedipus Rex` it is not otherwise. As it is shown that the characters of the Greek tragedies are free but their freedom is tied with destiny. In the play `Oedipus Rex` fate plays an important role by controlling the destiny of the characters. It controls the characters, Jocasta, Laius and Oedipus, and pre-determines the major events in their lives. But in carrying out the plot Sophocles has shown that the characters are not altogether puppets in the hands of fate. As they are presented on the stage, they are free agents, freely choosing various actions.

The Function of  Fate in ” Oedipus Rex”

Long before the birth of Oedipus, it was announced from the Delphi that he would kill his father and marry his mother. All human beings through their kindness,intellect,inquiry and all other activities acted only to fulfill this prophecy. Here every character tries o trick the fate but ultimately realizes that the fate can not be tricked. As we have seen pity, cruelty, foresight and bravery have all been employed in trying to circumvent fate and have actually themselves woven into the web of fate. The cruel decision of Laius and Jocasta to expose the babe, the pity of the Herdsman who found it,the decision of Oedipus to give up his life as a king’s son by leaving Coriath- all have played their part in bringing about the fulfillment of the fate.              

The fate controls the character,Jocasta. Jocasta knew what the oracle had prophesied and went on to bear Laius’s child and then attempted to get round the consequences of the fate. She has even been willing to kill the child to forestall the horror of what he may do. She makes her decision and commits herself to a course of action which brings her doom upon her.  

The fate also seals the destiny of the character Laius. He did everything to prevent the fate which had been pronounced by the Delphi. He chained and handed over the child to a servant who passed it to a Corinthian shepherd, who passed the baby to the Corinthian king. The child grew up as the son of  Polybus and Merope,the king and queen of Corinth.Subsequently the child,  Odeipus killed his the father, Laius fulfilling the prophecy of the Oracle.

The fate also has the contribution in bringing about the tragedy in the life of Odeipus. He learnt the terrible prediction concerning him from the oracle and like his parents tried his utmost to avert such a fate. He fled from Corinth, determined never to set eyes on his supposed father and mother as long as they lived. Unfortunately, on the way of his journey, he killed his father ,king Laius, unknowingly. He also married the king’s widow.Jocasta, his real mother, after saving the city Thebes, from a frightful monster,Sphinx,who  was causing a lot of destruction. So the unavoidable fate has made Oedipus do two horrible crimes, killing his father and marrying his mother.

The occurrences which bring about the tragedy in the lives of Laius,Jocasta and Oedipus are the work of fate.All these characters performed the disastrous acts as a direct result of their efforts to escape the cruel fate which the oracle at Delphi had communicated to them. They are informed in advance that they will become the victims of certain shocking events. They take whatever measures they think of to avert those events but things turn out exactly as they had been foretold by the oracle.

According to Aristotle, the tragic hero must belong to a well-known family and his downfall is due to his error or hamartia .In this respect,Oedipus as a tragic hero does not meet the criterion .His downfall is fate- bound. Sooner or later he must fall from his position .It can be argued that his inquisition nature is responsible for his downfall.

But it is hard to say whether his inquisitive nature had originated, if the gods would have not sent a plague in the city Thebes and caused the search for the killer of the king.So in the downfall of Oedipus we see the humbling of a great man by the fate or gods. This treatment is not deserved by Oedipus.It is not a punishment for insolence nor it is due to any fault of judgment in man.The gods display their power because they must . Now it is vain to ask why Oedipus is punished fir sins of which he had no knowledge.Man may not cross question the gods and Oedipus has no such right.

But the argument has its other side. Oedipus is not a flawless person. He has many faults in his character. He is rash,hot-tempered,hasty in  forming judgments, easily provoked and very much inquisitive.Not all of his acts are pre-determined. He is a free agent freely choosing a series of actions which lead to his own ruin. The oracle’s prediction was unconditional; it did not say that if Oedipus did such and such a thing ,he would kill his father and marry his mother. Oedipus does many things to evade his fate, but unfortunately instead of delaying his acts precipitated his downfall.He failed to understand(blinded by the over-confidence)that not all difficulties are riddles to be solved by the application of pure intellect but that some are mysteries not to be solved at all.

Considering all the facts ,we can say that Oedipus is neither a free agent nor a mere victim of fate. The major events of his life are determined by fate, but his own acts such as fleeing from Corinth, killing an old man, marrying an aged woman,without knowing his whole identity,showing over-confidence and milking the shepherd for information all have contributed in precipitating the disaster.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Use of Dramatic Irony in Oedipus Rex

There was no suspense in the Greek tragedies, because the stories on which the tragedies were built were known to the audience. For this reason the playwrights had to recourse to some other means to heighten the tragic effect. The most effective method for the intensification of the tragic atmosphere was to use the dramatic irony, a situation in which a character's words and actions are seen to be wholly contradictory to the actual situation known to some other characters or to the audience. The tragedy ' Oedipus Rex' pulsates with dramatic suspense and this is largely due to the effective use of dramatic irony by Sophocles.

Except Teiresias all the characters in the play such as Oedipus, Jocasta, Creon, Messenger and the chorus are supposed to know noting about the proceedings of the story, so their speeches contain the dramatic irony. But the most dramatic ironies are found in the speech of Oedipus. Almost every word uttered by Oedipus from the exposition of the play to the discovery is attributed with dramatic irony.

The play begins with the gathering of a group of suppliants before the palace of Thebes, who appeal to Oedipus to save then from the dreadful pestilence, as he once saved. And the dramatic irony begins with the first appearance of Oedipus in his kingly robes and with his first words,"

I, Oedipus, whose name is known afar.

Every word is charged with dramatic irony, as the very situation is charged with it. The pitiful townspeople have appealed for aid to the one who in reality is the cause of their woe, but both the people and Oedipus fail to understand it.

Dramatic irony is also found in Oedipus’ proclamation for finding out the killer of Lauis, when Creon brings the news from Delphi that the city's peril is due to the shedding of blood of the last king Lauis, and the pitiful condition requires the banishment of the killer or the payment of blood for blood, Oedipus at once takes steps to find the killer out and announces that of the killer makes confession of his guilt he will earn only banishment instead of capital punishment. The dramatic irony lies in the fact that the killer is searching for nobody but himself unknowingly. Thus the announcement greatly heightens the tragic effect of the discovery which comes towards the end of the play.

Another pitiable example of dramatic irony is found in the quarrel scene between Oedipus and Teiressias. Teiresias, knowing the truth, tells Oedipus that he himself is the killer of his father husband of his matter and father of his sisters and brothers. But Oedipus is quite ignorant about the true facts and mocks at Teiresias in a cruel way calling him...

Shameless and brainless, sightless, senseless sot.

Here every word of Oedipus is charged with dramatic irony. The dramatic irony lies in our knowledge that though Teiresias is physically a blind man, he knows the truth and Oedipus, in spite of having eyes, is sightless.
But the most suspenseful and tragic dramatic irony occurs in the scene between Oedipus and Jocasta and the Messenger. Each time Oedipus addresses Jocasta as ‘O wife’ or ‘My wife’, each time we shudder at the thought of the consequences that are to follow and feel great pity for Oedipus. Jocasta's words in which she tries to disprove the oracles are also full of dramatic irony. When the messenger arrives to inform Oedipus about the death of Polybus, Jocasta is overjoyed and cries triumphantly,

Where are you new, divine prognostications?
The man whom Oedipus has avoided all these years,
Lest he should kill him dead! By a natural death,
And by no act of his!

There is a palpable dramatic irony in Jocasta's unbelief in oracles and she provokes the prognostications of the oracles. All the remarks made by Corinthiar messenger are also full of dramatic ironies. The messenger tells Oedipus that he has brought the news that can please and may make grievous also. It is grievous because Oedipus has lost his father and it is pleasant because Oedipus is going to be crowned soon. But dramatic irony lies in the messenger's ignorance that by bringing the news he only complicates he whole situation. His news brings a reversal to the whole situation and after that there is no dramatic irony, as the truth is being gradually revealed to each of the characters. But the chorus is still in ignorance of the true implication of the messenger's news. The chorus visualizes Oedipus as the offspring of a union between some god and a mountain nymph which contrasts the actual situation. And the arrival of the Theban shepherd is the prelude to the final discovery, the point at which the climax of the tragedy is reached.

Concluding our discussion we can say that the dramatic irony is the most important element of the play which constitutes suspense and thus helps to bring the play to the climax, where the truth is revealed to everyone.