Oedipus: flawed by his own devices
The best way to teach anyone a moral is to tell him or her a story about it. It leaves the reader or listener with a better feel for the issue portrayed in the story. Perhaps the first use of this in writing is Sophocles’s classical drama Oedipus Rex. Oedipus, the tragic hero, falls prey to his own weaknesses. Pride sets him up for a hard fall, when he makes many self-incriminating events public. Persistence causes him to pursue his own destruction, even when many warn him to stop. Finally, uncontrollable rage is the underlying factor in many of the tragic events in the play.
Oedipus’s pride forces him to make everything a public event that makes himself look better, but unfortunately these public appearances lead to his downfall. Even in the very beginning of the play, Oedipus comes before the crowd and says, quote. I deemed it unmeet, my children, for you to hear these things at the mouths of others, and have come here myself, I, Oedipus renowned of all.quote pg77. This proclamation leads up to the detailing of a plague, something all of the residents know about. Oedipus is making big shows out of small topics, something he will regret later. No news of how to stop the plague is even mentioned until Creon comes. Oedipus again makes more incriminating evidence public when he tells Creon, quote. Speak before all.
The sorrow, which I bear, is for these more than for my own life. quote pg79 The notoriety Oedipus gives Creon’s speech brings more problems simply because of the details in the speech. Creon tells of a defiling thing that roams the local land. Again, Oedipus does the nobler thing, and decrees that whosoever should come forward to claim responsibility would only be forced into exile. However, if that person hides and does not come forward, then the punishment will be death. In the end though, Oedipus turns out to be the defiling thing, and his own proclamation forces him into exile from Thebes. From these facts, it is apparent that Oedipus’s downfall is due, in part, to his egotistical ways.
Oedipus’s persistent quest to find information about his birth, even when others counsel him not to, leads him to his dreadful ruin. Teiresias, a blind prophet, goes to Oedipus. He tells Oedipus that he is the defiling thing, but does not make his declaration entirely public, giving Oedipus a chance to escape his first tragic flaw. Oedipus does not comprehend the seer’s warning, and accuses him of treason. His first chance now gone, his second presents itself when Jocasta comes down to interrupt Creon and Oedipus who are feuding over the matter Teiresias brings up. Jocasta questions the two, but the chorus interrupts her with the timely advice, quote Enough, surely enough, when our land is already vexed, that the matter should rest where it ceased. quote pg94 With these lines, the chorus is suggesting that the matter be left alone. Oedipus is becoming distraught with all of the events by this time.
Nonetheless, his stubborn mind blocks it out, and he continues. The last and final admonition comes from Jocasta. She has already discovered for herself that she is both mother and wife to Oedipus. In her distress she pleads with him saying, quote For the gods’ sakefor your own life, forbear this search! My anguish is enough. quote pg103 This last and final chance to escape doom ends tragically, for when he forsakes Jocasta’s advice, she realizes there is no use. With her final lamentation, she disappears, never to be seen alive by Oedipus again. This proves once and for all that the counsel of others, when falling on Oedipus’s ears, does no good, and by holding his own ears deaf, Oedipus leads himself to ruin with reigns of his own stubbornness.
Rage is the underlying emotion in Oedipus that causes the tragic events to take place. Hints of this violent and vengeful behavior begin to show through in the middle of the play. The way in which Oedipus verbally attacks Creon after the prophet Teiresias gives Oedipus bad news is just one example of his very violent tendencies. Oedipus goes so far as to accuse Creon, an innocent man, of treason without any evidence. As it turns out, it is his violent course of action that is the cause of his distress. When Jocasta questions him on his arrival to Thebes he tells of, perhaps the first incidence of road rage, in which he lashes out against a traveling band that force him off the road. As the audience would soon find out, that band of travelers held with it his father, Laius. This story proves that he is responsible for the murders.
When in the end Oedipus realizes his luckless existence, he becomes tormented mentally. A messenger brings the bad tidings and quotes Oedipus’s last decipherable words before Oedipus, quote smote full on his own eyeballsnot once alone but oft he strucktoday lamentation, ruin, death, shame, all earthly ills that can be namedall are theirs. quote pg108 Now that Oedipus is blind, and Jocasta is dead, the play ends. The tragic events mold Oedipus into a pathetic blind beggar, and his reversal is certainly pitiful. It is unfortunate that anyone should slump to such a low point in his or her life, especially after having achieved such a high one. This disastrous chain of events further emphasizes the part fury plays in Oedipus’s undoing.
Undoubtedly Oedipus falls prey to his own personal flaws. His prideful ways cause him to look dishonorable in the public eye. His over zealous pursuit of his origin brings his own ruin. Most assuredly, his rage is his ultimate undoing, forcing him to violent ends. The pathetic figure that Oedipus becomes at the end of the play is a message to the audience. A moral perhaps, or warning, of the bad things that these imperfections bring. It is important for the audience to appreciate these flaws so they do not repeat them in their own lives.