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Oedipus the King: A Textual Analysis

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Anthony Hughes

February 3, 2009

Pages: 5

Oedipus the King: A Textual Analysis

by Anthony Hughes

Oedipus the King, a play written by Sophocles, is a tale of tragedy. The central

theme to this play is that it is folly to attempt to control ones own fate. There are

examples of people attempting to control their own fate and the fate of those around

them only to have their fate come true with tragic consequences. After Oedipus hears

of his father's murder, he seeks the wisdom of a prophet, Teiresias, to discover the

identity of the murder and the source of the suffering that has befallen Thebes. This

scene plays a pivotal role in dramatizing the central theme of this play. This scene

signals a major turning point, not only in the play, but in Oedipus' character. It is in

the characterization of Oedipus and Teiresias that reveals the folly of attempting to

control ones fate. The following explains how Sophocles uses characterization in this

scene to emphasize the central theme; through the presentation of the characters, the

function they serve, and the significance of their names.

The presentation of Oedipus and Teiresias reveals much about their character.

Oedipus sees himself as a noble King of Thebes. It is in this scene that we see a

major turning point in his character. He views Teiresias as good, loyal man who has

served Thebes well in the past; Oedipus respects him. However, when Teiresias

attempts to conceal the truth, that Oedipus is the murder Oedipus seeks, Oedipus is

quick to brand Teiresias a traitor. When Teiresias arrives in scene, Oedipus praises

him as someone who is wise and has protected Thebes in the past "from many a

plague". However, it is not long after, when Teiresias seeks to shield Oedipus from

the truth, that Oedipus' character begins to degrade. He begins to insult Teiresias,

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accuses him of committing the murder, and even goes so far as to berate Teiresias for

his blindness, "Oedipus: The truth is strong, but not your truth. You have no truth.

You're blind. Blind in your eyes. Blind in your ears. Blind in your mind." (line 504)

This shows us that everything Oedipus has done in the past, and everything he is

doing now, to prevent his "fate" from coming true is folly. As he takes down the

people around him, the people he used to trust, he brings down himself. He lacks

control over his emotions, control over the situation, and control over his fate. This is

merely the beginning of his fall from grace.

Sophocles also uses the function of the characters in this scene to dramatize the

central theme. Teiresias, in this scene, serves as Oedipus' subconscious; he is the

messenger of a truth repressed by Oedipus. The truth that Oedipus killed his father

and slept with his mother; that he, himself, is the plague of Thebes. Oedipus serves

as the conscious mind; seeking a truth which he knows, but does not know he knows.

Throughout this scene, Oedipus continually pressures Teiresias for the truth. When he

doesn't get it, he results to insults, threats and accusations. The constant

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