?Oedipus Rex? is a well-known play of ancient times and is enjoyed by many people around the globe, despite being a horrible tragedy. During the play, Oedipus, who is the King of Thebes, searches for the murderer of the previous King of Thebes, King Laios. Through his search, Oedipus finds out more than he bargains for and this results in his downfall, mentally and as king. The series of events that take place in Oedipus? life during this play provide enough information to ascertain what kind of character Oedipus is, why he is such a tragic figure, the believability of his actions and motives in the play and the interesting dilemma of Oedipus being both the protagonist and the antagonist.
Oedipus is a proud man; he solves the riddle of the Sphinx and saves Thebes, thus leading to him obtaining the throne from the murdered King Laios.
Unfortunately, a new plague is sweeping across Thebes, and Creon, his brother-in-law, returns from the God?s with a message for Oedipus to find out who killed King Laios, and rid the land of that particular unsolved mystery. Oedipus displays his insecurity when he begins investigating the murder and calls in Teiresias, a pupil of the gods, who points the finger, in the form of a riddle, at Oedipus. ?A blind man, who has his eyes now; a penniless man, who is rich now; and he will go tapping the strange earth with his staff; to the children with whom he lives now he will be Brother and father-the very same; to her who bore him, son and husband-the very same who came to his father?s bed, wet with his father?s blood? (Sophocles, 985). He immediately dismisses the man as crazy, and blames Creon for trying to destroy him and take away his leadership. The insecurity is rooted more deeply though, because the play later reveals that Oedipus has indeed slain before, and an eyewitness account of the situation is indifferent from the description of events Oedipus tells his wife. As it turns out, the riddle is completely true, because the play later reveals that Oedipus? true father is actually King Laios and he unknowingly wound up killing him while he was traveling to Thebes. When he took the throne, he married the Queen of Thebes, who turns out to be his mother. Oedipus? search for the murderer ends up being a search for his own identity and reveals that he is accursed man that he was looking for in the first place.
Being a rounded and dynamic character, his personality reveals some aspects that were hidden at the beginning of the play such as, his life before coming to Thebes as the son of Polybos and the slaughter of the men on the highway, which he does not reveal until Teiresias questions him. His personality also changes towards the end of the play, because when he finds out that he is the murderer, he stops becoming the proud and arrogant ruler, and becomes a victim of tragedy.
He becomes a tragic figure for two reasons. The first reason is by gross misfortune, because he kills the people on the highway in self-defense without ever knowing who they are, and this sets into motion all the forthcoming disasters. The second reason is that he follows the will of the God?s to find out who the murderer is, and in essence, find out who he is, ?But this transformation from tyrannos [absolute ruler] to king is his reversal; the revelation that he is king is the overthrow of the tyrannos. The proof of his legitimacy is at the same time the exposure of his unspeakable pollution? (Knox, 89). If Oedipus dismisses the God?s comments to search for the murderer, then no tragedy would occur, because his true self would remain hidden.
Oedipus? actions throughout the play are quite believable. At the beginning he acts like the arrogant ruler he is, dwelling on his great achievement at defeating the sphinx, and using that to justify his future actions and dismiss any insults towards him and also towards the end of the play, when he discovers he is the murderer and his wife hangs herself for being unable to face the reality of the situation. At that point he goes insane and gouges his own eyeballs out, pleading to be exiled. When analyzing, matters become more interesting, because as it turns out, Oedipus is the protagonist of the play, the king who has cursed the murderer, labeled the antagonist. However, when Oedipus combines all the facts and realizes who he is, he becomes the murderer and the antagonist, making him both the protagonist and antagonist in the play.
Although beginning as a confident leader, it is revealed that Oedipus? character is insecure with his position and should not take certain things for granted and be so arrogant when ruling. Sophocles has made his role appear quite believable and his situation realistic, and having one character be both the protagonist and antagonist makes the play all the more interesting to read.