Analysis of "Oedipus Rex"

Essay by MichaelZhaoHigh School, 10th gradeA+, April 2004

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The Greek statesman Sophocles writes the tragedy Oedipus Rex in the year 440 B.C. This tragedy is generally regarded as Sophocles' greatest masterpiece. Even Aristotle writes in his famous book Poetics that the purpose of a tragedy is to arouse pity and fear in the audience. Each of the plays in the Oedipus Trilogy achieves this goal that Aristotle defines to be the mark of the tragedy.

The basic plot of Oedipus Rex is a man's effort to outwit fate. At birth he is foretold to kill his father and marry his mother. In an effort to stop this from happening, his parents Laius and Jocasta order him killed. They too, believe fate can be outwitted. When the plague strikes Thebes, Tiresias the prophet tells the people that the plague will only stop when the murderer of King Laius is found. Oedipus is of course the murderer, but he does not realize this.

He insists on the murderer coming to confess, no one does because none of them is the murderer. He then promises the death penalty to the murderer. Thus, he is actually condemning himself to death. However, the crowd gathered to hear Oedipus speak cheers wildly. Their cheers hold Oedipus higher than before, thus ensuring a harder fall from power. However the prophet Tiresias drops hints that Oedipus is indeed the murderer. Tiresias words --"... you are the murderer you hunt." (413)--have no affect on Oedipus but to further enrage him. Once again Oedipus denies fate and the will of the gods. Sophocles employs double irony in this scene. It is ironic a blind man (Tiresias) can see the future and yet a seeing man is oblivious to his own past and present and even his own identity. Oedipus is even prouder and sure of himself than before.