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Destiny, Fate, Free Will and Choice in Oedipus the King – Fate’s Triumph

Destiny, Fate, Free Will and Choice in Oedipus the King – Fate’s Triumph

At the core of any tragedy there is a cruel change of fortune involved. This change of fortune is a key factor in man’s demise and it can result in speculation that perhaps the gods plotted his ruin out of malice. To blame a higher power is the easy way to rationalize the downfall, but upon further investigation it becomes clear that it is actually man’s attempt to escape his fate that leads to tragedy. Only when Oedipus was ruined did he realize his efforts to avoid what was pre-ordained were useless. Douglas Johnston states that “choice is at the heart of tragedy” (Johnston 14). In Sophocles’ play Oedipus Rex Laius, Jocasta and Oedipus all choose to ignore Apollo’s oracle; this decision, to attempt to escape fate, sets off a chain of events that leads to the defeat of these characters. We can only wonder how their lives may have differed if not for these fatal decisions. If one assumes that any attempts to control one’s destiny will result in tragedy does the opposite also ring true? Perhaps the way to cheat fate is simply to accept it.

Even before his birth Laius and Jocasta have been told that their son’s fate is to kill his father and marry his mother. They are determined to save themselves and decide that Oedipus must be killed before he is old enough to carry out the prophecy. This attempt to beat the gods immediately begins Oedipus’ journey to ruin as he grows up in nearby Corinth thinking that his parents are King Polybus and Queen Meropé. By assuming Polybus and Meropé are his true parents Oedipus is in a situation where he can unknowingly kill his true father and marry his true mother. At the same time Jocasta and Laiu…

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…it is a natural human instinct to seek to avoid one’s fate when one knows something bad will happen. Even if man knows he is headed for doom it is one’s foolishness, determination and stubborn nature that makes one try to fight the losing battle against destiny. The destruction of Oedipus in Sophocles’ play is not an isolated occurrence; rather it is a story whose lessons apply to all of mankind.

Works Cited and Consulted:

Johnston, Douglas, and Brian Grandy. Greek Tragedy. Ascension Collegiate. 3 Oct. 2001


Rose, Lloyd. “The Greek Tragedy: Doom Is Booming.” Washington Post 20 Dec. 1998: G02. 2 Oct. 2001


Sophocles. “Oedipus Rex.” An Introduction to Literature, 11th ed.Eds. Sylvan Barnet, et al. New York: Longman, 1997. 800-836.

The Impact of Fate Upon Macbeth and Lady Macbeth

What reader can deny the awful compulsion which fate and ambition inflict upon the morally lost Macbeths in Shakespeare’s Macbeth ? This paper will treat the impact of fate upon the Macbeths

In his book, On the Design of Shakespearean Tragedy, H. S. Wilson explains the stand taken by Macbeth in his relationship with fate:

He pits himself no merely against the threat of hell but also against the enmity of “Fate” (as represented in the prophecies of the Weird Sisters):

come, Fate, into the list,

And champion me to th’ utterance.

He brags to his wife:

But let the frame of tings disjoint, both the worlds suffer,

Ere we will eat our meal in fear [. . .]. (70-71)

In Everybody’s Shakespeare: Reflections Chiefly on the Tragedies, Maynard Mack explains that the witches are associated with fate:

Except in one phrase (I.3.6) and in the stage directions, the play always refers to the witches as weyard – or weyward – sisters. Both spellings are variations of weird, which in Shakespeare’s time did not mean “freakish,” but “fateful” – having to do with the determination of destinies. Shakespeare had met with such creatures in Holinshed, who regularly refers to the supernatural agents with whom Macbeth has dealings as “the three sisters,” or “the three weird sisters,” i.e., the three Fates. (185)

L.C. Knights in the essay “Macbeth” explains the place of fate in the decline of Macbeth:

“One feels,” says W.C. Curry, “that in proportion as the good in him diminishes, his liberty of free choice is determined more and more by evil inclination and that he cannot choose the better course. Hence we speak of destiny or fate, as if it were some external force or moral order, compelling him against his will to certain destruction.” Most readers have felt that after the initial crime there is something compulsive in Macbeth’s murders; and at the end, for all his “valiant fury,” he is certainly not a free agent. He is like a bear tied to a stake, he says; but it is not only the besieging army that hems him in; he is imprisoned in the world he has made. (102)

In Fools of Time: Studies in Shakespearean Tragedy, Northrop Frye stresses the connection between the witches and fate:

The successful ruler is a combination of nature and fortune, de jure and de facto power.

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