Sophocles’ tragic drama, Oedipus Rex, presents to the reader a full range of conflicts and their resolution after a climax.
Thomas Van Nortwick in The Meaning of a Masculine Life describes Oedipus’ tragic flaw:
As ruler, he is a father to Thebes and its citizens, and like a father he will take care of his “children.” We see already the supreme self-confidence and ease of command in Oedipus, who can address not only other people’s children as his own, but also be a father to men older than he is. But beyond even this there is, in the sretched posture of the citizens, the hint of prostration before a deity. We are “clinging to your altars,” says the priest. . . . That he also exudes a godlike mastery in the eyes of his subjects only strengthens the heroic portrait. . . .(21-22).
The “godlike mastery” to which Van Nortwick refers is the same mastery which Creon in his final lines designates as the cause of the tragic dimension in the life of the protagonist: “Crave not mastery in all, /For the mastery that raised thee was thy bane and wrought thy fall.” Oedipus’ total mastery of the investigation resultant from the Delphic oracle’s declaration, yes, his forceful “railroading” of the investigation against the wishes of Jocasta, Teiresias, the messenger and the shepherd, ultimately spells the downfall of King Oedipus.
Abrams says that the conflict is between the protagonist and antagonist (225). Is the antagoinst within Oedipus in the form of his “godlike mastery,” as Creon believed? Or is the antagonist weird/wyrd/fate, so that the oracle demonstrated the gods’ power to predestine their creatures?
Frank B. Jevons in “In…
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Benardete, Seth. “Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus.” In Sophocles: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Thomas Woodard. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1966.
Ehrenberg, Victor. “Sophoclean Rulers: Oedipus.” In Twentieth Century Interpretations of Oedipus Rex, edited by Michael J. O’Brien. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968.
Jevons, Frank B. “In Sophoclean Tragedy, Humans Create Their Own Fate.” In Readings on Sophocles, edited by Don Nardo. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1997.
Sophocles. Oedipus Rex. Transl. by F. Storr. no pag.
Oedipus the King: Characterization
Oedipus Rex – Characterization
This essay will illustrate the types of characters depicted in Sophocles’ tragic drama, Oedipus Rex, whether static or dynamic, flat or round, and whether protrayed through the showing or telling technique.
Seth Benardete in “Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus” portrays the protagonist in just one dimension of his well-rounded character, that of a suffering soul:
Everyone else is ill, but no one is as ill as Oedipus, for all the rest suffer individually, while he alone suffers collectively. He is a one like no other one. As ruler he is like the one that without being a number is the principle and measure of all numbers. Oedipus’ illness or disease is truly unequal to the citizens,’ for he is the source of theirs, but he regards himself as ill only because his grief is the sum of each partial grief. Oedipus always speaks for the city as a whole (109).
As protagonist, Oedipus is at the center of the story. The dialogue, action and motivation revolve about the characters in the story (Abrams 32-33). Werner Jaeger in “Sophocles’ Mastery of Character Development” pays the dramatist Sophocles the very highest compliment with regard to character development:
The ineffaceable impression which Sophocles makes on us today and his imperishable position in the literature of the world are both due to his character-drawing. If we ask which of the men and women ofGreek tragedy have an independent life in the imagination apart from the stage and from the actual plot in which they appear, we must answer, ‘those created by Sophocles, above all others’ (36).
Surely it can be said of Sophocles’ main characters that they grow beyond the two dimensional aspect into really rounded physical presences. This is done through mostly the showing technique, though the chorus at times is involved in telling the audience various pieces of information. At the outset of Oedipus Rex the reader sees a king who comes to the door full of curiosity: “Explain your mood and purport. Is it dread /Of ill that moves you or a boon ye crave?” When the priest has responded that the people are despairing from the effects of the plague, the king shows another dimension to his character with his deep sympathy for his subjects: “Ye sicken all, well wot I, yet my pain, /How great soever yours, outtops it all.