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Oedipus the King: The Cost of Free Will

The Cost of “Free” Will in Oedipus Rex (the King)

Perhaps the Greek playwright Sophocles never had the concept of “free will” in mind when writing Oedipus Rex, but the play does allow for that interesting paradox we know today as free will. The paradox is: if Oedipus is told by the gods’ oracles that he will kill his father and marry his mother, does he have any power to avoid this fate? That’s a basic free will question. If Oedipus manages to avoid killing his father and marrying his mother, he will prove the gods wrong, and the oracle prediction turns out to be no prediction at all.

How free can we truly be if created by an all knowing being? If God knows, even at the moment before our births, that we are already destined to ascend to Heaven or burn in Hell, can we move through life making truly free decisions? Or are we always to be viewed as puppets of destiny? Was Adam to be blamed for the fall? Or was that actually God’s plan? So what is this idea of “original sin?” Shouldn’t we celebrate Adam as a hero for freeing man from the state of unawareness that he lived in until he consumed the sacred pomegranate? Recall that the very first line following Adam and Eve’s sin is “And they saw that they were naked.” This nakedness is not so much of the body (though early Christians loved to view it that way), but rather a sense of viewing, as Joseph Campbell puts it, “duality,” the basic difference between man and woman, right and wrong, and, ultimately, man and god. What Adam and Eve finally see is themselves, and they see they are not gods, and they see mortality. So their eyes have been awakened. When they had eyes in Eden they were blind, and now that they are blinded to God they can see. This same idea pops up in Oedipus Rex, which might be read as the Greek version of the Hebrew story.

But should God have made Adam out of sterner stuff? Whose fault is the fall? And did Adam truly have free will? Could he have said “No” when Eve offered him the fruit? Most free will arguments stem from the observation of vision in perspective. In other words, it depends upon the fact that we cannot see what is destined, so it is said that we do have choice.

Hamlet’s Metaphor For His Friends’ Betrayal

Hamlet’s Metaphor For His Friends’ Betrayal

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, act three, scene two, line 327, Hamlet is in the middle of a conversation with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, which, as usual for Hamlet, is laden with riddles and double meanings. Upon discovery that his old schoolmates visit to Denmark is not out of chance, but actually part of a plot by Claudius to understand why Hamlet has gone mad. Thus upon discovering their motives for returning to Denmark, Hamlet no longer has trust or camaraderie for his former friends. In order to cause confusion for both Claudius and the two hired spies, he is participates in dialogue with the two, though his relationship is not the same as it once was. Instead of an honest friendship, which he has with Horatio, he is very impersonal with Guildenstern and Rosencrantz ever since her learned of their association with the king. He converses with the two in a cryptic manner, full of mind games of riddles and confusion drawing a brilliant analogy to their trying to pull the truth out of him to playing a recorder.

After the play Hamlet orchestrated as an experiment to test Claudius’ reaction, Hamlet ensues in a conversation with the spies. Hamlet had Horatio closely watch Claudius to study the king’s reaction to the play which so resemble his own situation. Horatio determined that Hamlet’s suspicions about Claudius were well-founded due to Claudius’ over-reaction and storming out of the play. Upon Horatio’s judgment, Hamlet determined that the message from the ghost must have been true, thus he must go forward with vengeance for his father’s ghost. Just as they discuss their conclusions, courtiers Guildenstern and Rosencrantz enter to have the described con…

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… Guildenstern and Rosencrantz’ ambitions. He shows them that it is ridiculous that they try so hard to pick him for information, which he would never divulge.

Throughout Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the prince of Denmark constantly speaks with puzzling wit. With his command of argument and speech, he runs circles around his former friends who have been hired to pry information from him. Naturally, Claudius ends up looking like most foolish character for employing the two who are certainly no match for Hamlet, for Hamlet was suspicious of the two immediately upon their return to Denmark. Hamlet describes the humor and outrageousness of their attempted espionage. Although he resents their betrayal of their friendship, he finds their incompetence humorous.

Works Cited:

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Global Shakespeare Theatre Series. 1996.

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