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Oedipus Rex Themes

Oedipus Rex Themes
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  • 0:04 Fate vs. Free Will
  • 1:11 Sight vs. Blindness
  • 1:57 Persistence in Finding…
  • 2:55 Action vs. Punishment
  • 4:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amanda Wiesner-Groff

Amanda has created and taught English/ESL curricula worldwide, has an M.Ed, and is the current ESOL Coordinator for the Saint Louis Public School District.

Sophocles uses many themes to create one of the greatest Greek tragedies of all time. This lesson will go over the complex themes of 'Oedipus Rex' and how those themes propel the plot of this tragic play.

Fate vs. Free Will

The idea of fate and free will comes up a lot in Oedipus Rex. The characters seek out prophets and oracles to find out what prophecies are in store. For instance, when Oedipus is told his father was not his natural father, he seeks out the oracle of Delphi to find out the truth. The oracle does not actually tell him if his father is actually his natural father; he is only told he will kill his father and marry his mother. Oedipus uses his free will to try and escape the prophecy, yet he ends up fulfilling it, literally, while running from it. Jocasta tries to calm Oedipus by telling him she does not believe in prophecies, since she and Laius were once given a prophecy that did not come true. When she recounts the story, Oedipus shares his own prophecy, yet they try to pretend this is merely a coincidence. We, of course, know otherwise.

In the end, Oedipus accepts that no one can run from fate; however, he states humans are able to use free will in how we respond to fate. After gouging out his eyes, Oedipus states the gruesome action is by his own free will, and not by the will of the gods.

Sight vs. Blindness

The theme of sight vs. blindness is used to show how characters seem capable of only seeing what they want to see. This theme is used in conjunction with irony, as the character that can see the most is actually blind; then, when the character that has the worst vision can actually see the truth, he blinds himself.

In the play, Oedipus claims he will save the people of Thebes from the plague by helping everyone see what they have all been blind to. Only the blind prophet, Tiresias, is able to see the truth about Laius' murderer. Oedipus refuses to see the truth and mocks the prophet's literal blindness. Tiresias warns Oedipus through riddles that he will soon be blind. When Oedipus finally sees the truth, he literally gouges out his eyes so he does not have to see the pain that he has caused or suffered.

Persistence in Finding the Truth

Another theme is persistence in finding the truth. This theme is introduced in the very beginning when we see Oedipus has already sent his brother-in-law, Creon, to the oracle so he can learn why Thebes is suffering from the plague. Once Oedipus learns Laius' murderer must be found and brought to justice, he is determined to discover the truth himself.

Oedipus tries to discover if the people of Thebes know who the killer is but are hiding the truth. Others begin asking him to stop his quest for the truth. After the prophet Tiresias refuses to name the murderer, Oedipus threatens torture and accuses the prophet and Creon of plotting against him. His search for the truth leads him down a dangerous path. Tiresias tells Oedipus the truth, but he refuses to believe it without verifying the information. Oedipus questions messengers and shepherds in order to find out if he really was Laius' murderer. This persistence in finding the truth leads to Oedipus's downfall.

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