Oedipus as a Plot Driven Tragedy
Essay title: Oedipus as a Plot Driven Tragedy
According to Aristotle, the driving force behind tragic works lies not in the development of characters but in the formulation of a specific plot structure. Aristotle believed that the purpose of all art is to imitate life and that human beings live their lives through events and actions. He argues that characters serve to advance the events of the plotline and that the characters themselves are not central. Aristotles opinions on tragedy were largely constructed around Sophocles Oedipus the King, which Aristotle called “the perfect tragedy.” Considered by many to be one of the greatest plays of all time, Oedipus the King tells how Oedipus, the king of Thebes, comes to realize that he unknowingly killed his father and married his mother and shows the tragic aftermath of this realization.
The play opens with Oedipus addressing the citizens of Thebes who have gathered outside the palace. The audience learns that a plague
has stricken Thebes and that Oedipus has sent his brother-in-law, Creon, to the Oracle of Delphi to learn how he might save the city. Creon returns and tells Oedipus that the Oracle has said that the plague will end when the murderer of Laius, the former king, is caught and banished from the city. Oedipus vows to cast out the murderer and save the city.
Following Creons recommendation, Oedipus sends for Tiresias, a blind prophet, and asks for information regarding the murder. Tiresias reluctantly declares that Oedipus himself is the murderer. Oedipus sends Tiresias away in rage, but before he leaves Tiresias says that the murderer of Laius is both the father and brother to his own children and the son of his own wife.
Oedipus summons Creon and accuses him of conspiring with Tiresias against him and threatens him with death or exile. Jocasta, Oedipuss wife, enters and asks why the men are fighting. Jocasta reassures Oedipus saying that prophecies cannot be trusted. She
sites as proof a prophecy given by the oracle of Delphi who said that Laius would be murdered by his own son. However, their only son was killed as a baby and Laius was murdered by a band of thieves at a place where three roads meet. The description of the murder troubles Oedipus rather than soothing him. Oedipus tells his wife that he fears that he may, in fact, be the murderer in question. He recounts that when he was young someone called him his “fathers bastard” prompting him to travel to the Oracle of Delphi to learn the truth about his origins. Instead, the Oracle told him that he would kill his father and sleep with his mother. To keep this from happening, Oedipus left home forever. On the way to Thebes at a three-way crossroad he became engaged in dispute and ended up killing a man whom he now fears may have been Laius. There was said to be one survivor of the attack for whom Oedipus sends to question.
A messenger then approaches with news that Oedipuss fa
ther, Polybus, has died of natural causes. Oedipus rejoices and concedes that perhaps prophecies are, in fact, unreliable. However, he still fears going to Corinth because of the half of the prophecy that states he will sleep with his mother. The messenger tells Oedipus that he does not need to fear this, as Polybus and his wife, Merope, are not Oedipuss true parents. The messenger recounts that long ago he was approached by a shepherd who gave him a baby boy with his ankles pinned together. He brought the baby to Polybus and Merope, who raised him as their own son. Oedipus demands that the other shepherd be brought fourth to testify, but Jocasta, suspecting the terrible truth, begs her husband to stop this search and to leave well enough alone. Oedipus refuses and Jocasta runs into the palace.
Oedipus questions the shepherd who, after being threatened with torture, admits that the child was Laiuss son and that Jocasta gave him the infant to be killed in order to avo
id a prophecy. Oedipus finally realizes who he is and who his parents are. He screams and runs into the palace. A second messenger then enters and says that Jocasta has hanged herself and that Oedipus has stabbed his eyes with the pins from her robe. Oedipus returns to the stage, blinded, and asks Creon to exile him from Thebes and to look after his daughters.
The story of the play was well known to audiences during Sophocles time. One of the plays most powerful effects depends on the fact that the audience already knows what is going to happen. The fact that the outcome of the story is already known allows Sophocles to add numerous instances of dramatic irony throughout the play that audience recognizes. The audience cringes as Oedipus vows not to rest until the murderer is found and to punish the murderer without mercy. These instances of irony add to