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Character Analysis of Oedipus

Oedipus, the protagonist to the classical tragedy by Sophocles, is a character ruled by conflict and faith. Destined to marry his own mother after killing his father, Oedipus is one of the most dramatic characters in the history of western literature. As Oedipus’ destiny comes to light, Laius his father and king of Thebes, orders a shepherd to kill infant Oedipus. Instead, the shepherd hands the infant over to the kingdom of Corinth and the child is raised in royalty in Corinth.

Oedipus, later the king of Thebes, is a man of exceptional insight and swift action. From the beginning of the play, we see these qualities making him an excellent leader who anticipates his subject’s needs. For example, when his subjects plead him to do something regarding the plague, Oedipus as the king, is already one step ahead of them- he has already sent Creon to Delphi to seek advice from the oracle.

The character of Oedipus is controlled by fate, yet at the same time his short-tempered and impetuous nature contributes to his eventual fate. Oedipus possesses the intelligence and the impulse to solve and unravel every mystery. It is this impulse that leads him to Delphi to seek his paternity, yet rather than face his fate, he tries to run away from it, defying the Gods. The consequence is that he lands into a fight at the crossroads, kills his father Laius ad fulfills the first part of the oracle. Impulse also drives Oedipus to try and solve the riddle of the Sphinx. He travels to Thebes where he ends up marrying Jocasta, the widowed queen and his own mother. This fulfills the second part of the oracle. Fate plays its trick, but with the assistance of the very nature of Oedipus.

Oedipus, in addition to his impulsiveness, also makes some grave judgmental mistakes. He rushes into blaming Creon for conspiring against him. Without hesitation, he calls the great prophet Tiresias, a traitor, to investigate. Nevertheless, he refuses to heed Tiresias’ warning on the consequences of the investigation. He calls for the servant who escaped Laius’ attack and the shepherd who brought him to Corinth. Oedipus then rushes into the palace to stub his eyes out, and demands to be exiled. He is seemingly trying to keep pace with his own fate, even as it rushes well beyond his reach.

However, in Oedipus at Colonus, he appears to have accepted that most of his life is out of control. Rather than acting, he spends most of his time sitting. Most poignant are lines 825-960 where he helplessly gropes as Creon takes his children from him. Oedipus must now rely wholly on Theseus in order to get his children back.

Once he has finally given his trust to Theseus, Oedipus appears ready to find peace. He at last forges a bond with someone founding some kind of home after a couple of years in exile. The final scene has the haste and drive of Oedipus the King, but this haste, at least for Oedipus, is towards peace rather than dreadfulness.

Oedipus is proud and does not take advice too well. He is also arrogant as when denouncing the prophetic capabilities of Tiresias, but also fearless as he does not retract from his quest despite fearing the worst. Despite these flaws, Oedipus is a noble character who seeks the truth in spite of how devastating. Eventually, he realizes who he is and accepts responsibility for his actions. As the play ends, Oedipus accepts his fate and the punishment meted out on him making him even a greater hero.

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