Oedipus the King by Sophocles is a tragedy because Oedipus’ destiny is predetermined by the gods and regardless of his good or bad intent, it will not be altered. In other words, Oedipus, who can be argued to be an exceptional human being belonging to a high rank in society, has limited free will because he is doomed by the gods and not much can be done by him or his parents to prevent that. Also, this play consists of a well-constructed plot that arouses a catharsis, an expunging of fear and pity, from the audience through a dramatic turn of events, hence, making it a tragedy.
This play revolves around Tiresias, a blind prophet, who delivers the same prophecy to both Oedipus and his parents Jocasta and Laius; their own son would kill his father and go onto marry his mother. The play ironically begins with Oedipus’ destiny already semi-fulfilled. Oedipus arrives in Thebes and witnesses that the city is in a plague. At this point, he has already murdered his father. However, we do see that Oedipus has good intentions because he flees his artificial home town of Cornish in order to avoid the murdering of his father.
Unfortunately, on his way over to Thebes, Oedipus runs into a quarrel with a group of men on a chariot, in defense, he kills most of them, one of whom happens to be Laius, his original father. Oedipus is able to take on all of these men because of the tremendous military training he had acquired in Corinth. These actions provide a classic example of dramatic irony, which is essential is a tragedy. Dramatic irony is when the audience knows of the coming future but are stuck in a position in which they can do nothing but watch as one sees when Oedipus, Jocasta and Laius attempt to chance their fates.
At any rate, one can conclude that Oedipus has nothing but good intentions because he is trying to avoid his agonizing murderous future which will lead to incest. At this point Oedipus has not done anything wrong deliberately. In fact, Oedipus puts his bravery and intelligence on display when he dares to answer the Sphinx’s yet to be solved riddle, all in effort to get as far away as possible from his parents from Corinth. He is able to do so successfully. The priest of Thebes states, “People of Thebes, my countrymen, look on Oedipus. He solved the famous riddle with his brilliance, he rose to power, a man beyond all power…now as we keep our watch and wait the final day, count no man happy till he dies, free of pain at last. ”.
Even the priest immediately lauds Oedipus for eliminating this monstrous creature who has been tormenting the civilians of Thebes, particularly the men. Once Oedipus becomes king of Thebes, he continues to show his great character. Not only is Oedipus eager to find the murderer of King Laius, he is eager to share all news regarding the murder with the people of Thebes. Oedipus shows characteristics of a good king. He orders Creon to share his news from the god Apollo, in front of his people after Creon requests to speak in private.
Once Creon informs Oedipus about the murderer being within the city, Oedipus promises his people that murderer will be revealed by him no matter what it takes. Essentially, one is able to argue that Oedipus was man that was doomed by the gods and his destiny despite his good intentions.
In fact, we even hear how much of a prestigious king Oedipus is on page 75 from the priest, “Oedipus, King, we bend to you, your power we implore you, all of us on our knees; find us strength, rescue. ” This quote conveys his power and influence over Thebes, in the time of plague and famine, many turn to for help. Their pleas show his responsibility for Thebes, and their bows show respect for him. Yet Oedipus is guilty man who cannot be saved from his destiny. One of the primary reason for Oedipus the King being a tragedy is that it follows the three unities set forth by Aristotle; time, place, and action.
The whole play is performed over a course of a day and there is one central action, that all leads the catastrophic ending. According to Aristotle, this play depicts an imitation of life in the form of a serious story that is complete in itself. In other words, whole play’s dialogue does not break any decorum, there a consistent serious tone and mood. Also, there is a catharsis, a purification and exposing of fear and pity, felt by the audience. The audience is able to watch this play and rid themselves of any fear that is similar in essence to that of Oedipus’s tragedy.
Lastly, we continue to see Oedipus’ good nature even toward the end of the play. At this point, he is now aware of his fate, and how he has unknowingly adhered to every single aspect of it. He is now aware of his mortal curse, his incestuous marriage, and his murder of his own father. Oedipus rushes into the palace to find Jocasta dead, having committed suicide (Sophocles, 218). He then takes the broaches from her robe and stabs them into his own eyes, disfiguring himself to blindness, ultimately, admitting that he has been oblivious and blind throughout the play. He then comes back out and makes the following request: “drive me out of the land at once, far from sight, where I can never hear a human voice”.
Oedipus, now blind and powerless, has fallen from grace. Knowing he is the corruption of the land, and that he could never coexist with Thebes, he requests official banishment from Thebes. He has now fulfilled the final element of a tragic hero. Overall, although a good man, Oedipus suffers from limited free will. Oedipus is given a predetermined future, once he simply cannot correct. More importantly, Oedipus suffers for unknown reasons, similar to the story of Job in the Bible. Job is described as a “perfect, blameless and upright man” by god by himself, yet, is handed over to Satan.
He loses all of his property and suffers from painful sores on his body. Job is left in puzzled. Similarly, the tragedy of Oedipus the King depicts the same issue. In which, a man who is considered to be upright by many is punished by the gods for unknown reasons. It is important to remember that there is no necessary flaw in the character of Oedipus that leads to his misfortunes.