Oedipus later finds out that even though he escaped his fate when he was born (when he was spared from death and crowned prince of Corinth), the boundaries of his free will led him back to the inevitable fate that the gods had in store for him. When Oedipus discovers this, he cries out and says, “Apollo, he ordained my agonies, these, my pains… I did it myself! What good were eyes to me? Nothing I could see could bring me joy. ” (Sophocles, Ln. 1467-1473) Here, Oedipus is blaming Apollo for his troubles, but then goes on to admit that it was he too who was to blame for what happened.
This shows the audience that as much as it was his free will that had a hand in his depression, it was also in the hands of the Gods, and that there is no escaping them. However, despite the fact that this theme helps to make the play more entertaining, this would not matter if the play did not apply to the different periods in time, so that all of the different audiences could relate to it. The theme of this play has helped it survive through time, because people from all time periods can relate to it.
This play dates all the way back to the 5th century B. C. when Sophocles was alive (1). The audiences back then related to this theme because the fact that the gods had omnipotent power was the majority belief of the time. However, this ideology was threatened at the time the play was written, and this is why Sophocles made a point of emphasizing the gods’ power in this play. The people of the world today can relate to this theme, because the very foundation of whether or not there is a God or gods is now under widespread contention.
People today debate this theology every day; and this is why they can easily relate to this play. Another factor that contributes to the success of Oedipus the King is that Oedipus is a tragic figure. There are four elements to a tragic figure – a preliminary position of greatness, a hamartia (tragic flaw), a fall from greatness, and a catharsis (character’s emotional cleansing). This template for a tragic figure fits the character of Oedipus perfectly. Oedipus starts off at a position of great power, because he is the son of Laius and Jocasta, king and queen of Thebes.
Although, some critics might argue that because his parents gave him to a shepherd that was told to kill him, he did not have a position of greatness. However, that is not true; because after the shepherd could not kill the infant, Oedipus ends up becoming the adopted son of Polybus and Merope, the king and queen of Corinth. Oedipus’s tragic flaw is his hubris (pride/honor). This is brought to light when Oedipus is told by the oracle that he is “fated to couple your mother, you will bring / children into the world that no one can bare to see / you will kill your father,” (Sophocles, Ln. 73-875)
Oedipus is to honorable and proud to even think of doing such things, and because of this, he flees right back into his twisted fate. Oedipus’s fall from greatness occurs when Tiresias is introduced into the play. When Oedipus aggravates Tiresias into admitting that Oedipus is the one who murdered Laius, Oedipus goes into a frenzy of rage and begins to curse and criticize the gods. This is only where the downfall begins for Oedipus. His decline from power reaches its climax at the point where Oedipus tells Creon, ‘You have the gall to show your face before the palace gates?
You, plotting to kill me, kill the king. ” (Sophocles, Ln. 594-595) This quote foreshadows Oedipus’s downfall, because when he accuses Creon of trying to overthrow him, the audience sees that he is beginning to grow paranoid and blame everyone around him but himself. Finally Oedipus’s catharsis arrives. It occurs when he admits that he and Apollo were responsible for what had happened to him. It is at this point when Oedipus takes responsibility for his actions, that the audience begins to feel pathos (pity) and see the nobility of the fallen king once again.
Oedipus’s role as a tragic hero has helped this play survive for so long because it is through this aspect of the play that allowed Sophocles make this character in a way as to give the audience the ability to vent their emotions onto this character and feel for him. Oedipus is a role model for those who suffer from tragedy, and those who need a guide on how to deal with it. Oedipus shows, through his catharsis, that he is noble again. He does this by setting upon himself the very punishment that he swore he would give to the murderer of Laius.
The last component of Oedipus the King that has helps to enthrall the reader or viewer are the intense relationships that are present throughout the play. One of the powerful relationships that continuously develops throughout the play is that of Oedipus and Creon. This relationship begins when Oedipus becomes king and shares his power equally between his wife/mother, Jocasta, and Jocasta’s brother Creon. The conflict emerges between Oedipus and Creon when Oedipus brings in Tiresias to assist him in finding the murderer of Laius, and Tiresias tells Oedipus that it was in fact he (Oedipus) who killed Laius.
One of Oedipus’s reactions towards what Tiresias tells him is that he says, “Creon! Is this his conspiracy his or yours? ” (Sophocles, Ln. 431) Oedipus’s jump to reach this conclusion of blaming Creon, is what causes their relationship to deteriorate and is the reason that later on in the play, Creon and Oedipus get into a fight about this accusation. Once Oedipus has blinded himself, he actually begs for Creon’s forgiveness, for Creon to exile him and for Creon to take care of his two young daughters, Antigone and Ismene. “Drive me out of the land at once, far from sight, where I can never hear a human voice. (Sophocles, Ln. 1571-1572)
This is probably the most emotional relationship in the play, and it is a perfect example of why all people enjoy this play. Relationships such as this one have helped Sophocles’s play tremendously with regards to it being one of the most successful plays of all time. Relationships have a huge impact on people, because all people, from the 5th century until today, can easily relate to them. It is easy for one to relate to all of the relationships in Oedipus the King, because all of the relationships in this play contain major conflict, followed by reconciliation.
It is easy to relate with them because these relationships happen throughout everybody’s lives, whether it be back when Sophocles wrote this play, or in the present day. Aristotle was correct when he asserted that Oedipus the King is a perfect example of a tragedy. This is because the different elements of this play, whether it is the theme, relationships or Oedipus’s role as a tragic figure, help to captivate the audience or reader no matter what the time period. It is because of these interesting aspects that the play has survived for so many years and will continue to survive for many more years to come.