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Oedipus the King

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"It is difficult to understand or justify Oedipus' actions, or to admire or sympathise with him. Discuss this statement in the light of the plays characterisation and events" Throughout the play, Oedipus the King1, Sophocles takes great care in characterising the protagonist. This is done to create a complex character with flaws, allowing Oedipus to be shown as a mere mortal. The audience has three levels at which to relate to Oedipus, on an intellectual level, an emotional level and a deeper moral level. As the events unfold in the play the audience is forced to constantly re-evaluate its position towards Oedipus as the contradictions in his character emerge. Throughout the play Oedipus is shown as an intellectual man, but this makes it hard for the audience to understand why he is blind to the truth, and refuses to take heed to the warnings given by Teiresias and others of his impending demise. In the beginning Oedipus is presented as a strong, powerful and clever man. ...read more.


Given the cleverness Oedipus displayed in solving riddles, the audience struggles to comprehend that Oedipus does not see the truth in Jocasta's words about the identity of Laius' killer even when he knew of the prophesy and when obvious clues such as 'the place where three roads meet'4(p45) as to the place where Laius was killed are given. This causes the audience to question whether Oedipus is clever at all, given these failings and therefore on an intellectual level that audience finds it hard to understand his actions. The audience can relate to Oedipus on an emotional level, but struggles with classifying him, and at different stages in the play, Oedipus is both admired and pitied by the audience. At the start of the play Oedipus is respected and looked up to as the great king of Thebes who saved them from the Sphinx. The audience is shown Oedipus' many commendable qualities. His devotion to his people is shown in his concern about them as he says 'I grieve for you, my children... ...read more.


For these reasons the audience approaches the character of Oedipus with very strong and deep negative feelings. No matter how great the pity and how ill-fated his life, the fact of the actions has an impact on the level of sympathy which the audience can feel towards Oedipus. In contrast, Sophocles continually reminds the audience of Oedipus' own high moral position and how he tries to uphold this. Throughout the play Oedipus strives to discover the identity of Laius' killer, and places great worth on pursuing the truth to 'bring everything to light'6 (p29). This play forces the audience to confront its own values and morals and question good and bad. The protagonist is a complex character who at times can be admired while at others is pitied. He is purposely portrayed as difficult to understand so as to emphasise the contradictions in his character and challenge the audience. These contradictions are present in everyone, but the actions in this play make them appear more terrible. Without these contradictions, it would have been easy to dismiss Oedipus as a bad person and therefore the audience would not have engaged with the ideas and values presented. ...read more.

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