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Issue of Fate Vs. Free Will In Oedipus the King

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Introduction

Discuss fate vs. free will as a theme in the play Oedipus and comment on how it impacts on the characters of the play. "The gods gave man choice/free will to do with it what he pleases." In Sophocles' play Oedipus, the oracle at Delphi predicts that Oedipus is doomed to end up killing his father and marrying his mother, thereby fathering his own brothers. Despite Oedipus living out his life and learning of the prediction, causing him to run away from Corinth and his "parents," Oedipus still meets his fate, killing king Laius and marrying queen Jocasta. Fate is almost entirely responsible for the situation that Oedipus and the king and queen of Thebes are involved in. This is obvious because it has been shown time and time again that fate cannot be escaped, the environment had the most significant effect on their personalities, though elements of free will are definitely prominent (though not overall effectual) in the play Oedipus. Jocasta and Laius attempted to avoid the prophecy by having Oedipus killed, but predestination was not overcome, and because of what happened when Oedipus was ordered killed (he was handed away three times in total), Oedipus was given a second chance at life (and a good one at that, though it fuels his hubris because he is respected as prince of Corinth). Evidence to show that Jocasta wants to keep this a secret from the man (child) ...read more.

Middle

You can see that, because of the way that the Theban shepherd was brought up, he was not desensitized in a way that would have allowed him to kill the child without a second thought, but he was empathetic to Oedipus' situation and gave him a second chance at life. Of course, this could also be seen as an act of free will, but taking into account the way that the environment determines humans' characteristics and personality, it is obvious that fate and determinism (biological) have a much bigger impact on the characters (demonstrated on the Theban shepherd above). Oedipus questions the Theban shepherd on the matter of who gave the child to him, and it is revealed that Jocasta had with the intent of killing it to avoid the prophecy. Upon asking the Theban shepherd why he gave him to the Corinthian, the shepherd says he did so "through pity, master, for the babe. [The shepherd] thought [the Corinthian]'d take it to the country whence he came; but [in the end] he preserved it for the worst of woes." This quote further demonstrates the empathy the Theban had for Oedipus because of the way he was brought up and the environment developing his personality. As Oedipus grew up a prince (and therefore was most likely spoiled and treated with extreme respect as the "prince" of Corinth), he must have developed a strong sense of arrogance (Greek element of tragedy "hubris" - excessive pride). ...read more.

Conclusion

must obtain the right of way. Since no compromise can be reached, it becomes a matter of life and death. It is obvious that determinism and not free will impacted the characters in Oedipus most. The cathartic release of tension in Oedipus is when Oedipus finds out who he is and what he's done. This is important in the argument of fate vs. free will because, as it is the point where Oedipus realizes that he has fulfilled the prophecy, the tension that has been developing throughout the play as Oedipus searched harder and harder and neared the answer is finally purged. Oedipus realizes that fate is not something that can be escaped and comes to the realization that his whole life had led up to that moment. He found out who he was because of his personality. He pushed himself to find out who he was even as Jocasta "beseech[ed him], seek no more," to save his beloved city of which he is the savior. His personality is created by the environment that Oedipus reacted to throughout his life, developing his personal characteristics and attitude as he grew. It is obvious that fate impacts the characters in Sophocles' play Oedipus much more than free will (as free will has very little effect) because the environment was what actually shaped his personality, therefore demonstrating that Oedipus' hamartia (which brings his downfall) is not his own fault, rather it is the environment's doing. Kyle Hovey February 16, 2009 ...read more.

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