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Comparing Oedipus Rex And King Lear

1489 words - 6 pages

Comparing Oedipus Rex and King Lear

   Oedipus Rex and King Lear are, as their titles announce, both about kings. These two plays are similar in theme and in the questions they pose to the audience. The kings in each play both fall from the pinnacle of power to become the most loathed of all classes in society; Oedipus discovers that he is a murderer and committer of incest, and Lear becomes a mad beggar. Misjudgments occur in both plays, and the same questions about the gods, fate, and free will are posed. In spite of these similarities, however, the final effects of these two plays differ greatly.

 

For me, as I read Oedipus Rex again this fall, I experienced a sensation nearly of agony. Because I had already known the myth as well as read the play, I was in the Greek's position of foreknowledge. This caused me to feel acutely the irony of Oedipus' confident declarations that the murderer of Laius should be "driven from every house, / Being, as he is, corruption itself to us," and again on the next page,

 

As for the criminal, I pray to God-

Whether it be a lurking thief, or one of a number-

I pray that that man's life be consumed in evil and wretchedness.

And as for me, this curse applies no less

If it should turn out that the culprit is my guest here,

Sharing my hearth. (13-14)

 

Oedipus has absolutely no idea that the murderer he is denouncing so vehemently is, in fact, himself. The fact that the reader knows that, and he does not, becomes increasintly painful, especially in the line where Oedipus says, "And as for me, this curse applies no less...." Oedipus means only that he will not protect the guilty, even under the constraints of hospitality; he has absolutely no idea that he is, in fact, condemning himself. the second time reading or seeing the play, there can be no suspense or surprise at all; the major feeling is the agony of waiting and longing for the play to be over.

 

In Oedipus Rex, there is nowhere for Oedipus to go but down. The active, decisive part of his life has already happened and is recounted in the play through flashbacks; now, however, there is nothing Oedipus can do about his own fate. He has already killed his father and had four children with his mother, and there is absolutely no way to change that. For that reason, there is a dreadful sense of the unavoidability of fate. Oedipus' parents tried to get away from it but obviously failed miserably; so did Oedipus. their efforts at tricking fate only succeeded in creating the very circumstances they were trying to avoid. There is really no free will or choice, because in a way, their choices are fated to lead them, in the end, to exactly what they think they are avoiding. The line uttered by Creon, "You can not judge unless you know the facts" (28) is telling. No one can judge correctly unless he has all the information; however, no one in this play has enough information to make a correct choice when...

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