Oedipus Rex as Social Commentary
Oedipus Rex, written by the Poet Sophocles in the Golden Age of Greek Theatre, was described by Aristotle to be the greatest tragedy of all time. It encapsulates the very essence of the Greek cultural milieu, and it is these ideologies which are translated into the play. The very essence of Greek society; the political democracy, a moral belief in the power of the Gods and social recognition of hierarchy, are portrayed when the society is pictured in a state of chaos.
The Ancient Greeks formulated what they believed to be a true democracy. Everyone was to have a say in the political scene, every man had a vote and no one should be disadvantaged. At the same time, however, the society was very much a patriarchal one. Power resided with the male; the leader, the logical and strong enforcer. Women, viewed as emotionally erratic, illogical and weak, were marginalised. Men were given the most noble of duties surrounding the glory of war; women were faced with trying to raise a household.
This conflict is clearly portrayed in the text. In the opening scene all are equal. Servants, peasants and royals alike proclaim, "We are your suppliants." All have an equal interest in the state of Thebes and the actions Oedipus must take. After this, however, the females of Thebes are represented in the characterization of Jocasta. It is here that the chorus, the most important element of Greek tragedy, comes to the fore. As the Theban elders they portray the views of the greater society. Jocasta's actions characterize her as the stereotypical female. By ordering the death of her son, blaspheming the Gods and eventually killing herself, she shows the essential perceived frailty of women. Her confusion is epitomised when she states that the Oracles and Gods are liars, while then immediately leaving to pray to them to "save us."
The chorus denounces Jocasta's suicide, with the essential links being with pride and inevitably hubris. While they respect that she can quell the conflict between Creon and Oedipus, the eventually condone the disrespect Oedipus shows to her. She constantly pleads him to "leave well enough alone". However, little attention is paid to her at the time.
Another essential facet of Greek culture was its religious and superstitious nature. Oedipus Rex and the other Greek tragedies were written for the purpose of performing at a religious event, where the Gods were to be pleased. It follows, therefore, that the generic conventions would be aimed at constructing a meaning related to a pre-determined fate; often viewed as the cornerstone of the...