Oedipus Rex – The Characterization
Sophocles’ tragic drama, Oedipus Rex, presents to the reader a full range of characters: static and dynamic, flat and round; they are protrayed mostly through the showing technique.
Thomas Van Nortwick in Oedipus: The Meaning of a Masculine Life describes Oedipus as he is seen at the opening of the drama, as a father to his Theban citizens:
In his opening words to the pathetic crowd of suppliants, Oedipus invokes images meant to reassure. As ruler, he is a father to Thebes and its citizens, and like a father he will take care of his “children.” We see already the supreme self-confidence and ease of command in Oedipus, who can address not only other people’s children as his own, but also be a father to men older than he is (21-22).
As protagonist, Oedipus is at the center of the story. The dialogue, action and motivation revolve about the characters in the story (Abrams 32-33). Werner Jaeger in “Sophocles’ Mastery of Character Development” pays the dramatist Sophocles the very highest compliment with regard to character development:
The ineffaceable impression which Sophocles makes on us today and his imperishable position in the literature of the world are both due to his character-drawing. If we ask which of the men and women ofGreek tragedy have an independent life in the imagination apart from the stage and from the actual plot in which they appear, we must answer, ‘those created by Sophocles, above all others’ (36).
Surely it can be said of Sophocles’ main characters that they grow beyond the two dimensional aspect into really rounded physical presences. This is done through mostly the showing technique, though the chorus at times is involved in telling the audience various pieces of information. At the outset of Oedipus Rex the reader sees a king who comes to the door full of curiosity: “Explain your mood and purport. Is it dread /Of ill that moves you or a boon ye crave?” When the priest has responded that the people are despairing from the effects of the plague, the king shows another dimension to his character with his deep sympathy for his subjects: “Ye sicken all, well wot I, yet my pain, /How great soever yours, outtops it all.” Shortly thereafter a second round character makes his appearance on stage in the person of Oedipus’ brother-in-law, Creon. Creon begins as a errand-boy for Oedipus initially, returning from the Delphic oracle with the fateful words of the god’s command: “He fell; and now the god's command is plain: /Punish his takers-off, whoe'er they be.”
Oedipus boldly launches a campaign to do what is best for his people and for himself:
I also, as is meet, will lend my aid
To avenge this wrong to Thebes and to the god.
Not for some far-off kinsman, but myself,
Shall I expel this poison in the blood;
For whoso slew that king might have a mind
To strike me too with his...