Oedipus the King
Oedipus the King is one of the most famous and influential of Sophocles' plays. On the surface of this drama there is, without a doubt, a tone of disillusionment. Dramatic irony is a much-used literary device in this play and its unusual structure serves as an explanation for its enduring popularity. Oedipus is portrayed as a character of social conscience whose tragedy stresses the vulnerability of human beings whose suffering is brought on by a combination of human and divine actions. The central theme is the incest of Oedipus with his mother; and then, the killing of his father. Depending on how one reads the intricacies and vagueness of Athenian culture and the author's questionable character, Sophocles, in this play about King Oedipus, is viewed as either virtuous or immoral.
The most common interpretation of Sophocles' Oedipus the King maintain that the incestuous conduct that takes place between Oedipus and his mother and the murderous act he commits against his father are viewed morally. Consequently, the notion is given that Oedipus commits a sin by sleeping with his mother and killing his father, and is punished because of it. Others will argue that this sort of moral interpretation is, in fact, wrong as further research into the translation of the play reveals a rationalization of an entirely different perspective. In his individual analysis of Oedipus the King, D.W. Myatt articulates in his introduction that, "The essence of this particular Greek tragedy lies in the realm of the gods, with the relationship between individuals, their communities, and the gods. The incest in particular is merely an interesting incident which occurs to a particular mortal and whose importance lies in the realm of prophecy - in what prophecy says about the will of the gods and the fate of mortals" (paragraph 3). On Oedipus' morality Myatt offers this interpretation:
"The tragedy lies in the fact that Oedipus was not initially disrespectful of the gods - he tried to avoid killing his father, and sleeping with his mother; and when he learns that the oracle at Delphi has said that the plague which is killing the people of Thebes is the result of a defilement which has not been cleaned [the blood is still on a killer's hand] then he is ready to do all that the god says is necessary" (paragraph 5).
Myatt's translation of this Sophoclean tragedy concludes, "mortals cannot be delivered from the misfortunes of their fate" (paragraph 5). This analysis shed a new light on what should have been most obvious to any reader of Greek mythology. I found this interpretation of Oedipus the King both intriguing and interesting in that it heightened my awareness that the Greek Myths are our window into the distant past; a view of a world that existed not only in the mind of the Greek playwrights but in the hearts of the humble and long suffering natives of ancient Greece.
Many critical theories can be applied to Sophocles' Oedipus the...