The tragedy of Sophocles’ Oedipus the King is not only that of a man exposing the horrific truth behind his past. The greatest tragedy is the ever-changing perception of Oedipus, by both the citizens of Thebes, and the play’s audience. Oedipus exudes a gross amount of self-confidence and ego, leading to narrow vision with no room for the perspectives of Tiresias, Jocasta or Creon, thus insuring his own demise. By the end of the play, the audience, along with the other characters, can track the personality flaws that led Oedipus to his personal, living-hell. But the context of the play’s and Oedipus’ history, along with his unfortunate traits, actually highlight another aspect to his character. That aspect is the fact that Oedipus’ incredible ego was completely deserved. His overwhelming self-confidence that some would perceive as destructive and unnecessary, is a product of being the true manifestation of his own self-image. It was the qualities that led him to be the savior and ruler of Thebes that led him to his terrible confrontation with fate, not qualities that were a result of being a ruler.
The first portion of the play is devoted to addressing the fact that Oedipus has an enormous ego. He introduces himself, “Here I am myself- you all know me, the world knows my fame. I am Oedipus” (7-9). This introduction is not for the benefit of the audience as they are already all too familiar with the legend of Oedipus. This is less of a practical introduction of the titular character and more of an establishment of one of his core characteristic, that being his self-confidence. Ironically, the “world” and the “fame” that Oedipus speaks of are completely different to those of the play’s audience. The world knows Oedipus for his great accomplishments as a ruler and as the solver of the Sphinx’s riddle. That is the challenge for the audience, to watch this tragedy unfold knowing a character’s fate before he gets to it, while at the same time, viewing this character through the evolving perception of the characters around him, which in turn only makes the tragic nature of the plot and Oedipus the character all the more powerful.
From the first portion of the play, given the words of Oedipus, one would think the main character to be practically pompous or arrogant. Borderline-blasphemous lines such as, “You pray to your Gods? Let me grant your prayers”, would characterize Oedipus as someone with delusions of grandeur (245). But his interactions with other citizens of Thebes can place this behavior into a context that better supports his actions and can possibly even justify them.
One of the first lines from a character other than Oedipus is that of the Priest, “Oh Oedipus, king of the land, our greatest power!” (16). The priest, voicing the opinions of the people of Thebes, brings forth the point that the people agree with Oedipus, not for any persuasiveness or manipulation on his part, but because they have witnessed his greatness first hand....