The Tragedy of Oedipus Rex

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The Tragedy of Oedipus Rex


Oedipus Rex is a tragedy that illustrates a man's sense of justice. The same man is also paranoid and impulsive. In the text, he overcomes his negative characteristics and succumbs to his greater sense of justice and responsibility.

The king of Thebes is shown as a just ruler who cares about the suffering of his people. After saving the city from the Sphinx and her riddle, King Oedipus learns that a plague has beset upon the population. After consulting with the oracle at Delphi, Oedipus realizes that an unsolved crime is the cause for the suffering of the people. In this consultation, the oracle tells Creon that corruption must be driven from the land. At this point, the corruption is assumed to be the murder of the previous king of Thebes. This is a hint of what is to come in the reading. A simple murder is usually described as a crime or an offense. The word corruption alludes to a greater span of wrong that has been committed.

In his rash manner, Oedipus sets out to solve this mystery so that the plague in Thebes will end. When the blind prophet Tiresias is summoned, the king loses his temper and shows more of his true character. After relentlessly questioning Tiresias, the perpetrator of the murder is revealed. Oedipus himself is the murderer being sought. After being insulted in Corinth, Oedipus had angrily left and set out on his own. In his journey, he encountered King Laius's party enroute to the oracle. The two parties clashed at the crossroads and Oedipus killed all but one of his foes. The curse that Jocasta describes came true on that day. She had tried to avoid fate by casting away the infant Oedipus, but years later he reappeared at that junction near Phocis. King Laius was Oedipus's father and the curse bore fruit.

James Weigel best summarizes Oedipus's sense of justice in his writing:

"Having learned the full truth of his dark destiny, his last act as king is to blind himself furiously over the dead body of Jocasta, his wife and mother. It is a terrible, agonizing moment, even in description. But in his depths of pain Oedipus is magnificent. He does not submit passively to his woe or plead that he committed his foul act in ignorance, although he could do so with justice. He blinds himself in a rage of penitence, accepting total responsibility for what he did and determined to take the punishment of exile as well" (Weigel 1601).

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The power of a king is mighty, and Oedipus could have given in to his paranoia and killed Jocasta and Creon. In the first half of the tragedy, he believed that he was being deceived by conspirators in his palace. If he desired, Oedipus could have executed the lot of them and kept the secret to himself and Apollo. His sense of justice and genuine care for the well-being of Thebes prevailed and he accepted his punishment and removal from power.

Weigel, James. "Oedipus Tyrannus." 1,300 Critical Evaluations of Selected Novels and Plays. Ed. Frank Magill. Salem Press. 1978. 1600-1601.


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