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Analysis Of A Passage From Oedipus Rex English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1310 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Oedipus, the king, is searching to discover his origin. When Oedipus was a child, he was prophesied over. The audience hears the prophecy that he will one day kill his father and marry his mother. Oedipus does not know this and first believes that he is the son of Polybus. The truth of King Oedipus’ origin is revealed in the fourth scene of the play Oedipus Rex. Oedipus has just called for the shepherd. Oedipus discovers from the messenger, who is present, that only the shepherd knows the truth about his birth. The shepherd was called to discover the truth of where Oedipus came from. The messenger came to town to inform Oedipus that the man he called his father was dead and he was called to be the king of Corinth. He discovered that he was not his father’s son and that he was adopted after the messenger gave him as a baby to Polybos because the messenger felt sympathy that the king could not have children. The messenger told Oedipus that a shepherd gave him the baby and he did not know the true origin of the child. Sophocles uses characterization, a motif of recollection, and dramatic irony to express the idea that one will fulfill his destiny with or without free will.

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Oedipus, and the shepherd are characterized in this scene as not having any freewill and unwilling playing a role in fulfilling one’s destiny. Oedipus is first seen as a very inquisitive demanding character. He uses a very forceful tone when talking to the messenger saying, “tell me first, you from Corinth: is this the shepherd we were discussing?” He is portrayed as very aggressive and sure of what he wants to know. This is shown by the repetition of the words “tell me” when Oedipus asks another question. Oedipus continues to question the shepherd. As the scene progresses he is depicted as more and more hostile. He threatens the shepherd by saying he “will die now unless [he] speak[s] the truth.” This characterizes Oedipus as very angry. This shows the lack of the shepherd’s free will. The shepherd does not have a choice to talk or not because if he remains silent, death is his consequence.

Characterization is used in Oedipus Rex to depict the characters desire to reveal the truth. Time is used as a technique to unveil the truth. The messenger uses time and numbers to “refresh [the shepherd’s] memory.” He details the “three whole seasons… March to September, on Kithairon or there abouts.” The messenger says that the shepherd “must remember.” This shows the messengers desire for the truth to be revealled is just a strong as Oedipus’. The shepherd relizes that Oedipus was the same child he gave to the messenger, and he does not want to answer any more questions saying that the messenger “is only making trouble.” The Shepherd is the first to realize that the prophecy has taken place.

The shepherd is characterized as not having any free will. He unknowingly allows the prophesy to take place. The shepherd is characterized as timid and fearful of his life. At first he is unsure of why he has been called to talk to the king. He replies to Oedipus’ questions with straightforward answers, until he is asked if he “remember[ed] ever seeing [the messenger] out there,” referring to Kithairon. He replies to this with a question, “what would he be doing there?” After being asked again, the shepherd denies knowing the man. When he discovers that he does in fact know the messenger from the past he become defensive in his answers to Oedipus’ questions. The shepherd realizes that he played a role in the fulfillment of the prophecy when the messenger says that “King Oedipus was once that little child” that he had given the messenger to rear. The shepherd did not know that by saving the child’ life, the child would grow up to murder his father. The shepherd began to regret his decision when he says that he “would to God [he] had died that very day.” This means that he wishes that he could change the past and not be a part of fulfilling Oedipus’ destiny.

As a characteristic of Greek dramas, Sophocles sets his play to take place in a short period of time. Flashbacks are included to give the audience a history of what happened and be able to remain within a short time span. These flashbacks create a motif of recollection in the play to express the unwilling part that the shepherd and messenger had in the prophecy’s fulfillment. The first recollection occurs when the messenger tries to “refresh [the shepherd’s] memory” by telling a story of when the two “spent three whole seasons together.” This flashback allows for the audience to understand the history shared between the messenger and the shepherd. The shepherd giving Oedipus to the messenger as a child was a part of all of their destinies. As the baby Oedipus was prophesied over and given the fate of killing his father and marrying his mother. To prevent this Jocasta gave the young child to the shepherd to leave for death on the side of a mountain. In an attempt to save a life, he gives the child to the messenger to care after him. The messenger, then having sympathy for the king of Corinth, gives the child to him.

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Dramatic Irony is used to depict the theme of fulfilling one’s destiny and the absence of free will. Dramatic irony is created by the audience knowing that Oedipus is married to his mother. The revelation takes place when the shepherd informs Oedipus that he did give the child to the messenger, and in fact Oedipus was of the house of Laïos. The king continuously asks questions to the shepherd in order to reveal the truth. The Choragos tells Oedipus that he “know[s] him, he was Laïos’ man. You can trust him.” This is the first indication in this passage that the truth is what Oedipus is after. Oedipus asks the messenger “is this the shepherd [that they] were discussing?” and the messenger replies “this is he very man.” Oedipus begins to question him to unveil the truths that the shepherd is hiding. At first the shepherd is unaware that Oedipus is the same child that he had given to the messenger years ago. When he discovers that “King Oedipus was once that little child,” he changes his tone from being helpful to discouraging. He does not want to answer any more questions and says that if he “speak[s] the truth, [he is] worse than dead.” This technique of delaying the revelation makes the audience become more involved in the play. The dramatic irony forces the audience to sympathize with the characters because they know that the characters are unaware of the tragedy that has occurred.

The characters are continuously seeking the truth which only leads to the revelation that they never had free will. They realize that they were unable to escape their destiny. They all unknowingly helped fate play out. Jocasta, in attempt to stop the prophecy, gave the child to the shepherd to leave him for death. The shepherd trying to save the child’s life gives the messenger the child to raise. The messenger knowing about the prophecy takes the child far away from Thebes to be reared by King Polybos. Then Oedipus leaves Corinth only to kill his birth father at the cross roads. He unknowingly goes back to Thebes during a crisis and saves the town winning his mother for a wife as a prize. None of the characters knew that they lacked free will or that they had a part in the prophecy. Through the use of dramatic irony, a motif of recollection, and characterization, the truth in the lack of free will is discovered.


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