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Oedipus Rex | Discussion Questions 41 - 50

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In Oedipus Rex why, other than pride and anger, does Oedipus treat Teiresias and Creon badly?

Oedipus is in crisis because the plague is killing off his people, and he has promised them he would find a way to help them. While it is true that Oedipus's pride and anger make him behave in an unreasonable manner with Creon and Teiresias, he is also frustrated that he cannot get answers that make sense to him. At the beginning of the play, he does not know who he is, so the prophecy Teiresias gives him makes no sense to him. He can think of only one person who could possibly be in line for the throne, and that would be Creon. Because Laius has already been killed, Oedipus also thinks that it is possible he could be next and that the throne is being coveted by someone. In his inability to solve the mystery right away, he allows his emotions to corrupt his ability for reason.

In Oedipus Rex how does Oedipus's argument with Creon demonstrate a change in Oedipus's personality?

When Oedipus argues with Creon, he accuses Creon of treason, believing that Creon is Laius's killer and that Creon has put Teiresias up to delivering a horrible prophecy to Oedipus so Creon can have the throne. Creon is the reasonable one in this argument, giving excellent reasons for why he cannot be the killer and why he certainly does not want to be king. Oedipus, however, after having been so intelligent and sharp in answering the riddle of the Sphinx, begins to give ridiculous arguments that have no evidence attached to them in his accusations of Creon. This argument marks the beginning of his fall into panic and thus his inability to be sensible and calm. He chases the truth until he finds it but loses all reason in the process. He is cruel to the people he questions, which is not his usual style.

In Oedipus Rex how does Oedipus react to the news that he may be low born?

Oedipus realizes, thanks to the messenger, that Polybus and Merope are not his real parents. As he waits for the servant to arrive so he can find out who really killed Laius, he thinks about why Jocasta might be upset, and he suspects she is ashamed of him being born into a lower-class family, possibly of slaves. This assumption is not reasonable given Jocasta's personality and her need to protect him and advise him. However, Oedipus shows an honorable side of himself as well, when he says that, no matter how low born his real parents might be, he still wants to find out who they are and that he will never be ashamed of his parentage due to economic status.

In Oedipus Rex what is one flaw in Jocasta's plan to protect Oedipus from the truth?

Jocasta does the honorable thing in trying to protect her husband and doing everything in her power to keep her marriage intact, but she seems to have forgotten one thing: if Oedipus really is Laius's killer, then the people will continue to die of the plague as a result of her protection. No matter what Jocasta does to protect her relationship with Oedipus and their family, it will not aid Oedipus and his efforts to keep his people from dying. She is caught between her love for Oedipus and their daughters and his sworn duty to protect the people of Thebes.

In Oedipus Rex how does Oedipus's criticism of the people when he finds out the cause of the plague speak to a larger religious theme in the play?

Oedipus finds out it is the unavenged death of Laius that has caused the plague, and he wonders why the people did not try to find out who the killer was. Creon explains they were tormented by the Sphinx, and Oedipus accepts this explanation but still admonishes the people of Thebes for not having followed up on finding the killer. This lack of action on the part of the people suggests a stark contrast between the citizenry and its leadership. Without a leader they remain victims of the Sphinx and the plague. With a leader such as Oedipus to protect them, they hope to find safety. The situation suggests that the people place too much value on their human leaders and not enough value on the gods that rule them. Where are their prayers for deliverance, for example? Why have they waited for Oedipus to save them?

In Oedipus Rex in what ways does Oedipus rely on human reason in his reaction to Teiresias?

In general, Oedipus's reaction to Teiresias cannot be considered reasonable because Teiresias is a well- respected prophet, and, because of his abilities, he is even called the closest thing Thebes has to Apollo himself, which is high praise of his abilities as a seer. However, at this point in the story, Oedipus is sure his parents are Polybus and Merope because the oracle he visited did not tell him otherwise. He ran away from Corinth to protect them from the prophecy he received from the oracle, so clearly he believes that his parents are in Corinth. Teiresias's prophecy cannot be true according to Oedipus's knowledge at the time. Of course, the gods do not act based on human reason.

In the Exodos of Oedipus Rex, why does the Chorus warn against envy?

The Chorus warns against envy because, as it notes, the citizens who witnessed Oedipus's wealth were envious of it but did not realize the truth of Oedipus's life. It is impossible, the Chorus says, to really know whether people are happy because underneath the wealth and the happy exterior lies human misery. All human beings suffer, and it is only when they leave their lives that they stop feeling pain. Envy is a human condition, but so is suffering. The citizens may have envied Oedipus's wealth, but they would not have envied his suffering or the fate cast upon him.

In Oedipus Rex in what ways do the shepherd's immoral lies serve to protect a moral action?

The shepherd is tasked with the terrible job of killing an infant, either by leaving him to die or killing him outright. His act of saving the baby may have been the wrong thing to do, according to the prophecy that was meant to be fulfilled, but it was the right thing to do morally. The shepherd may be lying to both Jocasta and Oedipus about his involvement with the baby, but he is a morally good person for having decided not to kill the child. Had he killed the child, the prophecy would have never come true, but his personal morality would have been compromised. The shepherd shows that people must act morally at all times regardless of the fated consequences over which they have no control.

How does Oedipus in Oedipus Rex compare and contrast with Shakespeare's character Macbeth?

There are some notable similarities and differences between Oedipus and Macbeth. Three witches foretell Macbeth's rise to become king. An oracle predicts Oedipus's fate of killing his father and marrying his mother. In this way Macbeth and Oedipus are both the subjects of prophecies that they neither control nor fully comprehend but that define their lives. However, each character responds differently to the prophecy. Macbeth embraces it, although he fails to consider its full implications. The prophecy reveals he will become king but not how this will come to pass (through bloody assassination plots). Oedipus tries to escape rather than accept the prophecy about him. Like Macbeth, he, too, fails to understand the implications of the prophecy (it cannot be escaped). Whether they embrace or reject these prophecies, both men are doomed to fulfill them. Both characters also struggle with hubris and assume they can control events through their actions. When they discover this control is an illusion, violence and tragedy result. In Macbeth's case, he dies in battle. In Oedipus's case, he blinds, then exiles, himself. Riddles also play a crucial role in both plays where hubris is concerned. A second prophecy by the witches in the form of a three-part riddle predicts Macbeth's demise. But Macbeth overlooks the riddle's power in favor of rationalization and manipulation. He thinks that the first two parts of the riddle are too bizarre to come true and that he can overcome the third by slaughtering Macduff. When all three parts of the prophecy come to pass, he loses his crown and his life. Oedipus becomes king by solving a riddle posed by the Sphinx, and this helps him become the ruler of Thebes. But Oedipus does not realize his accomplishment is another step toward fulfilling the prophecy from which he cannot escape, no matter how he may try. In the end he loses his wife and mother, his eyesight, and his kingdom.

In Oedipus Rex, Stasimon 4, how does the Chorus cast doubt regarding Jocasta's prior knowledge of her relation to Oedipus?

In Stasimon 4 the Chorus wonders how "the furrow where your father planted, poor wretched man, [could] have tolerated you in such silence for so long?" The Chorus reiterates that Oedipus slept with the same woman that his father did—in other words, with his mother. By phrasing the information in the style of a question and using the word tolerated, the Chorus seems to imply that Jocasta may have known or suspected the truth of her relationship to Oedipus long before the action of the play. This suggestion implies that Jocasta's willful blindness in service to her own priorities is a long-standing part of her character.

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