Often in tragic literature, authors infuse characters with a tragic flaw such as hubris. One work that explores an exuberant amount of pride is Oedipus Rex by Sophocles. In this play, Thebes is stricken with a plague and Oedipus, the King, will sacrifice anyone to save it. In the process of finding a solution, Oedipus realizes that he fulfills the prophecies that say he will kill his father and marry his mother. In the play, Sophocles shows Oedipus’ hubris by using irony. Characterization is also used to enhance the effects of pride on Oedipus’ ability to see logistically.
Both characterization and irony play an important role in supporting the theme that excessive pride is a bad thing because it prevents people from viewing life with logic and leads to their downfalls. In the drama, Oedipus Rex, readers analyze the theme by looking at Oedipus’ tragic flaw. Sophocles describes how Oedipus changes from being a powerful and majestic king to being “the world’s outcast” (Sophocles 66). For instance, Oedipus’ hubris is shown from the beginning of the play when he steps down from the altar.
He addresses the people of Thebes to discuss the deadly plague that has come to Thebes. Oedipus explains that he hears the “sound of prayer and lamentation” and that he himself “who bears the famous name,” has come to listen to his people (Sophocles 4). Oedipus shows how prideful he is when he refers to himself as being famous amongst the people of Thebes. Also, the fact that he comes forth when he hears prayers, indicates that he views himself as an equivalence to the gods because he defeated the Sphinx.
Oedipus’ boasting relates to the theme because it foreshadows his tragic fate that he will kill his father and marry his mother as destined by the gods. Oedipus’ pride continues throughout the play when the messenger announces the death of King Polybos of Corinth. Specifically, Oedipus thinks that he is the son of King Polybos and that he escapes his prophecies by leaving Corinth long ago. Oedipus explains that he “never touches [Polybos],” so he will not “give heed to the birds that jangle above [Pythian’s] head” (Sophocles 50).
Oedipus fails to realize that Polybos is not his real father, which relates to the theme of hubris. The overwhelming sense of pride in himself is what makes him blind to what is real. To support the theme of Oedipus Rex, Sophocles uses dramatic irony throughout the play. Creon tells Oedipus that the murderer of King Laois must die in order for Thebes to recuperate from the plague. Oedipus shows concern for the well-being of the city but also for himself. He says that he will “avenge the city and the city’s god” (Sophocles 9).
He further exclaims that “for [his] own sake, [he will] get rid of evil” because the murderer of King Laois might “decide at any moment to kill [him]” (Sophocles 9). Although Oedipus shows true concern for Thebes, his pride propels him to state that he will get rid of the murderer for his own benefits. The dramatic irony is that Oedipus is unable to realize that he will not benefit because he will ultimately have to be punished. Oedipus’ misconception connects to the theme because Oedipus fails to see that he is the murderer of King Laois.
Dramatic irony is also shown after Iocaste realizes that Oedipus’ prophecies have come true and Oedipus refuses to give up his search for the truth of his birthplace. Oedipus says that he “is a child of Luck; [and that he] cannot be dishonored” (Sophocles 58). The irony is that the audience knows Oedipus’ tragic fate, yet Oedipus believes he is a child of luck. The irony relates to the theme because his pride blinds him to see the reality that he has fulfilled his prophecies.
The overall use of dramatic irony enhances the theme of pride preventing a person from seeing things logistically. In addition to irony, Sophocles uses characterization throughout the play to enhance the theme. For instance, Tiresias, a blind prophet reveals Oedipus’ fate and Oedipus refuses to believe it. When Tiresias accuses Oedipus of weaving his own doom, Oedipus objects by exclaiming that he saves Thebes by defeating the Sphinx. He says that Tiresias’ magic “or the gods, for the matter” are useless (Sophocles 22).
Oedipus is indirectly characterized as very self-centered and haughty. Oedipus’ ego relates to theme because he is so cocky that he does not perceive what Tiresias is saying. Instead, he reminds everyone of the time that he defeats the Sphinx. Oedipus gloats on past victories without dealing with present problems involving Thebes. Along with being self-centered, Sophocles characterizes Oedipus by incorporating epithets into the chorus’ lines. Oedipus summons the shepherd in search of primary proof of the murdering of King Laois.
The chorus explicitly calls Oedipus a “tyrant [who is a] child of Pride” and that his “haughtiness and high hand of disdain/ Tempt and outrage God’s holy law” (Sophocles 46). Oedipus is indirectly characterized as a tyrant. The chorus denounces their King, which relates to the theme because Oedipus’ pride leads him to be “caught up in a net of pain” (Sophocles 46). By using characterization, the author shows the reader how Oedipus’ pride leads to his downfall. Hubris often leads to a tragic fall and causes people to become oblivious to the real world.
Sophocles creates dramatic irony in the play Oedipus Rex to enhance the plot. The use of dramatic irony highlights how blind Oedipus is to his fate. It shows how Oedipus’ life changes from being a majestic King to an egocentric man who has given up all hope. Oedipus Rex leads the reader into analyzing his or her own life. People should be proud of their achievements as long as they avoid becoming insolent. A healthy dose of pride always does a person well, but an exuberant amount of it, makes him or her ignorant to the truth.
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