Fate vs. Free Will
Fate vs. Free Will
“What fates impose, that men must needs abide; It boots not to resist both wind and tide” – William Shakespeare. Comment on how true this statement is in showing that the divine intervention attributed to Oedipus’ downfall in Oedipus The King. I disagree with the statement to a certain extent that man is predestined to fulfil his own fate and ultimately any form of intervention towards his destiny would only prove to be futile.
In Oedipus the King, Oedipus’ past actions were determined by fate, but what he did in Thebes was out of his own free will, thus he is responsible for his own downfall. However in some instances, I feel that fate played a part in the destruction of Oedipus as he was destined from birth to someday murder his father and bed his mother. This prophecy, as warned by the oracle of Apollo at Delphi, would inevitably come to pass, no matter how he tried to avoid it.
In Oedipus the King, fate serves as the antagonist in the play and is responsible for the downfall of Oedipus. There are certain elements that leads him to his destruction, which he had no control over, thus it is undeniably not his free will that causes his own downfall, but rather the predetermined circumstances that eventually leads him to fulfil the prophecy. One such example would be when Laius learnt of the prophecy that he “should die a victim at the hands of his own son”, he pierced young Oedipus’ ankles and “had (Oedipus) cast out upon a hillside to die”.
If he had not done so, Oedipus would have ran away from him and Jocasta, just like how he ran away from his adoptive parents in Corinth to avoid the prophecy, thus the prophecy would not have come to pass. It is also because of fate that causes his chanced meeting with Oedipus at the crossroads and when he ended up being murdered by his own son, do we know that while man may try to change his fate, ultimately, he cannot escape from it.
Another example would be when Oedipus attempts to thwart fate by fleeing Corinth and his adoptive parents upon learning of the prophecy, but only ends up meeting Laius at the crossroads and unknowingly murders his own father. The crossroads symbolise moments where decisions will have important consequences but where different choices are still possible. However, the
ironic thing is that of all the people he could have met at the crossroads and of all the times that he could have met his father there, it had to be that exact point of time when he flees Corinth and arrives at the crossroads, does he have his chanced encounter with his father and even results in him murdering the latter out of anger, thus fulfilling the prophecy. This suggests that man is powerless in the face of his own fate and he has no choice but to accept his predestined future, thus showing that fate played a part in the downfall of Oedipus.
Though Oedipus’ past actions were predestined by fate, but what he did in Thebes was of his own free will, thus he is responsible for his own downfall. He is presented with a series of choices throughout the play, but his hamartia, which is his arrogant and rash nature, pushes him to impulsively make the wrong decisions, the decisions that ultimately led him to his own destruction. One such example is when Oedipus learns that the murderer of Laius is causing the plague in Thebes, he could have calmly investigated the matter, but he becomes fixated on finding the perpetrator to protect his pride as “a helper to the God and to the dead”.
In his quest for the truth, he eventually realizes that he has unknowingly fulfilled the prophecy by murdering Laius and marrying Jocasta, thus he caused his own downfall. His impulsiveness is further shown when he metes out harsher punishments from deporting “uninjured from the land”, to “that man (he) banish” and finally even cursing that “(the murderer) may waste his life away”. In doing so, he has unwittingly spelled out his own doom out of his own free will.
Another example would be Oedipus’ relentless pursuit of the truth, to learn of his real birth lineage. He was so fixated on tracing his birth parents that he chose to ignore the pleas of his wife to stop, thinking that she “thinks scorn of (his) birth parentage” by saying that “(his) fixed resolve still holds”. His quest for the truth arises from his free will as seen from him refusing Jocasta’s pleas, and it ultimately causes his downfall when he realises that he has unknowingly fulfilled the prophecy by murdering his father and sleeping with his mother.
Even before learning of the truth, he already had suspicions that he was actually the murderer of Laius after hearing Jocasta’s story and said “I think I have called curses on myself in ignorance”. Despite knowing that he may actually be the son of Laius and Jocasta, he wanted to learn the truth no matter what price he has to pay, thus it is out of his own free will to seek out the truth that causes his own downfall.
In conclusion, Oedipus’ arrogant and rash nature causes him to become fixated on finding the murderer of Laius and his relentless pursuit of the truth ultimately makes him the one responsible his own downfall upon realizing that he has fulfilled the prophecy. However, it is undeniable that fate plays a part in his downfall by setting predetermined circumstances, such as the oracle of Apollo at Delphi prophesising that Oedipus would murder his father and bed his mother and the chanced meeting of him and Laius at the crossroads also resulted in him murdering the latter to fulfil the prophecy.
It is arguably true that Oedipus had control over his own fate as he could have not become King of Thebes, not wed the espoused Jocasta and even simply ignored the prophecy. Oedipus had plenty of opportunities to make a better choice, but he was simply blind to those opportunities due to his hamartia. Then again, it was the Gods who gave him such a tragic flaw, thus creating a paradox on who actually is responsible for Oedipus’ downfall.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 9 November 2016
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