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Oedipus the King is an Athenian tragedy by Sophocles first performed around 429 BC. It is a tale based on a murder mystery. It is also a political thriller and an ironical story of a man trying to find and punish the king’s murderer who turns out to be himself. The two protagonists Oedipus and Jocasta try their best to change fate but it is all in vain. In this paper, I will seek to show how fate played a hand in their lives and how they both saw the horror of their identities unfolding.
Jocasta’s ideas on fate
The role of fate in the tragedy Oedipus the king is seen as being very significant. King Oedipus, his wife and mother Jocasta work to defy the truth of prophecies and by doing so aim to change their fate. Oedipus first had praise for the oracle Tiresias and even describes him as a celestial being (Oedipus the King). His opinion, however, changes when Tiresias tells him that he is his father’s killer and his mother’s husband and that he will become blind. Oedipus becomes angry at him and chases him away even going as far as referring to him as “scum of the earth” (Oedipus the King). Earlier on, Oedipus tried to change the prophecy from the house of Apollo that he would kill his father and sleep with his mother by moving away from Corinth. In so doing, he ensured that the prophecy came true when he killed Laius at crossroads and went to marry his mother Jocasta. Oedipus sees as if he is in control of his own fate. He searches for the killer of Laius despite the oracle’s warning in a bid to prove that one’s fate is in his own hands. As a result, the second prophecy about him leaving Thebes blind comes to pass (Megan).
Jocasta on the other hand does not believe in divine prophecy or fate. She tells Oedipus not to believe the oracle in the prophecy and gives her own story as a testimony that oracles and prophets are liars. She, nonetheless, gives praise to the gods (Oedipus the King). Jocasta believes that fate can be changed by a series of actions one takes. It was prophesied that the son of Jocasta and Laius would kill his father and marry his mother. Jocasta tried to change this fate by having their son killed which also played a hand in the prophecy coming true. The son, Oedipus, killed his father then came back to marry his mother. Despite not believing the oracle, Jocasta has a deep feeling that the prophecy made to her and Laius was true and, therefore, begs Oedipus not to look further into the matter.
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Reaction to Suspicion of Oedipus’ birth
Jocasta is suspicious of Oedipus birth and tries her best to not confirm this suspicion she has. She does her best in order to ensure that Oedipus stops his inquisition into the matter. She is reluctant to the fact that Oedipus is looking for the shepherd she gave her son to because her worst fears will be confirmed. Oedipus’ search is clearly hurting Jocasta and she implores him to stop the search in fear that her suspicion will become true. That fact that Oedipus is her son and indeed his father’s killer may lead to grave consequences. She is happy about the news of Polybius death, this is because she views it as a sign that Oedipus will agree with her that the oracle was wrong about him killing his father. This would cause him to stop with his search and everything will be the way it was.
Jocasta and Oedipus’ final despair
Jocasta’s final despair differs from Oedipus’. When her suspicions become confirmed she could not take the despair of her son’s wife and also the fact that no matter how hard she tried to change the course of fate, the prophecy still came true. Her misery leads her to commit suicide and end her despair once and for all. On the other hand, Oedipus’ despair is different in that after learning the truth, he gorged his eyes out and was banished from Corinth as well as Thebes. He had to live with his despair for the rest of his life.
In conclusion, Oedipus the King was destined to kill his father and marry his mother. He, nevertheless, tried to change his fate by moving from Corinth. He later on sees the horror of his identity unfolding. The fact that he killed his biological father Laius and married his biological mother Jocasta proves his identity. Jocasta also sees the horror of her identity unfolding; she is her son’s wife. The search for Laius murderer results in more discoveries about the two. Oedipus remembers murdering someone who matches Laius description. This reminds him of the prophecy about his fate. Jocasta on the other hand is suspicious of Oedipus birth and as the play continues, her suspicions are revealed to be true. Oedipus is indeed her son and he did kill his father. This aspect compels her to believe that fate can’t be controlled since both she and Oedipus lives played out the exact same way the prophecies were made.
- Megan. “Oedipus: The Tragedy of Fate.” Medium, July 2015
- Sophocles. Oedipus Rex. Translated by David Mulroy, n.d.