An Intellectual and Emotional Response to Oedipus the King
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An Intellectual and Emotional Response to Oedipus the King
While reading the play Oedipus the King, my response to the work became more and more clear as the play continued. When I finished the play, my reaction to the work and to two particular characters was startling and very different from my response while I was still reading. My initial response was to the text, and it was mostly an intellectual one. I felt cheated by the play because the challenge of solving the mystery of the plot was spoiled for me by the obvious clues laid out in the work. My second response was not as intellectual; instead, it came more from a feeling that the play evoked in me. I felt a strong disappointment in the drastic actions that Oedipus and Jocasta took at the end of the play. My two different responses to Oedipus the King, one intellectual and one not, now seem to feed off and to amplify each other as if they were one collective response.
The play's plot, in a nutshell, develops like this. After solving the riddle of the Sphynx, who had kept Thebes under a curse of some kind, Oedipus is invited to become king of the city. He marries Jocasta, the widow of the previous king, and they have two children. When the play begins, Thebes is again under some sort of curse, and Oedipus tries to find out its cause so that he can rescue the city. He is told that the cause of the curse is that the murderer of the previous king is still in the city and has gone unpunished. In the process of searching for the murderer, Oedipus discovers that it is he, himself, who is responsible and that he is actually the son of Jocasta and her previous husband. Horrified by his sins of incest and murder, Oedipus claws out his eyes. Jocasta commits suicide because she is so disgraced.
My disappointment in the lack of mystery in the plot of the play was evoked by the continual clues appearing throughout the play. For example, in Oedipus's first speech to the people of Thebes, he condemns the murderer of the previous king, stating that "he will suffer no unbearable punishment, nothing worse than exile" (261-62). This is the first of a multitude of clues about the outcome of the play.
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Emotional Response Intellectual Oedipus Play Oedipus Jocasta Clues Disappointment Widow Riddle Rescue
Perhaps the most obvious of the clues is in a speech by the blind prophet Tiresias who knows the answer to the mystery but who is reluctant to reveal it. His words, "So you mock my blindness? Let me tell you this. You with your precious eyes, you're blind to the corruption of your life" (469-73), were so obvious to me that I lost any chance to figure out the mystery of the play on my own.
As the play neared its end and Oedipus was about to discover the truth about his past, I began to hope that he and Jocasta would somehow dodge their fate and thereby add an interesting twist to a plot that had become pretty boring to me. However, instead of being pleasantly surprised at the ending of the play, I was shocked by the drastic actions of the two characters I had had so much hope for. Oedipus was indeed both the son and husband of Jocasta and the son and murderer of her previous husband. Both Oedipus and Jocasta reacted violently to the revelation of his crimes--he gouged out his eyes and she committed suicide. I was appalled bly the fact that two characters who had seemed noble, wise, and powerful and who were the symbols of good in the play would end up so pitiful.
Throughout the play, Oedipus was treated with the respect of a god; he was called "king of the land, our greatest power" (16) by the people of Thebes. Jocasta was treated with similar respect. When Oedipus accused Creon, Jocasta's brother, of plotting against him and spreading rumors, it was Jocasta who was called upon to settle the dispute of the two most powerful men in the city (770-775). The play's emphasis on the greatness and innocense of Oedipus and Jocasta led me to admire both of them. I was shocked and a little hurt that Sophocles allowed two individuals who had so much going their way to fall so quickly and so hard.
I was really emotionally affected by the downfall of Oedipus and Jocasta. Usually, I'm not very upset reading about a tragic character and his eventual fall, but in this play my response surprised me. Jocasta's suicide really bothered me, and I saw Oedipus's self-banishment as almost a suicide. Suicide has been a very difficult subject for me to understand. The sources of my difficulty and probably the sources of my response to Oedipus and Jocasta are experiences I had with two classmates in the years before I came to college.
In sixth grade I had a friend who seemed to have everything collapse in on him at one time. He and his mother had been abused by his father for several years, and his mother had finally divorced his father. My friend and his mother were left with no money and no place to live. The only thing they had for sure was each other. I developed an admiration for him because he seemed to have conquered his sufferings and survived a difficult time in his life. But just as things were looking looking up for my friend and his mother, he committed suicide, not only taking his own life but also breaking his mother's heart. When I read in the play how Jocasta had killed herself and how Oedipus had gouged his eyes out, I had the same feeling that I had had when I heard of my friend's death. I admired Oedipus and Jocasta like I had admired my friend, but I guess all of them were unable to handle their fate.
Another part of my response to the end of the play comes from my belief in the preciousness of life. I am shocked and hurt that Oedipus and Jocasta chose to harm themselves, and I believe that some of the source of my shock comes from an experience I had during my senior year of high school. On the day of the last game an awful event occurred. We held our last pep rally, and when it was over, the cheerleaders boarded a bus. As the bus was leaving, one of the cheerleaders stuck her head out the window. Her head hit a telephone pole, and she was instantly dead. The sight and especially the sound of her death are still very vivid in my mind. The girl I had talked to just a few minutes before was gone. She had been the most popular girl in school, and someone who seemed to have more life than life itself. I admired my friend for her attitude towards life just as I admired the nobility of Oedipus and Jocasta. But because I saw my friend die, I cannot understand why anyone would choose death over life.
Sophocles. Oedipus the King. Trans. Robert Fagles. The Bedford Introduction to Literature.
4th ed. Ed. Michael Meyer. Boston: St. Martins, 1996. 1120-1161.
Сьюзан глубоко дышала, словно пытаясь вобрать в себя ужасную правду. Энсей Танкадо создал не поддающийся взлому код. Он держит нас в заложниках. Внезапно она встала.