Oedipus Rex is a Greek tragedy, written by Sophocles and first performed in 428 BC.
Oedipus was written between 430BC and 420BC by Sophocles, the play is written in blank verse, there are no dimensions or sub-plots. The play is built around three unities; Time, Place and Action. The plague in the play is similar to the one which hit Athens at the time, as the drama opens the thoughtless energy of Oedipus has already harnessed him to the “Yoke of Fate” unbending.1According to Aristotle; “A tragedy must be an imitation of life in the form of a serious story that is complete in itself”2.A good tragedy will evoke pity and fear in its viewers, causing them to experience a feeling of catharsis. A tragedy is a serious play or narrative in which the hero becomes engaged in definite experiences and great suffering to gain in the end a true sense of human dignity and realisation. In his poetics, Aristotle outlined the ingredients necessary for a good tragedy and he based his formula on what he considered to be the perfect tragedy, Sophocles `Oedipus Rex`. The complex plot of Oedipus Rex is accompanied by two features, Peripeteia and anagnorisis, this is clearly evident through Oedipus` exclamatory tone;
“Ah God! Ah God! This is the truth, at last!”
Aristotle outlined the characteristics of a good tragic hero, he must be “better than we are”, “ a man who is superior to the average man”3. Oedipus is not only superior due to his social standing, but also because he is intelligent, we know this to be true as he was the only person who could solve the Sphinx’s riddle.
The whole play is a step by step unraveling of Oedipus` true identity, in attempting to discover his identity without knowing the results would be catastrophic. There are several themes which run throughout the course of the play. The theme of Religion manifests itself in the oracles and is evident in mans reference to the gods. Iocasta has more doubt regarding the oracles than any other character, is Sophocles trying to reassert traditional doctrine ? As a puppet of fate, Oedipus cannot affect the future which the oracle of Apollo has predicted for him, this is an important message in the play. Irony is another key theme in the play, the central role of irony is that Oedipus is metaphorically blind. This ironic contrast stands out for the audience, when Oedipus curses Laius he is actually cursing himself. The chorus are an extremely clever tool employed by Sophocles, they are the emotional bridge between the stage and the audience. The chorus are set in a polyistic society, they invoke the assistance of the gods and are made up of fifteen males in unison, therefore creating a powerful, lever berating and highly dramatic function. The chorus condition us to feel a particular way, they interact with both the audience and characters highlighting it is a dignified and formal play. Hamartia is another key theme, Aristotle’s poetics state that the cause of a tragic hero’s downfall must lie not in any depravity, but in some great error on his part4, leaving the matter ambiguous. There is a reluctance however to condemn Oedipus to a huge degree of hubris when compared to characters such as King Lear and Macbeth.
At the end of the play Oedipus transforms from a selfish creature to an admirable protagonist, enormous pathos is evident. The play `Oedipus Rex` is not depressing, there is a definite sense of human dignity in the way Oedipus faces up to his fate and endures his destiny.