Oedipus Rex is a world-class masterpiece of Sophocles, who is thought of as the most classic of the three great Greek tragedians of which the other two were Aeschylus and Euripides. Written in 425 B.C. the drama is a story of a ruler brought down by his own oath, unknowingly in conflict with himself. All heroes and heroines of Sophocles are longer than life, so that they portray human condition in panoramic and vivid fashion. Oedipus is no exception. In the play Oedipus obstinately searches for truth, defies fate and ultimately meets his downfall. The play is a proof of timeless greatness of Greek tragedy.
The Greek tragedies by and large can be characterized as Fate dramas in which fate is the chief determining force often leading an entire family to an irresistible doom. Fate is a Greek concept esteemed highly by the ancient Greek people very highly for it is nothing but the will of God:
God’s will attributed to a man must be performed. Oedipus, either in his awareness or in his ignorance, is thought to be such a man, an agent to perform the will of God. The drama Oedipus Rex consists of two tragic events in the life of the protagonist happening at the interval of fifteen years. The first tragic incident was patricide and the incestuous relationship with his mother and the second one was the hideous revelation of the very fact.
In this great drama we notice the overbearing presence of Fat eat many points. There is no denying the fact that since the birth, or, in fact, even before the birth of Oedipus, he was a victim of Fate by an conditional oracle that simply said that he would kill his father and sleep with his mother. And what an oracle predicts is bound to happen. Oedipus was left in the wilderness where he could die. But destiny decreed otherwise. He was saved and brought up by Polybus, the King of Corinth. In course of time the dream of the mother that he would kill his father and marry his mother came true. Oedipus did what he could to evade his destiny: he resolved never to see his supposed parents again. But, it was the triumph of Fate and Iman with all his resources could not over come it. Thus, Fate led Oedipus to perform the first tragic act of his life.
Even in the second tragic event of his life, the revelation of the hideous and horrifying truth, Fate has its powerful influence. If the plague had not broken out in the city of Thebes, Oedipus would not have tried to find out the dark truth. He might have been blissfully ignorant.
The city of Thebes suffered from blight, from pestilence, from the sterility both of women and of cattle under the reign of Oedipus, who had unwittingly slain his father and wedded his mother. This worse condition of the country forced Oedipus to start an inquiry to solve a problem of finding out the murderer of Laius, which then diverted to another problem that of finding his own identity. At this stage of investigation, a messenger came from Corinth bearing the news of his supposed father’s death and then assured him of not being the son of Polybus and Merope, but a foundling left on the Mt. Cithaeron. Thus, Fate approached stealthily, slowly but inexorably.
Dramatic irony is of great importance in Oedipus Rex. It heightens the utter helplessness of man. Oedipus found the city of Thebes in the grip of plague. In this bid, he advanced to assist the people in distress and sent Creon to Delphi to ascertain the truth. He thus unknowingly started his journey to his doom by his own actions and therein lies the irony.
Oedipus made public announcement that he would detect the murderer and punish him. The wrath of heaven was directed against him, yet here mained calm and serene because for him ignorance was bliss. It was the irony of fate that he was determined to find out his own identity. Oedipus was ready to reward the formant and if the sinner or his accomplice would not come forward, he would deal with him ruthlessly. The result of his investigation was the revelation of the grim truth. The course of events was contrived in such a way that everything he did had a sinister tendency, and whichever way he turned he only trapped himself more in the meshes of Fate. Nothing could help him any longer. His sincere well-wishers tried their best to assist him, but unwittingly sank him deeper.
After the truth had been disclosed, Oedipus punished himself by self-blinding. Though his self blinding was voluntary and self-chosen, it was actually from the involuntary parricide and incest. Oedipus himself said: ” Apollo, friends, Apollo Has laid this agony upon me.” After the self-blinding Oedipus wished to be espelled immediately, but Creon insisted that he would not do so unless he was absolutely sure that it was that what the God desired. This evidently shows that he was nothing but a man who is victimized by Fate. Fate did prevail in Oedipus Rex. Fate and destiny surrounded Oedipus like the tentacles of an octopus. Though whatever Oedipus does on the stage he does it as a free agent, yet certain of his actions were fate bound that led him towards his final ruin.