Power and the idea of the righteous king in Oedipus
Oedipus the king is one of the famous Sophocles’ plays which have always seemed to be a trilogy. This particular play was penned down by Sophocles in 430 B.C and its setting is Thebes (Kamerbeek & Coenraad 12). The storyline features Oedipus Rex, the king as the main character and begins when a plague strikes the city of Thebes and the people call on the king to come to their rescue. This marks the beginning of a long political thriller and unravels a murder mystery. All through this tale of incest and patricide, Sophocles asserts the irony of a man (Oedipus Rex) who is so indomitable in trailing down, unraveling and disciplining the assassin, who unfortunately turns out to be himself.
This enthralling play features a lot of themes such as Fate and free will, determination, wisdom and knowledge, power and memory of the past among others. The theme of power runs from the outset to the close of curtains and revolves around the King and his subjects. Power is a strong attribute that has tremendous capacity to corrupt and literally blind characters in the play: Oedipus the King. As the king and head of the people of Thebes, Oedipus is portrayed a powerful leader as shown at the beginning of the play where his supplicants make prayers directly to their King Oedipus. He addresses his subjects as ‘my Children’ and refers to Oedipus as a household name. When the misfortune of a plague strikes the city, the people run directly to their king to save them from the tragedy. All these demonstrate the immense power bestowed upon the King.
This colossal power works to corrupt the King who ideally was a good ruler and had the concerns of his people at his heart. He rebukes Teiresias and openly calls him liar. This shows his disregard for Teiresias’ extraordinary skills, outstanding records, social status and respectable old age. He behaves so badly in an attempt to conceal the truth that indeed he was the killer of Theban Laius. Yet from the beginning he was thumping his chest and he was telling his people that he will leave no stone unturned till his hands catch the killer and even if it is him, he will be worthy of similar punishment as his subjects.
This massive power of the King not only makes him proud but also insecure that someone is always plotting to steal this sweet supremacy from him. He constantly accuses Creon of collaborating with the prophet to tell the king false lies so that he can take over the King’s palace (Roche 42). While Creon, the prophet and his wife Jocasta strive to advise him accordingly he figures that they are all conspiring to oust him from his coveted seat. He even imagines that King Laius was killed by Creon and his mafia and who are still on the mission to get to power by all means.
There is also an element of corruption in the power of the so-called mighty ruler. The plague that strikes the land of Thebes is a signal or a curse, a curse that originates with the rotten head. A boisterous leader who commits suicide and even when told the truth he wants to blind himself from the truth. He rebukes anyone who points a finger at him as the murderer. He uses his status and mighty achievements to his advantage, that he cannot be the killer of Laius. He blames other people like Prophet Teiresias for this murder even without evidence just because he is the king. At the three crossroads, the action of Laius and Oedipus of wanting to go first because of their royalty status. This corruption just like the plague spreads amongst the subjects like bushfire and within no time more subjects are displaying corruption tendencies.
The theme of righteousness is also depicted at the beginning of the play. Oedipus is exalted at a wise king who has the concern of the people of Thebes at heart. He worries about the plague that has struck his area and goes through all sorts of pain and hurdle in a bid to unfold the mystery surrounding the death of Laius and his own identity as well. He overcomes the temptation posed by his lovely wife Jocasta to stop and give up the whole idea of unraveling the truth. Even the popular prophet warned him to leave the truth alone and continue leaving but this righteous king was not about to hear any of it. It is this trait of righteousness that leads him into ruins which formed his past. As the curtain comes to a close down, Oedipus has plucked his own eyes out as a punishment for the sins he has committed. He takes that solid step of punishing himself, the killer of Laius and for committing incest by marrying his own mother. He fulfills what he had sworn that he would bring the killer of Laius to book and hold him or her accountable for that ghastly act of killing the King.
Righteousness is also illustrated in the behavior of the prophet, Creon, Jocasta and the people of Thebes. While the people remain loyal to the king all through until when they realize he was the killer and thus the cause of the dreadful plague, the prophet works diligently to serve the King. Even when what he unveils is against the King he still goes on to divulge the bitter truth to the end. Jocasta as well takes his own life, after she realizes that she has been living in sin. Throughout her marriage with her husband, she remained loyal to him, giving heed to his word of digging deeper into the truth even when she was against it.
There is advance use of symbolism in the entire play to embolden some things. At the beginning the use of song which contains exalting lyrics is used to symbolize the high status and power of the king. His regalia and the way the people of Thebes address the King is a sign enough that he is utterly powerful. Moreover, there is the use of swollen foot to symbolize greatness and uniqueness of Oedipus. From the story we get to know that Oedipus was abandoned in the mountains with his ankles tied together, an outrageous act that left Oedipus marked forever. This symbol embodies someone set apart, someone different from the rest of the crowd. In this sense, this mark meant that Oedipus was going to be a great person, a ruler and leader of the people.
There is also use of sight and blindness to stand for power. This is manifested when the prophet hobbles on stage after the King has rebuked him and called him liar for foreseeing and telling things that were against the king. In this regard this means that the prophet has lost his power and legitimacy among the people since the King publicly reproached him. In addition, throughout the story we see a King who has good eyesight and is a good leader to the people, but once he realizes that he could be the leader and starts behaving badly, his visions become blurred and at the end he gouges out his own sight to mark the end of his leadership and over.
Moreover, there is use of punishment as a tool signifying righteousness, humility and not exalting oneself high above others. In the story, the two deaths of Jocasta and the King are used as punishment suggesting the humility of the two to accepting the beastly previous acts and choosing to die. Jocasta hangs herself in shame of her incest act of marrying her own child and participating in a conspiracy to hide the truth from her child cum husband. Oedipus also removes his own eyes as a punishment and loyalty to his people. He was accomplishing his own decree that whoever killed Laius who has to face his wrath and he came to fulfill it.
In a nutshell, the entire play of King Oedipus is utterly enthralling and keeps the audience on their toes. The turnout of events is totally unexpectedly, while one may have expected the prophet or Creon to be the murderer, the king himself becomes the assassin. And while in real world the king would not have taken the step of punishing himself, king Oedipus takes this unprecedented step and gouges his own eyes. There are many moral lessons in this story, one is that: treat others (subjects in this case) just how you would want to be treated. Second, is that the one that is eating you up and causing distress between you always lives amongst you. Third, is that the world is indeed round, and what goes around always comes around. If you do evil things then expect evil to also come your way. Lastly, is that the truth will always set one free. As much as King Oedipus works hard to conceal the truth it finally came out into the light and publicly.