Oedipus Seminar


Isolate the elements that show dual parts of reason and passion in the
play. Where do the two elements conflict? What is the complete
significance of the outcome?

In the play Oedipus the King, there are dual parts of reason and
passion in the play. Oedipus primarily acts with both reason and
passion at different stages in the play.

 There are several points in the play where Oedipus acts with
 reason. The first such point occurs when he is asked by his
 followers to help save Thebes. He acts with reason when he
 immediately decides to heed to their demands and find help for
 them. However, he may also have been deciding to do this through
 passion. His need for his land to be perfectly normal might have
 prompted this immediate decision.

 Reason also occurs through the character of Oedipus himself. He
 has a heroic confidence in his own abilities, and he has good
 reason for such confidence, both from his own sense of past
 achievements and from the very high regard everyone has of those
 achievements. He is conscious of himself as a great man. He feels
 he can achieve anything.

 The central metaphor in this play is blindness. For the tragic
 hero is, in a sense, blind from the start, at least in the sense
 that he is not alert to the fact that the way he sees his
 situation may not be true, may be only a partial take on the
 reality of things. Oedipus is not prepared to admit that he might
 be wrong. Why should he? He has always been right in the past; no
 one else in Thebes is acting resolutely to meet the crisis, any
 more than they were when the city was threatened before. His
 vision may well include a certain narrowness, and yet because he
 sees the world that way, he is also the one with the most
 confidence in his own sight and the one most ready to act in
 accordance with what he sees. The way he sees the world lies at
 the very source of what makes him now, and in the past, a great
 man. Those around him rely upon that confidence in order for the
 crisis to be dealt with.

 It is ironic that the only way that the curse will be lifted from
 Thebes is by finding the murderer of Laius. Oedipus starts on a
 powerful trip to find the murderer, and this ends up throwing him
 into a passionate search within himself to find the truth.
 Because Oedipus will not compromise, and will only go after the
 answer to Apollo's requests in one way, this sets him up for an
 horrific downfall. When Oedipus's reason ends up meeting his
 passion for finding the murderer, he finds that he is an a
 whirlpool of bad things that are going to bring him down.

 Even when the full truth of what he has done strikes home,
 he will not abandon his faith in himself but will see
 himself out to the end. To the very end of this play,
 Oedipus is still insisting that he is the one who has
 blinded himself, that he will accept his exile, that he is
 fully prepared to accept the self-destructive consequences
 of what he has done.

 Jocasta's attempt to put his mind at rest about killing his
 father - "don't believe seers, e.g. they were wrong about Laius
 being killed by his son" - the very thing that starts Oedipus on
 the suspicion that he is guilty.

 Where did Oedipus go wrong? Leaving Corinth? Killing Laius? Marrying
 Jocasta? Pursuing his identity-search in the play?

 Certainly the latter, but this not the first, or major mistake.
 His ill temper, jumping to conclusions as distinctive of Emotion =
 Dionysus. Oedipus has characteristics both Apollonian and

 I have observed that one key to Oedipus's character is that he
 will not compromise. He must see life through on his own terms,
 no matter what the cost. He is prepared to acknowledge no
 authority outside his own will. Hence, if he is to be satisfied
 the world must answer to him.

 As his situation gets more complicated and things do not work out
 as he has imagined they might, Oedipus does not adapt, change,
 and learn. He becomes more and more determined to see the problem
 through on his own terms; he becomes increasingly inflexible.
 Having accepted the responsibility for saving Thebes, he will on
 his own see the matter through, without compromise, without lies,
 without deceit. Anyone who suggests that he proceed differently is
 simply an obstacle who must be overcome. That attitude, as we
 know, leads to the most horrific conclusions.

 Oedipus is prepared only to do things in the way he sees fit.
 Whatever stands in his way he sees as an obstacle that he must
 overcome publicly, directly, and without compromise. He is
 anything but a flexible character. His sense of his own worth is
 so strong that he will not admit of any departure from his
 characteristic way of doing things. In fact, he is probably
 incapable of imagining acting in any other manner. He has no
 ability for the sort of delayed emotional response. Whatever he
 feels, Oedipus immediately reacts to, usually in public.

 What makes Oedipus so compelling is not that he suffers horribly
 and endures at the end an almost living death. The force of the
 play comes from the connection between Oedipus's sufferings and
 his own actions, that is, from the awareness of how he himself is
 bringing upon his own head the dreadful outcome.

 We can say Oedipus is capable of doing what he does because he is
 uniquely brave, excellent, and intelligent. But the tragedy
 reminds us, even the best and the bravest, those famous throughout
 the world for their knowledge, are doomed if they set themselves
 up against the mystery of life itself and if they try to force
 life to answer to them, they are going to self-destruct. Oedipus
 and his reasoning were correct in the way he followed them, but
 his passion and his ignorance of viewing the world properly led to
 his horrific downfall.


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