Oedipus the Wreck
Objective for this Page: To reflect upon the play’s themes, sequels, filming, conflicts, and irony.
Considerations: Further thinking on the play toward a possible essay
Also review any questions after the play in your textbook for more understanding of this play and possible notes toward an essay.
In the sequel to this play, Antigone (shown at right in a production at a Canadian college),* Creon has set Oedipus' sons against each other in a civil war and ascended to the throne himself when they both die in battle. He forbids anyone to bury the son he had not backed, but Antigone (now the grown daughter of Oedipus) sneaks outside the city and tries to cover her brother so that his soul may be at peace. Creon has actually broken another decree of the gods with his own civil decree against care for the dead. His own son, Haemon, is betrothed to Antigone and ends up perishing with her as she resists Creon.
The end of the trilogy is Oedipus at Colonus. Oedipus finally comes to terms with his being disgraced by the gods (maybe) in this rarely read philosophical play, having spent the remainder of his life in a small town just outside Thebes.
(I've seen only one commentary that mentions a motive for the gods, that Oedipus' grandfather, Labdacus, was responsible for introducing homosexuality to Thebes.) Is this the story of a family that destroys itself by violating many of the taboos of this ancient society? Can't it be all of these at once? How would you convey any of these themes if you were filming the story?
Irony and Themes
Part of the power of this play comes from the many ironies in it. When the town needs saving, it turns to the guy who saved them before--Oedipus--because the townspeople think he's tapped into the knowledge of the gods. Boy, are they wrong or what!
How intertwined are the fates of Laius, Jocasta, and Oedipus? That's part of the drama, too. A woman orders her baby to be abandoned on a mountainside--presumably to starve, if that is the will of the gods. It wasn't.
How rare the plot gimmick is--killing one's father and marrying one's mother. But that's pretty mild in comparison to the violation of a series of cultural taboos: incest, regicide, patricide, infanticide.
And who's behind all this? Oedipus is fighting the gods! Talk about powerful conflict! In addition, his sense of duty (to save the town, as he promised early in the play) is driving him to his inevitable downfall. Besides that sense of duty, though, he finds out he was adopted by Polybus and Merope in Corinth. So part of the power of the conflict is his obsession to find out exactly who he is. Ironically, he does.
In short, these sources of conflict rage through the play.
In the conflict between Oedipus and the gods, and Oedipus against himself, his children and the town are caught in the middle, suffering the consequences of actions they did not take--or did they? Who didn't hunt for Lauis' killer? Who put Oedipus on the throne? Who sought the marriage of Oedipus and Jocasta to solidify the royal power? Those now-suffering townspeople. Is anyone blameless in Oedipus's fate?
Other People's Reflections on Oedipus
* If you can identify this production and the cast shown, please notify me so that I can give proper credit or link to this Web photo: email@example.com
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