Oedipus the Wreck
The following question sets were the questions originally asked at the Oedipus Forum, a discussion web at Litonline. The questions are interspersed throughout the summary pages at the beginning of this web, Oedipus the Wreck, as well as heading the archive pages showing the best answers from previous students (1998-2003). Most of these questions have been modified slightly at the Oedipus Forum, which was reconstituted for 2004. ALWAYS check the archive before attempting to finalize your own answer to any of these questions; each question heading is linked to the archive for that question.
Are the chorus
right about the gods and Oedipus? Does the chorus (townspeople) get anything
exactly right in the whole play? If they are not spokespersons for the
playwright, what kind of portrayal of human beings are they?
indications of Oedipus' selflessness and self-centeredness in his words, such as
in lines 58-59 vs. 61-64. To what extent is Oedipus acting as a savior, for the
benefit of his people, in this play, and to what extent is he acting on his own
behalf? Consider his reasons for fleeing Corinth and Delphi, his accusations
against Creon, his reasons for wanting to talk to the survivor of the attack on
Laius and other actions he has taken in his life.
Note the details of the plague in the Priest's description of it (lines 22-57), which uses some powerful poetic imagery. State these lines in plain English; then, once you see what he's saying, tell your reaction to these lines. Do you feel disgusted by them, intrigued or curious, horrified, amused--what? and why?
What sources of conflict or jealousy might there have been between Creon and Oedipus before this day? How do you think Creon felt about Oedipus' getting the throne after Laius was reported dead (he would have been next in line for the throne after Laius, wouldn't he)? Oedipus apparently trusted him enough to send him to Delphi; does Oedipus accuse Creon of not reporting the gods' message accurately or just of trying to take advantage of it to get Oedipus ousted? How does Creon seem to feel about becoming king at the end of the play?
Oedipus was born a prince, raised to be a king. What does this play tell us about the nature of leadership and the qualities of a great leader? Does Oedipus possess the sort of concern for downtrodden that Princess Diana Windsor tried to instill in her sons, or is he the sort of king who is more concerned with outer image than the substance of his rule? Does Oedipus have a "messiah complex," or is he justifiably taking on the role of savior of Thebes?
Irony and coincidence also influence our view of Oedipus as a tragic protagonist. To what extent is Oedipus a fool of the gods, and to what extent is he free to choose his own way? In other words, do the gods simply know what Oedipus will do in a given situation because they know human nature, or do they actually manipulate events beyond likelihood and mere coincidence? Mention several incidents or decision points for Oedipus in your answer.
Is Jocasta actually willing to live in incest with her son as long as the information isn't public? Since it was Jocasta, according to the herdsman in the next scene, who actually gave the baby to him and commanded him to abandon it on the mountainside, does Jocasta kill herself because she can't face Oedipus or because she can't face the public shame of their incest?
Which seems to bother the chorus (elders of Thebes) more--the killing of the king or the incest? To answer, review "stasimon 1"--the chorus' response to Oedipus and Tiresias making accusations against each other. That is, constrast how the chorus feels about incest in lines 1335-1345 vs. how they feel about the assassin of Laius in lines 527-549.
Check the last
statements of the chorus and of Creon to see if they tell the theme of this
tragedy. Is this a story of personal tragedy? Is it a religious story,
justifying the gods?
Consider how you
would film this play--or how Hollywood might. Given today's special effects, the
hanging and the blinding could be staged directly and would not have to be
simply reported by a horrified messenger. How much of Oedipus' life would you
tell? Would you flashback to the birth, the exchange at Mount Cithaeron, any of
his life at Corinth, his visit to Delphi, the fight where three roads meet, his
confrontation with the Sphinx, accepting the throne of Thebes, his life with
Jocasta, the plague, the investigation?
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