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English 112 (English Composition II)
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Oedipus the Wreck

Is Oedipus a True Leader? Gwent Young People's Theater production in Abergavenny Castle

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 the 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?

Not Above the Decree(Anonymous, 2000): "Yes he is. A leader is supposed to take on responsibility for his people, and despite his pride and high temper, he was a good king/leader. He did not put himself above his people in the end and judged himself and perhaps punished himself more harshly than he should have."

Oedipus, the Politician: In 1998, Danielle Mauldin suggested that Oedipus's hyperbole (exaggeration) for the collective suffering of Thebes was not ego so much as casting himself as leader of the city, as was sending Creon to the oracle to seek a remedy for the plague:  "Although Oedipus occasionally shows signs of selfishness, I think that Oedipus played the role of a typical politician. I think that he tried to fit in and sympathize with the people, but when things did not go his way and threatened him, he tried his best to protect himself. Oedipus does care for himself, who would not? This is typical human behavior. In lines 61-64, Oedipus tells his townspeople that their pain can not match the pain that he has felt because he has also felt the pain for the town and all the people inside. Some could say that Oedipus was trying to imply that his feelings were more important or that he only cared for himself. But I feel that Oedipus was just trying to play the role of a typical politician. He was trying to be empathetic with the people.

"Oedipus then tried to show the people he was making an effort to help by calling in Tiresias, the prophet, and sending Creon to find a cure. When Creon returns with an answer that would exile Oedipus, Oedipus tries to protect himself and accuses Creon of treason. When the Choragos [leader of the chorus] agrees with Creon and Oedipus sees no way out, Oedipus requests exile and leaves the city behind. Throughout the play, Oedipus plays the role of a leader and a politician, whether or not he is truly concerned no one will know. When things seem impossible, Oedipus would rather resign and leave rather than face his past and the people."

Not the Stature or Behavior of a Leader--But Doesn't He, in Fact, Save the City Again?  Ruth Kabel (1998) saw Oedipus as vacillating: "Oedipus seems to flip-flop between worrying about his subjects and coming to grips with his own problems. At the beginning he appears to sympathize with the desperate situation his kingdom is faced with, as soon as something else comes up about him, he has forgotten the others. That is probably human nature but not necessarily the characteristics of a great leader. As the people's leader isn't he supposed to rise above everyone else and be the leader of his subjects? Your last remark is right on, he seemed to totally forget about the problems in the land, caused by himself, and internalize the situation. Is it possible that by exiling himself he was hoping the curse would be gone because he was gone?"

Too Aloof: Todd Lurker (Northern Virginia CC, 1998) saw the opening speech full of attitude and implicit accusation that Oedipus was too separate from his people to credit the problem: "From the selection of feelings to choose from, I'd have to pick "intrigued," but the plague seems typical as plagues go. Everyone is touched by it, although, it affects some only indirectly. Obviously there are healthy people left to live out the story. A hopelessness in the priest's voice seems as much to do with his turning to the king as a remedy for the terrible situation the city is in. There is also some antagonism as well as a heck-let's-try-anything sound to his approach. The people may have thought the healthy king unconcerned for their plight. Perhaps they had built up their courage over time to approach the king. The priest introduces his description of the plague to Oedipus by telling him, "Your own eyes must tell you..." Do the people suspect their king aloof? It seems so because the priest is directing his king to take a gander if he has not done so already.

The priest describes the plague to give us a feeling of how desperate times are. The symptoms are not important to the story. It could as well have been pox, dementia, or a famine alone as long as lots of citizens are dying. To show how the priest is taking a shot in the dark to find salvation from ruin, he explains how the king, being no more divine than any of the citizenry, got a Providential break in defeating a supernatural creature which was routinely killing the Thebans. Now he wants Oedipus, "A king of wisdom who acted in the past," to take a shot at ending the city's misery. Throughout the description of the plague, the priest uses the imperative to beseech Oedipus some saving grace for Thebes. The people seem at the end of their rope in supplicating to this king if they are ordering him to save them. They must have held little affection for this king."

Oedipus Wasn't Diana: Laura Whitehead (1998) provides some interesting images that could form back-story for a film: "Oedipus was taught how to rule from childhood. He was taught to be strong and authoritative. He was an admired and respected King for ten years. When it came to true compassion, though, he did not display the type that Princess Diana taught her sons. The closest he got to his people were when they came begging to him for help. Even then, all he did was tell them how much he felt for them, although I doubt he had even seen first hand what they were going through, having heard everything from his servants. I doubt you would see him traveling through the town to assure the suffering people that he truly cared."

Born to Rule: Andy Torge asserted (1999) that Oedipus was a true leader: "I believe Oedipus was a true leader. He was born a prince in Thebes. Then later he was rasied as one in Corinth. He possessed all of the qualities of being a good leader. Thebes was prosperous. Even when bad times fell on Thebes, he sent people to the oracles to find out why."

The Wrong Stuff:  Kevin K. of Glasgow University (1999) sees several lacks in Oedipus: "Oedipus is not a true leader for several reasons. Firstly, his temperament is wrong for a man in his position. He kills his own father (granted without knowing), but it is his stubborn pride and inner rage that drives him to do this. Secondly he is power driven.....it is always MY Thebes and MY city, without loyal subjects a city is nothing but bricks and mortar. In addition to this he is paranoid (accusing Creon of plotting against him), arrogant (in that he dismisses Tiresias as a fraud) and totally ineffective as a leader. Even after he learns the truth about his past he gouges out his own eyes...why? Because he does not want to look upon the gaze of his children, but will allow them to see their father in a bloody, distressed state. The[se are the] actions of a selfish, unthinking man who has all the wrong characteristics to make a good, wise ruler."

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