Oedipus the King: Reason and Passion

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Oedipus the King:  Reason and Passion


In the play, Oedipus the King, there are dual parts of reason and

passion.  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

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     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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