Oedipus Rex as Social Commentary
Oedipus Rex, written by the Poet Sophocles in the Golden Age of Greek Theatre, was described by Aristotle to be the greatest tragedy of all time. It encapsulates the very essence of the Greek cultural milieu, and it is these ideologies which are translated into the play. The very essence of Greek society; the political democracy, a moral belief in the power of the Gods and social recognition of hierarchy, are portrayed when the society is pictured in a state of chaos.
The Ancient Greeks formulated what they believed to be a true democracy. Everyone was to have a say in the political scene, every man had a vote and no one should be disadvantaged. At the same time, however, the society was very much a patriarchal one. Power resided with the male; the leader, the logical and strong enforcer. Women, viewed as emotionally erratic, illogical and weak, were marginalised. Men were given the most noble of duties surrounding the glory of war; women were faced with trying to raise a household.
This conflict is clearly portrayed in the text. In the opening scene all are equal. Servants, peasants and royals alike proclaim, "We are your suppliants." All have an equal interest in the state of Thebes and the actions Oedipus must take. After this, however, the females of Thebes are represented in the characterization of Jocasta. It is here that the chorus, the most important element of Greek tragedy, comes to the fore. As the Theban elders they portray the views of the greater society. Jocasta's actions characterize her as the stereotypical female. By ordering the death of her son, blaspheming the Gods and eventually killing herself, she shows the essential perceived frailty of w...
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...ssenger must talk to Oedipus through Jocasta. Eventually, Oedipus shows his respect that that this order exists by imploring him to 'tell me yourself!'
A play represents society. By upsetting the societal order, the basic fundamentals of the societal group can be examined. In the case of Oedipus Rex, Sophocles portrays the basics of the Ancient Greek culture, the culture which existed in his time. He exposes a patriarchal society, one attempting to come to grips with democracy while at the mercy of the Gods. The social hierarchy is respect but forced to crumble, while the Gods rule it absolutely. All of this is exposed through the underlying conventions, mainly the chorus, dramatic action, dialogue, characterization and methods of social construction. It forms an in-depth exposition of the group and its formation of the beliefs and values.
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