Michael J. O’Brien in the Introduction to Twentieth Century Interpretations of Oedipus Rex, maintains that there is “a good deal of evidence to support this view” that the fifth century playwright was the “educator of his people” and a “teacher”. Sophocles in his tragedy, Oedipus Rex, teaches about “morally desirable attitudes and behavior,” (4) and uses three women to help convey these principles of living. This essay will explore the role of women in the drama, the attitude toward women therein, the involvement of women in plot development, and other aspects of women in Oedipus Rex.
At the outset of Oedipus Rex no female characters are present; the reader sees a king who comes to the door full of curiosity: “Explain your mood and purport. Is it dread /Of ill that moves you or a boon ye crave?” When the priest has responded that the people are despairing from the effects of the plague, the king shows sympathy for his subjects: “Ye sicken all, well wot I, yet my pain, /How great soever yours, outtops it all.” Thomas Van Nortwick in Oedipus: The Meaning of a Masculine Life : “We see already the supreme self-confidence and ease of command in Oedipus. . . . exudes a godlike mastery in the eyes of his subjects. . . .”(21-22); such “godlike mastery” will be his undoing. The critic Ehrenberg warns that it “may lead to ‘hubris’” (74-75). Throughout the drama Sophocles draws out an ongoing contrast between the “godlike mastery” of the king and the softer, more balanced and selfless characteristics of Jocasta, his wife. She is a foil to Oedipus. Shortly thereafter Creon, Jocasta’s brother, is returning from the Delphic oracle with the fateful words of the god’s command: “...
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...ichael J. O’Brien. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968.
Segal, Charles Paul. “Sophocles’ Praise of Man and the Conflicts of the Antigone.” In Sophocles: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Thomas Woodard. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1966.
Sophocles. Oedipus Rex. Transl. by F. Storr. no pag.
“Sophocles” In Literature of the Western World, edited by Brian Wilkie and James Hurt. NewYork: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1984.
Van Nortwick, Thomas. Oedipus: The Meaning of a Masculine Life. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1998.
Watling, E. F.. Introduction. In Sophocles: The Theban Plays, translated by E. F. Watling. New York: Penguin Books, 1974.
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