Free Study Guide for Oedipus the King by Sophocles|
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The setting of the play is also presented in the Prologue. In Oedipus Rex, the city of Thebes acts as the background for the action. The desolate and the devastated city, which is in the grip of a deadly plague, is described as a ship which is:
“Storm - tossed, and can no longer raise its head Above the waves and angry surge of death.”
This description of the city foreshadows the turmoil that will soon take over Oedipus as he begins to investigate who killed Laius. The mood of the play is set up when Thebes is also compared with Hades, the kingdom of dead. Thus, in the prologue itself, death, destruction and devastation as the leitmotif of the play are presented to the reader as well as suffering which both Oedipus feels for his people’s torments.
Another important aspect brought to light in the Prologue is an insight into the character of the play’s protagonist, Oedipus. Although he is highly intelligent, Oedipus carries the seeds of his destruction within himself. Character flaws, a necessary ingredient for the tragic hero, are termed as ‘hamartia.’ In the case of Oedipus, his impulsiveness, explosive temper and arrogance form his character flaws and act as an agent to his tragic downfall. Also, his intelligence and obsession with solving riddles such as who murdered Laius results ironically in the discovery of himself as the murderer. Therefore, his ‘hamartia’ which is revealed in the prologue when he publicly swears to find and punish Laius’ murderer later assists his tragic fall as he lacks the prudence to wait and see who the murderer is.
It is interesting to note that the identity of the actual murderer of the former king, Laius has not yet been ascertained. The explanation offered is that during the time of the assassination, Thebes had been in the midst of another crisis: that of the Sphinx. Therefore the people and everyone concerned had been too occupied to investigate.
One finds that Oedipus is portrayed as a responsible king. The readers learn that he had previously saved his kingdom from the torture of the Sphinx (after which he had been crowned) and now he is completely absorbed in finding the public criminal. He is determined to punish him severely as soon as he will be discovered, as indeed he does later in the play. Without any delay, he has already dispatched Creon for the oracle in order to find a solution to the problem.
The Prologue ends with the opening Choral ode, also called the Parodos. In this Parodos, a prayer is being sent to Apollo, Athena, Atriums, Zeus and Bacchus, asking them to rescue Thebes and drive Laius’ murderer out of it. In general, the Parodos expresses the general opinion of the citizens of Thebes. This section also marks a passage of time. While the audience sees Oedipus asking the citizens to assemble, the following section records the moment when they have already assembled to listen to the king.
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TheBestNotes.com Staff. "TheBestNotes on Oedipus Rex/Oedipus the King".
. 09 May 2017