Oedipus and the Tragedy of a Common Man

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Every scene, every piece of dialogue and, of course, the entire plot itself, is brought about because of this character’s decision to disobey his queen.


Well before the play begins, a shepherd takes pity on a baby and instead of letting him die delivers him to safety in another kingdom. Rather than any tragic flaw that can be attributed to Oedipus, the tragic consequences that take place within the play—including Oedipus’ killing of his father, marrying his mother and bringing a plague upon Thebes—are directly attributable to the decision made by the shepherd to not allow Oedipus to die as a baby.
The shepherd makes the decision to spare the life of the baby Oedipus, and while it is easy to make the assumption that his intentions were good, his later behavior raises questions about his veracity. While there is no textual evidence to support the argument that the shepherd intended the bad consequences of his decision, there is room to question whether the shepherd was acting entirely out of altruism. The shepherd confesses to Oedipus that he knew of the prophecy of the Oracle that the baby would grow up to kill his father and later admits it because of pity that he didn’t follow the orders given him to let the baby die. Unless he is lying, therefore, there is no room for doubt that the intent of the shepherd in allowing Oedipus to live was good. Unfortunately, however, the character of the shepherd can eventually be called into question and doubts do arise as to whether he can be trusted. After all, he lied to Jocasta about letting the child die. And even though he knew the true identity of Oedipus all along, he said nothing. In fact, he steadfastly refuses to tell all he knows until he is threatened. ...
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