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Oedipus and the Tragedy of a Common Man - Essay Example

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Oedipus and the Tragedy of a Common Man

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. Philosophers have long debated the question of whether an intention can be rightly regarded as good if consequences are damaging. In the end, of course, intentions are meaningless to the consequences; like Oedipus' fate, there is no escaping the effects of anybody's intention. Still, Oedipus is a tragic hero and therefore his destiny is supposed to turn on his flaw. Whatever flaw Oedipus may possess, however, would not have brought about the tragedy surrounding him had not a certain shepherd disregarded his orders.
Which is not to say that Oedipus bears no responsibility for the tragic events that follow him, but even the effects of Oedipus' irresponsible behavior can be tied back to the decision of the shepherd. Oedipus is saved by Laius' shepherd, who hands him over to a shepherd from Corinth. Coincidentally, the king of Corinth was childless and adopted Oedipus as his own. The sudden appearance of a son to a childless couple was bound to be noticed and bound to cause gossip. And, indeed, the question of Oedipus' true parentage is raised before him. Not told of his true parentage, Oedipus is raised as a prince in Corinth. Once he finds out that he is destined to commit murder and incest, Oedipus makes the fateful decision to flee without further inquiry. If Oedipus truly does have a tragic flaw, it may very well be procrastination. While it is an exercise in futility to play the What If game, Oedipus and the people of Thebes could have avoided a substantial amount of trouble if he had either returned to Corinth to ask about his parentage, or if he had been quicker to act on his suspicions. Instead, Oedipus unwittingly kills his own father at the highly symbolic crossroads and thus sets in motion the inexorable events leading to even more tragedy and, finally, revelation.
Oedipus is the most obvious choice for laying the blame of his tragedy because of the misunderstanding surrounding the concept of the "tragic flaw" in ...Show more

Summary

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…
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Oedipus and the Tragedy of a Common Man essay example
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