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Oedipus Essay Questions

  • 1

    Oedipus remains in the dark. Do you agree?

    This question asks you to consider the importance of dark and light, and therefore perhaps also sight, in the play. Think metaphorically (i.e. 'in the dark' - unknowing) but also literally (Oedipus' blinding at the end of the play).

  • 2

    Oedipus is old before his time. Do you agree?

    This question asks you to consider question of youth and age in Oedipus - though the action of the play happens in a single day, how might Oedipus be considered old? You might also want to think about fathers and children and the impact generation has on age.

  • 3

    This play happens backward. Do you agree?

    This question asks you to consider the structure of the play. Look at the section on 'Myth' and consider the way Sophocles alters the story to turn it into a drama. What does Oedipus know at the start of the play? What does he know at the end? What events actually occur during the play - or have all the events happened before it begins?

  • 4

    How might a consideration of the conditions of Greek theatrical performance impact upon our understanding of Oedipus Rex?

    This question asks you to consider the importance of the Greek theatrical conventions (particularly masks) that would have originally been employed when Oedipus was performed. Think practically - there were no electric lights, no recorded music, and perhaps even no props. How might this change your interpretation of the play? (See 'About Greek Theater' for more information).

  • 5

    Is Oedipus Rex a private or a public play?

    This question asks you to consider the relationship between public and private (or between oikos/polis) in the play. What is the outcome for Thebes? What is the outcome for Oedipus? Is Oedipus to be considered as a father/son/brother or simply as the king of Thebes?

  • 6

    Might Oedipus be more than one man?

    This question asks you to consider the play's central inconsistency as potentially one of its themes. The Thebans have heard that Laius was killed by more than one man; in fact, Oedipus alone committed the murder. Think of Oedipus' various roles in the play - king/brother/father/son - and consider whether the conflict of the play might be a conflict between the one and the many.

  • 7

    Do you agree that Oedipus' tragedy happens because of a 'tragic flaw'?

    This question asks you to consider that Oedipus' tragedy happens because of a tragic flaw - an opinion that many critics would strongly disagree with. Why do the events of the play happen? Whose fault is it - if anyone's? See Oedipus and Aristotle for more information about the idea of tragic flaws.

  • 8

    "The old seer had eyes" (Oedipus the King, 748). Discuss ideas of sight and blindness in the play.

    As well as thinking literally about blindness in Oedipus (Teiresias, in particular) consider the relationship between knowledge and sight. Does Oedipus have any insight into things - can he, perhaps, see better without his eyes?

  • 9

    "I stumbled when I saw" (Gloucester, in Shakespeare's King Lear). Compare Oedipus Rex to any other play of your choice.

    This question invites you to compare Oedipus to any other play. You might want to think about themes, about characters, or what you consider to be the ultimate lesson of the play - just remember to keep comparing: write about both plays at once, not one and then the other. See Useful Comparison Points for some good ideas.

  • 10

    How does Oedipus come to embody the riddle of the Sphinx?

    This question requires you to make a connection between the Sphinx riddle's answer - 'man' - and Oedipus' fate. Oedipus, as a consequence of seeking the answer to his kingdom's plague, manages to go through the three stages of the Sphinx's riddle. He is the baby with pierced ankles, crawling on four feet to escape a messenger who would kill him. Then he is the proud adult, king of Thebes, walking on two feet. And finally he is the old, blinded man, walking with a cane, cast out of his own kingdom.

  • Essay Topic 1

    Discuss dramatic irony in OEDIPUS THE KING.

    1) How does the fact that the audience knows the story of Oedipus affect the way the writer tells the story? How could the story be told differently, if the audience were unfamiliar with it?

    2) How does dramatic irony affect the audience's perception of Oedipus? Is the audience more or less sympathetic toward Oedipus? Why or why not? How does the audience perceive Oedipus' quarrels with Teiresias and Creon?

    3) How does dramatic irony affect the audience's perception of Jocasta?

    Essay Topic 2

    Discuss free will and predestination in OEDIPUS THE KING.

    1) Is Oedipus predestined to his fate, or does he have free will? Are these two ideas completely incompatible?

    2) Can Oedipus be held responsible for his actions, if his fate is predestined?

    3) How does predestination affect the position of a ruler? Are all the joys and woes that befall the ruler's...

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