Based on Sophocles' Oedipus Rex and Shakespeare's Macbeth depicting supernatural elements affecting humans, controlling behavior, and causing evil, does our culture allow every person to determine...

Based on Sophocles' Oedipus Rex and Shakespeare's Macbeth depicting supernatural elements affecting humans, controlling behavior, and causing evil, does our culture allow every person to determine his/her own destiny through free will, or do social, hereditary, and economic forces affect a person's destiny?

Also, based on Aldous Huxley's Brave New World depicting the World State's use of science to predestine human outcomes and social stability as much as possible, does our culture allow every person to determine his own destiny through free will, or do social, hereditary, and economic forces affect a person's destiny?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In both Sophocles' Oedipus Rex and Shakespeare's Macbeth, it's very clear that supernatural elements, such as gods and witches, are a driving and controlling force; however, both authors also make it perfectly clear that, while these forces are catalysts, the characters make their own decisions that lead to their own demises.


An underlying theme in Oedipus Rex is predestination. The gods predetermine a person's life and that person lives out the life that was planned for him/her, even if it means sinning against the gods, and there is no way to escape it. King Laius attempted to kill baby Oedipus because it was prophesied that Oedipus would one day kill his own father and marry his own mother. However, the servant responsible for killing the baby actually spared the baby, and Oedipus was raised as an adopted child by King Polybus and Queen Merope in Corinth. All seems to be well until someone accuses Oedipus of not being Polybus's true son. This news drives Oedipus to consult the oracle at Delphi. The oracle would not confirm who his true father was but instead relayed the same prophecy that he would murder his own father and sleep with his own mother. Coming out of Delphi, he encounters who later turns out to be his own father; his own father drives him off the road, and feeling angered from both the prophecy and the rudeness, Oedipus winds up striking out at his own father, killing him, as well as most of his father's traveling companions. But did Oedipus murder his own father simply because, as he said, Zeus "willed [him] to do [it]" (766)? It's very clear that Oedipus was guilty of having a very hot, fiery temper, as well as of being arrogant and stubborn. Hence, Sophocles ultimately wants to demonstrate that it was not the will of the gods which led Oedipus to commit his misdeeds; instead, it was Oedipus's own temper, stubbornness, and foolishness. Not only does the fact that Oedipus killed a man for merely driving him off the road testify to Oedipus's fiery temper, we further see evidence of Oedipus's foolish stubbornness in Tiresias's statements that Oedipus is blind to the things he has done, as we see in Tiresias's lines:

I say that you secretly have lived most foully
with those who should be most dear, nor do you see
to what extent of evil you have come. (385-86)

Since being foolish and stubborn can lead to being completely unaware of any wrongdoing, we see that Oedipus's blindness is a result of his foolishness and stubbornness, and it is ultimately these character traits that lead to his demise, not the will of Zeus.

We can similarly see that character flaws actually lead to Macbeth's demise as well, rather than the will of the Three Witches. The Three Witches prophesy that Macbeth will become king and evidently very much want to set Macbeth's downfall in motion; however, the fact that Macbeth both becomes king and is later killed actually stems from his and his wife's character flaws, not just from the witches' prophecy. Macbeth is driven by ambition, and Macbeth's wife is especially driven by ambition to the point of insanity. It is their ambitious natures that lead them to commit the murders they commit, ultimately leading to their downfalls; it was not predestination prophesied by the Three Witches that lead to their downfall.

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