As the blinded Oedipus curses his fate, what purpose does the chorus serve in speaking with the tragic king?
In Oedipus the King, Sophocles utilizes the chorus to function as the embodiment of the reasoning process. Throughout the play, the chorus’ personality gradually evolves as information pertaining to Oedipus becomes disclosed. The progression of the chorus’ personality can be divided into three distinct stages: supportive and reliant on Oedipus, uncertain about the circumstances presented against Oedipus and commiserating with Oedipus’ fall. In each stage, the chorus serves a background to all interactions and provides the perspective Sophocles wishes the audience to adopt. The chorus also creates a sense of unity and cohesiveness which pervades the entire play. The chorus’ evolving personality reflects the progressive revelation of Oedipus’ tragic fate. At the beginning of the play, the chorus’ personality is unaffected by Oedipus’ fate and shows full confidence in his abilities as a leader.
As a result of Oedipus’ rash temperament, the chorus often finds itself in a position where it must defend his actions. Eg Oedipus grows suspicious of Creon and speaks ill of him to Teiresias, the chorus protectively reasons to Creon that “it was a sudden gust of anger that forced that insult from him, and no judgement (pg. 32 line 525)
But Oedipus’ rash manner and the presentation of incriminating information finally result in the altering of the chorus’ stance.
The feeling of uncertainty grows as the chorus, lacking confidence in Oedipus says, “God grant that now, too, you may prove a fortunate guide for us (pg. 41 line 695).” The chorus’ personality evolves over the duration of the argument with Creon and eventually the chorus realizes the tragic fate of Oedipus.
The final stage of the chorus’ personality progression revolves around the downfall of Oedipus due to his fate. In this stage, the chorus exposes the notion that the welfare of the state is all that truly matters. The chorus now views Oedipus with pity and states “I weep for you and cry a dirge of lamentation pg.65 line 1216).” The chorus which once praised and worshiped Oedipus, now looks down upon him in grief. The last lines on the play summarize the entire evolution of the chorus’ personality, they say, “You that live in my ancestral Thebes, behold this Oedipus,- him who knew the famous riddles and was a man most masterful; ……. Count no mortal happy till he has passed the final limit of his life secure from pain.” These lines characterize the three stages of the chorus’ progression and reflect the tragic fate of Oedipus.