How does Oedipus treat those who are reluctant to obey him throughout the play and what does this tell about Oedipus character?

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readerofbooks eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a great question, because Oedipus' interaction with people says much about his character and consequently this tragic flaw. First, it is important to note that his negative interaction with people grows gradually throughout the play. At first he is simply a good and responsible leader, who wants to help his people during a massive and destructive plague.

Second, we are able to see his interaction with people best in his treatment of his wife/mother, Jocasta. Even when Jocasta tells him repeatedly to stop his inquiry, he does not even consider it. Even when she begs, he is completely insistent. In this sense, he is proud and his pride drives the movement of the play to a tragic end.

We also see a harsher side of Oedipus as well when he talks with the shepherd who saved him as a baby. When the shepherd is hesitant to talk, he threatens him with torture.

One final example should suffice to show Oedipus's odd blindness. When he hears that Polybus, the king of Corinth is dead, who he believes is his father, he is filled with happiness. He even says, "Polybus / packs [all the prophecies] off to sleep with him in hell!" All of this shows that people matter little to Oedipus.

These vignettes show that Oedipus for all his great qualities possesshubris, which is his tragic flaw. In a word, his pride is great and knows no bounds.


favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Oedipus mistreats the blind prophet, Tiresias, when Tiresias refuses to tell Oedipus what he knows. Despite the fact that the residents of Thebes believe Tiresias to be "god-inspired"—the god Apollo was most associated with the gift of prophecy—Oedipus begins to mistreat the old man almost immediately. Tiresias asks Oedipus to let him leave this place and go home, saying, "'twere best / That thou shouldst bear thy burden and I mine," and Oedipus essentially says that Tiresias is not a true Theban patriot. Oedipus becomes enraged as Tiresias continues to refuse to answer his questions. Tiresias insists that Oedipus does not really want to know what he knows, and so Oedipus insults him. Eventually, Oedipus decides that perhaps Tiresias will not speak openly because he actually planned the murder of the former king (and Oedipus's father), Laius.

This is further evidence of Oedipus's terrible pride. Though he called the prophet to him, he cannot accept that Tiresias might know better than he; further, though the old man's gift is "god-inspired," Oedipus continues to insist that he knows best. Better than a god. If that is not pride, then what is?

thetall eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Oedipus is a man quick to anger whenever people challenge him. A deeper analysis of his character also shows that his weakness is pride. Thus, Oedipus takes any challenge as an attack on his pride, and his only response is to lash out in anger.

When Tiresias holds back the truth despite Oedipus asking him to reveal all that he knows, Oedipus turns against Tiresias and lashes out at him. However, Tiresias knows that if he obeys Oedipus and tells him the truth, his action would harm him. Oedipus forces Tiresias to tell the truth, but when he learns of it, he starts insulting Tiresias and suggests that he is conspiring with Creon.

TIRESIAS: I cause no pain for you or myself. Why do you vainly seek this? For you can learn nothing from me.

OEDIPUS: You worst of wicked men! You would anger a stone! Will you reveal nothing, but instead show yourself unmovable and impractical?

Oedipus’s pride blinds him to the truth and facts that he encounters. He attacks and falsely accuses Creon and forces him out of the city.

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Oedipus Rex

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