How is the play, Oedipus Rex still significant in the 21st century?
The play is relevant from a literary, historical, and human standpoint. First, it is--according to Aristotle--the perfect tragedy in terms of plot structure and character development. Its use of dramatic irony and sudden movement from "peripeteia" to "anagnorisis" to "catastrophe" are all exemplified in Elizabethan and modern tragedy, from Hamlet to Death of a Salesman.
From a humanistic standpoint, the play deals with eternal themes and flaws that plague great men and women today: spiritual/moral blindness, hubris, stubborn pursuit of one's goals. The play raises questions that transcend time: do we really know our past? Our own families? Do we control our lives, or does fate? Is it better to know the truth or to live in ignorant bliss? These questions lead us to look inward--at our greatest fears--and outward--at those we love most. Great men and women in our time would do well to read Oedipus and investigate their lives accordingly: a few senators come to mind.
Freud used Oedipus as a building block for his psychoanalysis. With its riddles and reversals, it is perhaps the most psychological play ever written. It helped spawn an entirely new way of reading texts: the psychoanalytic school of criticism, which focuses on the riddles of our childhoods, our dreams, our competition with same-sex parents, and our secret desires to, heaven forbid, repeat the mistakes from one generation to the next. To be sure, the play still haunts us; it is, according to Jung, part of our collective unconscious.
From a thematic point of view, Sophocles' work still holds some powerful and compelling ideas. The idea of choice is a highly relevant one as it seeks to strike at the heart of all human interaction. The issue of choice and, in particular, when it is in abundance and when it is not is of vital importance to Oedipus Rex, as well as all human beings. Seeking to understand freedom and choice as well as its parameters will always hold relevance to individuals. Along these lines, another thematic element that resonates to the modern setting is the notion of fate. The play does a stellar job in articulating the conflict between fate and freedom of will. In a world that stresses so much of the former, the latter seems to be equally present. This makes it completely acceptable and understandable by any student.