Suggested Essay Topics
Oedipus the King, Lines 1 – 525
1. The gods are a strong presence in this play, invoked by many characters for many reasons. Discuss the role the gods play in human life—as healers, as bearers of prophecy, as beings that must be appeased and as forces shaping fate and destiny.
2. The underlying theme of this play is the question of free will and how human beings shape their own lives. Do you believe that we are destined to fulfill some role already scripted for us? Do you believe that you are free to shape your own life? Do you believe that human actions can have effects and consequences that are only known much later?
Oedipus the King, Lines 526 – 1,165
1. The Chorus says that its faith in the gods will be shattered unless the prophecies it has heard come true. This seems to be a rather extreme statement. Discuss.
2. Jocasta’s plea to Oedipus asking him to stop the search for the shepherd can be looked at in many ways. She is trying to protect herself and her family, but she is also attempting to block fate by diverting Oedipus from a search that could lead to disaster for him, herself and their city. What would you do in her situation?
3. The Messenger comes thinking that he is delivering a simple piece of news, and unwittingly sets in motion the fall of the House of Oedipus. Write a diary entry for that day from his point of view.
Oedipus the King, Lines 1,166 – 1,680
1. It takes a great effort by Oedipus to discover the truth about his life. He had to ask the Messenger from Corinth a lot of questions, and he had to send for the old Shepherd. Before the Shepherd even arrives, Jocasta figures out the truth, and promptly takes her own life. Could a less curious and less driven man have avoided the chain of events that led to the fatal revelations? If Oedipus had been less curious and less driven, would the prophecy have worked itself out another way?
2. The Chorus changes its attitude toward Oedipus and Jocasta more than once. Discuss these attitude changes and how they mesh or conflict with what seems to be genuine sorrow expressed by the Chorus over the fall of the royal family at the end of the play.
3. The King and Queen of Corinth, Polybus and Merope, raised Oedipus as their natural son and never told him he was a foundling, saved from death by starvation on a barren hillside. How much responsibility do they bear for the tragedies of their adopted son’s life?
Oedipus at Colonus, Lines 1 – 524
1. By reacting to Oedipus in several different ways in this first section of the play, the Chorus reveals some ageless truths about human nature. So does the Citizen who first discovers the strangers in the sacred grove. Discuss how fear, indecision, awe and pity mix in these characters’ reactions, and discuss how they act on their feelings.
2. Ismene brings amazing news. Oedipus, in death, will have the power to crush the foes of his final protectors along with his own enemies. It seems as if the gods have finally decided to do something good for him after fashioning an earlier destiny of unremitting pain. What kind of a bargain is it really? Is the power of revenge an even exchange for a life wrecked by grief? Is revenge worth that much? Discuss.
3. What emotional changes does Oedipus undergo in this section. Why?
Oedipus at Colonus, Lines 525 – 1,192
1. Theseus is portrayed as a kind, just and generous king who defends the honor of his kingdom when he tells Creon that assaults...
(The entire section is 1484 words.)