The Plays “Antigone” and “Oedipus the King” are among the most interesting of plays by Sophocles. The thematic elements of the two p0lays offer a plethora of insight into Greek tragedy which is interesting and illuminating. The three most important elements that I found to be most important in the reading the two plays are the power of unwritten law, the limits of free will, and the willingness to ignore the truth. These three elements are the most significant aspects that drive the motivations and influence the plots of the two plays.
Halfway through “Antigone”, the Chorus comes onto the scene to declare the tragedy. The speech of the chorus offers insights on the nature of tragedy. Just like in Oedipus the King, tragedy is portrayed as being something of perfection. It is a thing that will not be thrown off course having been set on an automatic course from the beginning of time. The Chorus asserts that tragedy is not a circumstance which could be influenced by human action as it will come to realization regardless of attempts at intervention as tried by Oedipus and his parents. The efforts of the character in attempting to avoid fate are only an aspect of suspense while the fate machine grinds onto its destiny. Tragedy is differentiated from melodrama in being free of dialogues, plot compilations and melodramatic stock characters. The inevitability of the genre in spite of the tragic end lends an aura of tranquility due to its inevitability. It also acts in preserving the innocence of the characters as all their actions are perceived from the background of fate rather than independent action and freewill. While Creon will later on I the play come to accuse Antigone of portraying him as a villain, in her melodrama, the bigger picture is more concerned with fate rather than melodrama.
The relationship between Oedipus and Jocasta is an important part in trying to get an understanding of the aspect of truth. When the truth on Laius’s murder is closer to being revealed to Oedipus and Jocasta in “Oedipus the King”, Oedipus clings onto a detail he believes will absolve him of any blame in the murder. The two characters come up with all manner of theories to explain the murder. Jocasta asserts that Laius was killed by strangers even as she has no evidence to back this up. Oedipus on the other hand is more culpable having once killed a man in a similar scenario. The actions of Oedipus in seeking the truth about the murder are thus brought into question by his actions. Jocasta and Oedipus behavior in taking the servant’s words as irrefutable truth is preposterous. The two characters are not ready to accept the consequences of the testimony of the servant being wrong. The fact that Jocasta feels no qualms in telling Oedipus of the ancient prophecy of a son killing his father, and the fact of Oedipus recounting a similar prophecy given to him by the oracle is a significant element that needs to be analyzed carefully. It is interesting that neither character remarked on the coincidence of the two prophecies. It is also remarkable that Oedipus never made any connection between the aspects of the child’s bound ankles to his own swollen feet. The details in the speeches are aimed at bringing out the tragic irony inherent in the two prophecies. It is also an emphasis on the desperation of Jocasta and Oedipus in turning a blind eye to the truth inherent in the circumstances of daily life that have been presented to them.
Prophecy is a central aspect of “Oedipus the King” and “Antigone”. The oracle at Delphi has said that the banishment of the man who killed Laius will be the only thing that will appease the gods into lifting the plague. In “Antigone” there is a prophecy by Chorus on the ultimate destiny of Antigone. Oedipus in his youth had had a prophecy from the oracle asserting that he would commit such a crime. He goes on to confide in Jocasta who also had a similar prophecy uttered at the birth of Oedipus. The debate on the merits and probability of the two prophecies happening is an act of desperation as they to characters know it is inevitable. I would seem that Sophocles is interested in proclaiming the limits of freewill against the power of the gods and fate.
During this time the prophecies and declaration of the oracle had come to be deemed of lesser importance. It is important to acknowledge that Sophocles audience were knowledgeable on the Oedipus prophecy and thus the ending of the story would be quite predictable. It may not be fair to accuse Oedipus or Antigone of being foolish or blind given that their destinies and actions were governed by fate. The characters seem intent on fleeing their fate but their flight just seems to catch up with them wherever they go. While it may be argued that Oedipus like many Greek heroes has a tragic flaw, it seems hard to pinpoint his tragic flaw. I would perhaps believe that Sophocles intended to portray in “Oedipus the King” and In “Antigone “that error and disaster are things which may happen to anyone. Fate and the gods guide human action and determine human destiny. The aspect of destiny while such an important part of Greek tragedy are more clearly brought up and defined in “Antigone” and “Oedipus the King” relative to other Greek tragedies.