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Antigone and Oedipus Rex are both tragic plays by Sophocles. In many ways, these plays are similar to one another as tragedies. For one, they are part of the same set of texts by Sophocles. Antigone is the first installment in the series of three plays. Oedipus the King (Oedipus Rex) is the second of the trilogy. Second, the title characters in the plays are related, as Antigone is the daughter of Oedipus. Therefore, they share the same fate due to their common blood. The outcome of the Antigone play has an influence on Oedipus and vice-versa. In addition to the continuity of characters and events between Antigone and Oedipus the King, there are thematic similarities between the two plays. One of the themes that is shared in common between Antigone and Oedipux Rex is that of fate vs. free will. In both these plays, fate strangles the main characters and prevents the full expression of their free wills. Free will is shown to be contrary to one's greater good, too. The will of the gods will always be stronger than the will of human beings, Sophocles suggests in both Antigone and Oedipus Rex. Another theme that is shared in common between Antigone and Oedipus Rex is the difference between human laws and divine laws. Both of these plays distinguish between these two types of laws. How the characters obey and disobey divine vs. human laws becomes very important to the respective outcomes of Antigone and Oedipus Rex.
Although Sophocles wrote Antigone before he wrote Oedipus the King, the events in Antigone actually happen after the events that take place in Oedipus the King. Telling the story of the Oedipus family out of chronological order has a profound impact on the reader. Sophocles knows that his viewing audience was already familiar with the stories of Oedipus and Antigone, so it was not like he was giving a "spoiler" when telling the story of Antigone first. After all, the Chorus in Antigone introduces the title character by mentioning the bad luck of her father. When the chorus states, "O hapless, and child of hapless sire,-Of Oedipus!" The audience is reminded of the fact that Oedipus killed his father and married his mother (Sophocles, Antigone). Antigone is Oedipus's daughter, suggesting that the ill fate of the father is passed down to his children.
Fate vs. free will is one of the most prevailing themes in both Antigone and Oedipus the King. In both Oedipus the King and Antigone, the title characters have their fate established for them by the gods, or preordained. The gods have determined that Oedipus will kill his father and marry his mother, thereby causing a great tragedy of events. The Oracle of Delphi is the one who first points this fate out to Oedipus. Tiresias the blind prophet is the second to remind Oedipus of his fate, which he chose to ignore. Tiresias states, "And of the children, inmates of his home, / He shall be proved the brother and the sire, / Of her who bare him son and husband both, / Co-partner, and assassin of his sire," (Sophocles, Oedipus Rex).
Interestingly, Tiresias the blind prophet tells Oedipus that he is "blind of seeing," (Sophocles, Oedipus Rex). By this, Tiresias means that Oedipus is blind to the truth. Oedipus is symbolically blind, whereas Tiresias is physically blind. In the end of the play, however, Oedipus is truly blind. Oedipus creates a self-fulfilling prophesy by gouging out his own eyes. He makes himself blind, fulfilling the initial prophesy of the oracle. This is ironic because Oedipus uses his own free will in order to do what the gods have fated him to do.
The truth that the Oracle and Tiresias have delivered, about Oedipus killing his father and marrying his mother, is too painful for the king to stomach. It makes sense that the King would rebel against his terrible fate and ignore what the oracle and Tiresias tell him. Unfortunately, Oedipus cannot do anything about his fate. He had a chance to change his fate, but he refused to listen to the Oracle. Sophocles seems to suggest that a person does have the opportunity to use free will to change one's fate, but that it takes a tremendous amount of personal strength. In fact, it might not be possible for Oedipus at all. The Chorus in Oedipus Rex states that the gods despise the Lycean King and call him "The god whom gods abhor." Oedipus is in many ways more a victim of his own fate, or of the god's ill will toward him, than Antigone. Antigone does not have the chance to change her fate like Oedipus does. Antigone never visited the Oracle of Delphi and never had a conversation with the blind Prophet. She does not know the outcome of her fate, which is completely different from Oedipus. Oedipus knows the truth but does not listen to it, and therefore his free will is wasted. Antigone knows the truth about what is best for her brother, and therefore her free will is not wasted. It is highly unlikely that Antigone would have acted differently if she knew that her burying her brother would lead to her own death. She was determined to do what was right, and sacrificed her life for truth and justice.
Like Oedipus, Antigone is also beholden to live out her fate. The Chorus in Antigone describes her as being destined to die, not least because she is the daughter of the unlucky Oedipus. Antigone is also a victim of the fate that Creon imposes on her. Creon's ill will toward Antigone because she disobeyed him makes Antigone a victim of both the will of the gods and the will of humans. As King, Oedipus has slightly more control over what other people do to him, but he has no control over what the gods have willed for him. Oedipus also uses his free will in a less intelligent way than Antigone does. Antigone uses her free will to do what is good, right, and just. She does not do anything evil. Instead, she tries to combat evil by burying her brother. Creon was acting in an evil way by decrying that Antigone's brother not be allowed to have a religious burial. Antigone knew this was a terrible thing to do, and something that went against the will of the gods. For Antigone, it was more important to use her free will to defy the king than it was to use her free will to sit back and do nothing like her sister Ismene did. Therefore, Antigone uses her free will in wiser ways than Oedipus uses his. Oedipus uses his free will to fulfill the terrible prophesies of his birth. Tiresias warns him that neither of the characters enjoys a happy ending, and both end up dead because it was fated that way.
The second most important theme shared by Antigone and Oedipus the King is the difference between human laws and divine laws. This theme is linked together with the theme of fate vs. free will. In Antigone, human laws are portrayed as being subservient to divine laws. Antigone is a wise character, because she is aware that divine laws are more important to obey than human laws are. She uses her free will to enact the will of the gods, which is something that her nemesis Creon does not do. Creon is paralleled with Oedipus. Both are kings. Both get advice from the blind prophet Tiresias. Yet both Creon and Oedipus also disobey the will of the gods. Unlike Oedipus the King, Creon does actually listen to Tiresias, but by the time he hears the news, it is too late. The wheels of fate have been set in motion and they cannot be stopped by the puny wills of humans.
In Oedipus the King, the theme of human law and divine law is not as prominent as it is in Antigone. However, the theme of divine law itself is very important in Oedipus the King. The king is in control of the laws of the land. By definition, the king is entrusted with setting and overseeing all laws.
In spite of being in control of human laws, Oedipus has no control over the divine laws. His counterpart, Creon, is in a similar position. In Antigone, Creon is in control of human laws and sets them. However, he sets some laws in opposition to divine laws. When he sets the law against the burial of Polyneices, he angers the gods and incurs the wrath of the gods. Oedipus also angers the gods, by disobeying and ignoring the messenger of the gods at Delphi. Both kings in Oedipus Rex and Antigone are portrayed as being powerful enough to change fate, but too blind to reap this opportunity. Oedipus has the opportunity to obey divine law, but he is too arrogant. He believes that he is in control of his own fate,…[continue]
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