Oedipus Rex – Characterization
This essay will illustrate the types of characters depicted in Sophocles’ tragic drama, Oedipus Rex, whether static or dynamic, flat or round, and whether protrayed through the showing or telling technique.
Seth Benardete in “Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus” portrays the protagonist in just one dimension of his well-rounded character, that of a suffering soul:
Everyone else is ill, but no one is as ill as Oedipus, for all the rest suffer individually, while he alone suffers collectively. He is a one like no other one. As ruler he is like the one that without being a number is the principle and measure of all numbers. Oedipus’ illness or disease is truly unequal to the citizens,’ for he is the source of theirs, but he regards himself as ill only because his grief is the sum of each partial grief. Oedipus always speaks for the city as a whole (109).
As protagonist, Oedipus is at the center of the story. The dialogue, action and motivation revolve about the characters in the story (Abrams 32-33). Werner Jaeger in “Sophocles’ Mastery of Character Development” pays the dramatist Sophocles the very highest compliment with regard to character development:
The ineffaceable impression which Sophocles makes on us today and his imperishable position in the literature of the world are both due to his character-drawing. If we ask which of the men and women ofGreek tragedy have an independent life in the imagination apart from the stage and from the actual plot in which they appear, we must answer, ‘those created by Sophocles, above all others’ (36).
Surely it can be said of Sophocles’ main characters that they grow beyond the two dimensional aspect into really rounded physical presences. This is done through mostly the showing technique, though the chorus at times is involved in telling the audience various pieces of information. At the outset of Oedipus Rex the reader sees a king who comes to the door full of curiosity: “Explain your mood and purport. Is it dread /Of ill that moves you or a boon ye crave?” When the priest has responded that the people are despairing from the effects of the plague, the king shows another dimension to his character with his deep sympathy for his subjects: “Ye sicken all, well wot I, yet my pain, /How great soever yours, outtops it all.