Study Guide

Oedipus the King Fate and Free Will

By Sophocles

Fate and Free Will

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People hear "Oedipus" and think "Ew. Incest!" when really they should be thinking "Ah, yes. The tension between individual action and fate."

Not that we can blame people (except Freud)—incest is pretty insane and the whole individual action vs. fate is kind of played out... even by the time the first staging of Oedipus the King occurred.

While free choices, such as Oedipus’s decision to pursue knowledge of his identity, are significant, fate is responsible for Oedipus’s incest and many of the other most critical and devastating events of the play. Sophocles is suggesting that characters cannot be fully responsible for their actions... which is a pretty major statement.

Questions About Fate and Free Will

  1. Do some characters seem to control their fates more than others? If so, how do they do it?
  2. Discuss Oedipus’s understanding of his own destiny. How does this change throughout the course of this play?
  3. How does Oedipus’s fate impact the fates of other members of his family?
  4. Do you think Oedipus would have fulfilled the prophecy of killing his father and sleeping with his mother if his parents hadn't tried to kill him as an infant?

Chew on This

Once he is able to recognize his destiny, Oedipus is better able to influence his own life.

Oedipus is not limited by fate; he's limited by the knowledge of his fate.