Oedipus Rex

Oedipus Rex, a famous tragedy written by Sophocles, demonstrates the intersection between free will and destiny in Greek culture. Will of the gods and prophecies are major parts of ancient Greek mythology, but the power of individuals themselves changing their own destinies becomes an interesting topic for readers and Classicists. In Oedipus Rex, Tiresias prophesizes that Oedipus will grow up to kill his father and marry his mother; thus, his biological parents (King Laôs of Thebes and Iocaste)  leave him to die in the mountains out of fear. However, Oedipus survives and is brought up by his adoptive parents (King Polybus of Corinth and Merope). Without knowing his true identity, Oedipus finds out the prophecy and leaves Corinth, thinking he could protect his parents. Despite Oedipus’ efforts, he ends up killing an old man (who turns out to be Laôs) out of anger and marries the widowed Queen of Thebes (Iocaste). Here, we see a denial of fate and arrogance deceiving oneself to counter God’s plan, but without success in changing destiny. But if we consider Oedipus’ options, he could have stayed in Corinth and would simply have to control himself, or he could’ve just made sure not to kill any man or to marry any woman. In the end, it is his own decision to head towards strange city of Thebes, an unknown future. Overall in Oedipus Rex, Oedipus’s free will fulfills his destiny.

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Now consider another ancient Greek tale of the Seven Against Thebes. Seven warriors gather to overthrow the later-on King of Thebes (Eteocles) and were all prophesized to die except Tydeus. However, during war, Tydeus broke the law of war, dishonoring fallen warriors (despite being his enemies) by eating their brains to heal his own wounds. This extreme disrespect in Greek society leads Athena (Goddess of War) to refrain from her original plan to save him from his lethal wounds, causing his unpremeditated death. In this story, his own mistakes worsened his situation unexpectedly; Tydeus’s free will changed his destiny. The over-arching theme apparent in many Greek mythologies is how free will and destiny interconnect; there is no definite fate.

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Pride and Prejudice

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Jane Austen’s masterpiece, Pride and Prejudice, tells of unexpected love stories of persons despite initial biases. Knowing the general background of the book will allow for better understandings of the themes Austen writes about. This book was originally planned to be titled First Impressions, for throughout the entire book opinions on each character are developed and later on drastically contradicted. Austen remained unmarried her entire life; in fact, moving and living with family members from house to house. Her own experiences led her to write of the lack of women’s rights, the importance of marriage for women (of which she did not approve), and the unfairness of inheritance rights in that time period.

In fact, Jane Austen might have chosen to reveal part of her thoughts and ways of thinking through her name-sharing character, Jane Bennet (one of the main characters in the book). Miss Bennet proves to be one of the few characters in the book that remains neutral, agreed by most if not all (both the characters in the book and us as readers) to be a nice, rather innocent and pleasant young lady. A deep analysis can bring readers to realize, especially through close textual analysis of Miss Bennet’s letter to Jane regarding Miss Bingley, that she is not that simple; actually, she observes and judges all those around her, thus having a clear idea of the world around her, but chooses not to express her opinions on certain individuals or events due to her more reserved personality and her lack of need to speak negatively about people. Some debate that Miss Bennet seems fake, but I believe that she is real and honest in her beliefs; sometimes there can be sincerely good and positive people in this world despite their rarity. Nevertheless, Miss Bennet is considered overall as an unbiased background character who is a deep thinker inside, possibly reflecting Austen’s character of having great but controversial thoughts, which she conveys through her writings because she could not publicly express herself due to societal pressures of her time.

Another interesting character worth analyzing is Mr. Bennet, who proves to be an uncaring and ineffective man of the family. Playing the devil’s advocate, Mr. Bennet indeed possesses his own dependable judgment, and he values deep thinkers (hence why he prefers Elizabeth out of all his daughters). People believe he is immature and mean in mocking Mrs. Bennet on a regular basis, which does happen, but he only keeps on doing that because he knows Mrs. Bennet doesn’t understand his sarcasm and that she would not take it to heart. But, of course, his role as an inefficient parent cannot be disputed, and the underlying problem for his careless actions is pride: he does not care much for his wife and daughters because he looks down at them from a superior standpoint, additionally reflecting the title of the book.

Lastly, despite Elizabeth and Darcy being portrayed as the main protagonists, we should take a step back, clear our bias towards opponents of their marriage, and admit that this is an unfit marriage, in fact it is terrible for Darcy’s status. Lady Catherine’s warnings to Elizabeth in their conversation in the copse are true; Darcy’s reputation will suffer, his family members will not accept Elizabeth (at least for some time), and all these pressures will crash down on Elizabeth. The end of the book already reveals a bad start to their marriage with Lydia asking for money all the time, disclosing a direct burden the Bennet family has on Darcy.

Pride and Prejudice is a commonly required book for high school students, and I recommend this book for those who have not read it in English classes and who enjoy meaningful and interpretative writing because of the life lessons it teaches. To this day, Pride and Prejudice remains one of the most well-respected literary pieces propelling interesting discussion questions inside and outside the classroom.

 

The Tragedy of Macbeth

Macbeth, a famous play by William Shakespeare, tells the tragedy of a brave soldier named Macbeth who commits bloody murders to secure his position as the new king but becomes overwhelmed with guilt eventually leading to his downfall. This play was written under the reign of James I of England, otherwise known as James VI of Scotland; thus, Fleance was said to be a direct ancestor of King James. During that time, King James despised witches and discriminated against the Jews; his likes and dislikes are shown in Shakespeare’s play, indicating his respect for his king. The real 11th century Scottish King, Mac Bethad mac Findláich, who also employed deadly measures to fulfill desires, influenced the character of Macbeth. To this day, Macbeth provides numerous famous speech references as well as interesting discussion questions in our lives.

Lady Macbeth, a major proponent in convincing Macbeth to employ murderous plans and his partner in crime, proves to be an interesting character due to her un-feminine, bloodthirsty thoughts and actions. Shakespeare sets up a gender role switch between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth; Macbeth acts hesitant and scared, while Lady Macbeth plans decisively and fearlessly to kill King Duncan. She takes on the masculine role of being the leader of the family and directs Macbeth on how to handle certain situations. I believe that Shakespeare brings up this gender issue to attempt to blur the separation between men and women, because at that time in Europe, women and men were strictly attached to their stereotypes. Through Macbeth, Shakespeare introduces a new perspective by providing Lady Macbeth with the power to have control over her husband.

Macbeth’s renowned “tomorrow” soliloquy takes place after Lady Macbeth’s suicide and demonstrates ultimate despair and his surrender to fate. There are two main points we can infer from these lines: the bond of love and trust between Lady Macbeth and Macbeth grows weaker as accumulating guilt cause both of their mental and spiritual status to deteriorate and Macbeth’s years of reign are more exhausting than one can imagine. Macbeth could be showing regret for his previous decisions because he understands that he did not experience the happiness, honor, and trust a rightful king should receive, instead he gained hatred and shame, and caused chaos within his country.

To conclude, the over-arching theme/lesson can be related to the dangers of over-ambition. Macbeth’s deep dark ambitions for power lead him to kill King Duncan, Macduff’s family, and other innocent people, resulting in his guilt and isolation. Macbeth is a commonly required book for high school students, and I recommend this book for those who have not read it in English classes and who enjoy Shakespeare’s writings because of its shortness and interesting, yet tragic, story line.