In ‘Oedipus The King’ by Sophocles it has been well established over time that the protagonist, Oedipus is a fairly complicated character. His actions throughout the play show him as a man with great strength and knowledge, whilst also consuming paranoia and pride, which is ultimately his hamartia. Oedipus’ complex character is accentuated by highlighting his flaws. How did the author do this? He created a foil in the play in order to not only highlight Oedipus’ flaws, but also to vary the personality of his character in the eyes of the audience and readers throughout the course of the play.
There are multiple differences between Oedipus and Kreon, but do their characters really contrast with each other and complicate the plot? The conflicting personalities of the two disclose the plot and reveal the past and background of Oedipus. It is immediately made clear that Oedipus is impatient and proud of his achievements in wit and knowledge. In contrast, Kreon is much more modest, focused and calm. There are several incidents throughout the course of the play where this is highlighted by Sophocles. In the first scene of the play itself, their differences are easily noticed. When Kreon returns from Delphi, he replies to Oedipus’ questions diplomatically, knowing fully well the boundaries established, in order to reveal information in front of the citizens of Thebes. He keeps the answers short “His words are hopeful” “All we need is luck” (Sophocles. 27), along with his request to speak with Oedipus “privately” (Sophocles, 27) which shows Kreon as a moderate and level headed person. Oedipus is shown quite the opposite, ruling with his emotions as he states“I grieve for them, for their sorrow and loss far more than I grieve for myself” (Sophocles, 27) This portrays Oedipus, in two lights, one where he is shown as an actual leader who believes that the citizens of his kingdom should be aware of the reasons of the trouble that they are being faced with and cares for his citizens sharing their “sorrow” (Sophocles, 27). Whereas, the other interpretation of his actions would be that he is a ruler who is unfit to sit on the throne of Thebes, he is too trusting of all his people and doesn’t know how to differentiate between the boundaries of privacy of state and his emotions that can ovewhelm him while he ruled the city of Thebes.
Oedipus’ urgency is clearly highlighted in the scene where he jumps to conclusions because of his anger. In the scene after his quarrel with Tiresias, Oedipus accuses Kreon of treason and treachary when he asks Tiresias “Are these your own lies, prophet- or Kreons?” (Sophocles, 41) Kreons reactions to Oedipus’ accusations are extremely important because it contrasts the thought processes of the two. Whilst Oedipus acts without thinking, is rash, rude and stubborn in his opinions of Kreon, calling him a “murderer” (Sophocles, 47)in a fit of rage, “You’re the bandit, you’re the killer.” (Sophocles, 47), Kreons answers are well thought out and sensible, like a memorized speech “I have come to face those charges, I resent them bitterly”, “His accusations pierce me, wound me mortally” (Sophocles, 46). These quotations show the contrast between the thought processes of the two, not only in the actions that they take but how they conduct themselves in public. Kreon’s calm nature is such that would assure the audiences to believe him and take his word, as he manages to reveal just enough emotion while still displaying logic. Kreon manages to attract the audience and his readers to his plea, making them believe him over Oedipus despite their endless loyalty towards him. In this argument between Oedipus and Kreon, Kreon shows great respect in his language towards Oedipus and also when Tiresias is mentioned.
He is confident because he knows that he is not in the wrong and is not ready to apologize for the actions he didn’t take. Kreon is shown to be a very clever man, his answers are not only well thought out but the dignity with which he portrays himself is such that Oedipus could never obtain. This is made clear when Kreon states “I don’t know. And when I don’t know, I don’t speak” (Sophocles, 49). This quotation shows that he holds his moral dignity to utmost regard. He is shown to think and speak extremely rationally in retaliation to Oedipus’ accusations. This is made specifically clear when he delivers a speech to Oedipus infront of the citizens of Thebes. In his speech he makes a clear and “sane” argument about how he has “no hunger” for the power of a king and how it isn’t “royal power” he wants but “It’s advantages” (Sophocles, 49 and 50). His words have the ability to attract the audience and readers through his modest argument claiming that he had all the advantages of the king without the stress and worries of one because he was a man who “knows his moral limits and accepts them” (Sophocles, 50) In contrast to Kreon, Oedipus’ brashness, at times, would seriously frighten the audiences and make them pity him.
He is impatient, concludes and accuses Kreon without any evidence and seems to only work on his own beliefs. Through this conflict, in contrast to Kreon, Oedipus is stubborn and extremely excited. According to the punctuations used by Sophocles, he uses more exclamation marks in Oedipus’ dialogues with which it is assumed that he is screaming “Thrones are won with money and men, you fool!” (Sophocles, 47) Through this argument between the two, it is made clear that unlike Kreon, who has the ability to be accused and still not act rashly, Oedipus’ ego is severly hurt in the process. He believes that he is above the rest and assumes that Kreon and Tiresias think he is “Cowardly or stupid” (Sophocles, 47) Due to his hurt ego, he often steps down to sarcasm towards Kreon and Tiresias, for instance when Oedipus remarks “Then why didn’t our wonderful prophet, our Theban wizard denounce me as the murderer then?” (Sophocles, 49) Oedipus becomes competitive, showing not only is he accusing without evidence, but that he is also insecure about his throne, despite all the pride he shows on the exterior unlike Kreon, who feels secure in his ability to share the power without the responsibility. Oedipus actually takes pride in being the man who holds the responsibilities for the citizens of Thebes.
These incidents clearly show multiple instances where Kreon can be and is established as a foil to Oedipus. Kreon unquestionably complicates the character of Oedipus, by not only being the man who puts the pieces together throughout the play but also sets the dominoes falling. He is one character in this play who manages to create the conflict as well as initiates the action of the play. He is the one who ultimately leads Oedipus to walk into the trap of his own prophecy, through his subtlty, modesty and composure. Oedipus’ character is also complicated due to his overly emotional personality when dealing with a crisis situation, unlike Kreon who knows the difference between state and personal affairs. Oedipus is not only a complicated character because of his obvious fate but also because of his emotions. His restlessness in order to convict Kreon of crimes he did not commit shows that Oedipus has trouble facing the cold and hard truth, along with several other incidences throughout the play. Oedipus’ lack of faith in the gods, in contrast to Kreon’s undying faith, shows that Kreon was more reasonable of the two. This was an era in which gods were reverred. Kreon believed and respected the wishes of the gods and believed the prophecies made by Tiresias whereas Oedipus ridiculed them.
Despite the complication of Oedipus’ character, it is still questionable if he would still be as complicated if it weren’t for Kreon. Through this play, it is very often noted that if Sophocles hadn’t used Kreon as a foil, the actions that take place with Oedipus such as the truth about his birth parents being revealed would seem rather bland as his emotions wouldn’t be as effective as they are because of Kreons lack of the same. In addition, if it weren’t for Kreon, the plot would never have moved forward. Sophocles created Kreon, specifically as a foil to contrast the differences of two rulers and what these rulers’ decisions could do to the society they governed. He complicated the plot by using Oedipus as the ‘perfect’ ruler in the start only to bring him down later to set contrast. That being said, this play would not have had the effect it does if it weren’t for the complication of the plot that was added along with the complication of character through the use of Kreon.