The aim of this essay is to discuss
the themes of Free will and Fate within Medea and Oedipus the King. Free will,
a noun meaning “…the apparent human
ability to make choices that are not externally determined.”(Collins
dictionary 2017) Fate, also a noun meaning “The
development of events outside a person’s control, regarded as predetermined by
a supernatural power.” (English, Oxford dictionary 2017) Within the plays these
themes are crucial due to the fact that they allow understanding of both central
characters which influence and control both protagonists throughout. The
argument of Free will in Medea, and Fate within Oedipus the King will be argued
for, taking into account Euripides, Sophocles and the socio-historic elements.

It can be said that Medea has Free
will throughout the play. Firstly, we begin to understand Medea’s circumstance;
her husband, Jason, has committed adultery and her family has been
metaphorically taken away as Jason’s new wife Glauce is daughter to King Creon,
and Medea’s family have lost their status. She states “I spit on him. I’ll see him die, him and that girl- I’ll see
them in pieces on the floor.” (Euripides 2014) From this we can understand
that Medea has set her mind on revenge and is willing to act upon it. We learn
that her choices, if acted upon will have a gruesome affect. At this stage we
can suspect an irrational behaviour due to Jason’s neglect as a husband. But
this idea is crushed however; “My own
brother cut to bits-for this?” (Euripides 2014) It is understood that Medea
is capable of murder as she previously murdered her brother. Her killer
instincts are evident and that she has the ability to not only kill, but to
murder blood for her personal gain, in this case, personal satisfaction. Medea’s
dastardly scheme is precise and clear “…a
golden crown. Soon as such pretties touch her flesh, she dies, and all who
touch her die as well.” (Euripides 2014)  It is evident Medea has chosen her ways of
revenge, and they are successful.

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 Medea then chooses a gruesome manor to conduct
her will even further. The revenge she seeks reflects the nature of her character,
as the acts are specifically chosen to inflict the most pain and destruction on
her husband. “Eyes rolling, blood sucked
from her face, she fell to the ground in agony.”  (Euripides 2014) We can see that Medea’s actions
and plans are successful and that her will is effectively carried out; to Jason-
and the surrounding people who happen to fall part of Medea’s bloodshed, displaying
the power she possesses as a women.

On the other hand, it can be viewed
that Medea is forced into her situation due to her circumstances, without any
influence and ultimately as the victim.
“Now my lady is lost.”, “My lord turns traitor: betrays his children, plays
Medea false”, “Medea’s out. Stripped of her place” (Euripides 2014) We can
see that Medea has been neglected by her husband, taking away her life, now
leaving her without station, or position. She confesses “My lovely life is lost, I want to die. He was everything to me” (Euripides
2014) Medea’s love for Jason states that she is the victim within the play and that
her acts of revenge, are just; and can be seen as her only option of survival,
due to her husband’s actions out of her control, and therefore has no free will.

It can be said that Euripides did not
intend for Medea to be viewed as a victim, but a women with an agenda of
vengeance. A woman who skilfully planned and plotted against her former
husband, and their children which highlights the importance of free will. In
Ancient Greece men were to be seen as the dominant figure in society and in
marriage. Marriage for position of place was seen in a positive manor. “To marry the Kings daughter? I call it
luck!” (Euripides 2014) Jason’s desire to obtain a higher position in
society and power was only natural for a male in that era, only thinking of
himself. He states “you think I tired of
you, I lusted for younger flesh. You’re wrong. I don’t want her;” (Euripides
2014) Jason’s confession, highlights that he does not truthfully love his new
bride, but the marriage is a way of progression only, due to his new brides
royal position. This makes Medea’s actions more horrific to deny the male of a
royal position. A modern audience’s perception may view her to be a victim – but
the view of the past sees women who commit vengeful acts against a man who is
advancing in society for the goodness of his childrenJ1 , to be criminal. The illegality of
past society and the male dominated audience aware of the capability of women
when neglected, just never acted upon or made the women aware these events
could take place.

A strong viewpoint is that Oedipus is
controlled by fate alone. The external forces of religion and the supernatural,
in the forms of oracles and prophecies control his life throughout this
tragedy. Firstly, a prophecy dictates that Oedipus’ father should abandon his
royal son. Secondly, also controlling Oedipus to leave his adoptive home after
he hears, that he would kill his father and have an incestuous relationship
with his mother, highlighting the power of prophecy. This informs his choice of
leaving, proving the high dominance of religion, fate and supernatural. The
Oracle and the Prophet Teiresias are significant figures within society, having
a higher knowledge of the Gods. Creon states “It was bloodshed, the oracle says, that whipped up this storm that is
destroying us.” (Sophocles 2013)Teiresias states “You are the unclean thing: The dirt that breads disease.” (Sophocles
2013) The prophecy refers to the incestuous marriage, in which are listened too
by Creon, Oedipus and members of high society. Highlighting that Fate, through
religion dominates all. When Oedipus understands the events, his realisation
leads to his self-punishment and exile “Apollo
the God, His power determined my agony!” (Sophocles 2013) his action is a
reaction to what has happened, his solution to his life at the mercy of the

On the other hand Oedipus can be seen
to have free will. He is ultimately a King, an intelligent man and an effective
public communicator. He is able to reassure and tackle issues, this is seen
before Oedipus becomes king, when he eliminates the threat of the Sphinx by
solving the riddle. Is this due to his intellect? Or is it fate at work,
controlling the course of events? As a ruler he dictates and uses his power for
the greater good of the nation. He states “we’ll
shine a fresh light into every corner of the whole dark and musty business. I
am determined” (Sophocles 2013) He uses his power as King throughout, as he
attempts to find the truth and he uses aggressive authority to do this “If you won’t speak willingly, you’ll be
forced to speak.” (Sophocles 2013). This highlights that Oedipus obtains
the information he wants by force, choosing to ignore all pleas of silence. He
is acting for the goodness of his people and we can see he has control over his
situations. However, the theme of religion can be denied as the Oracle of
Apollo and the Prophet Teiresias are people prone to mistakes, not understanding
the Gods will fully. Jocasta states “No
one can forecast the future. I know what I am talking about, from personal
experience.” (Sophocles 2013) But
this is wrong as Laius was in fact killed by his son Oedipus as the prophecy
foretold showing high power and fate.

In the time of Sophocles, religion was
a highly dominant factor in the vast majority of lives. This can aid the
argument that Oedipus was controlled by fate throughout due to the relationship
of religion in the lives of the audience at the time. “In ancient Greece the
viewing of a tragedy or comedy was not only a form of entertainment and
education but also a religious standpoint” (Sophocles 2013) Oedipus was
presented to audiences at the theatre of Dionysus, during the festival, “Dionysus, god of fertility, wine and
theatre” (Sophocles 2013)
ultimately showing that religion held a significant place within society, and
the religious conflict and control that Oedipus presents would have had a great
effect on audience members. This further indicates that Sophocles stresses the
importance religion in the form of fate on his characters to express the
importance of religious conformity and structure.

Overall it can be viewed that Medea
has free will and Oedipus is controlled by fate. This can be seen as a valid
argument due to the running themes of religion and politics in the time period
which had great influence on the lives of the audience and the authors writing.
These features control the characters as the original writers intended, only
modern perceptions of the characters, alter opinions due to contemporary

her children

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