The Oedipus Plays

by: Sophocles


Creon spends more time onstage in these three plays than any other character except the Chorus. His presence is so constant and his words so crucial to many parts of the plays that he cannot be dismissed as simply the bureaucratic fool he sometimes seems to be. Rather, he represents the very real power of human law and of the human need for an orderly, stable society. When we first see Creon in Oedipus the King, Creon is shown to be separate from the citizens of Thebes. He tells Oedipus that he has brought news from the oracle and suggests that Oedipus hear it inside. Creon has the secretive, businesslike air of a politician, which stands in sharp contrast to Oedipus, who tells him to speak out in front of everybody. While Oedipus insists on hearing Creon’s news in public and builds his power as a political leader by espousing a rhetoric of openness, Creon is a master of manipulation. While Oedipus is intent on saying what he means and on hearing the truth—even when Jocasta begs and pleads with him not to—Creon is happy to dissemble and equivocate.

At lines 651–690, Creon argues that he has no desire to usurp Oedipus as king because he, Jocasta, and Oedipus rule the kingdom with equal power—Oedipus is merely the king in name. This argument may seem convincing, partly because at this moment in the play we are disposed to be sympathetic toward Creon, since Oedipus has just ordered Creon’s banishment. In response to Oedipus’s hotheaded foolishness, Creon sounds like the voice of reason. Only in the final scene of Oedipus the King, when Creon’s short lines demonstrate his eagerness to exile Oedipus and separate him from his children, do we see that the title of king is what Creon desires above all.

Creon is at his most dissembling in Oedipus at Colonus, where he once again needs something from Oedipus. His honey-tongued speeches to Oedipus and Theseus are made all the more ugly by his cowardly attempt to kidnap Antigone and Ismene. In Antigone, we at last see Creon comfortable in the place of power. Eteocles and Polynices, like their father, are dead, and Creon holds the same unquestioned supremacy that Oedipus once held. Of course, once Creon achieves the stability and power that he sought and Oedipus possessed, he begins to echo Oedipus’s mistakes. Creon denounces Tiresias, for example (1144–1180), obviously echoing Oedipus’s denunciation in Oedipus the King (366–507). And, of course, Creon’s penitent wailings in the final lines of Antigone echo those of Oedipus at the end of Oedipus the King. What can perhaps most be said most in favor of Creon is that in his final lines he also begins to sound like Antigone, waiting for whatever new disaster fate will bring him. He cries out that he is “nothing,” “no one,” but it is his suffering that makes him seem human in the end.

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