February 23rd, 2004

How to Read a Play

That's the name of an interesting book I am reading, by Ronald Hayman. Of course, if you have trouble reading this book, you should probably go read Mortimer Adler's classic, "How To Read A Book."

I came across a sentence in the book that reminded me of the "Is Shakespeare A Determinist or Fatalist or maybe a Pessimist?" question I was writing about recently. Well, maybe I just misquoted myself. But here is the quote from Hayman:

"The plot may demonstrate (as in *Oedipus*) that the gods destined the hero to do what he has done and to become what he is..."

The interesting thing is that Oedipus, although foredoomed by the gods (according to the chorus and most interpretations) is nonetheless a character of high will and self-determination. Susan McCloskey gave a brilliant talk on the character of Oedipus (in Sophocles' *Oedipus Rex*). She described him, quite accurately, as a paragon of the virtues of rationality and curiosity. So he is. And he chooses to continue investigating the mystery of what is plaguing Thebes. But all his choosing leads only to a horrible revelation in the face of which he plucks out his own eyes.

So, what are we to conclude? Did Sophocles believe in free will or fate? The answer, or course, is yes. People who believe in fate almost always believe in free will as well. Their dramas are often striking contrasts between the characters' attempts to make their free will work, and the various fatalistic obstacles which fall in their way.

After all, what kind of drama would you have if no one was trying to pursue their own goals? Not much of one. (

Think of the actors asking "What's my motivation?", and the director telling them "You're just a puppet of the forces that rule the world."

Yes, it is contradictory to believe in both free will and fate. But it is almost impossible not to believe in free will, since it is so much a part of our natural existence. You can't stop believing it at a basic level; what you can do is tell yourself that the belief is illusory... another trick of fate in effect.

Rhyme of the day:

I would hate
To be ruled by fate.