Ans. Appearance and reality or illusion and truth is an important theme in King Oedipus. Karl Reinhardt, in his article “Oedipus Tyrannus: Appearance and Truth”, says, “It might indeed have been noticed that of all its choral odes not one sings of a fate, a common enough subject elsewhere, but that one ode, in a prominent place, sings of human appearance:
For who among men, who
Seizes more of happiness
than the appearance of it, only to fall
When that appearance has scarcely been won?”
Illusion or appearance means any misleading deceptive or puzzling stimulus or the experience that it generates. Illusions can be broadly of two types — perceptual and conceptual illusions. Perceptual illusions can again be of several categories — sensory, auditory and tactile. Conceptual illusions are otherwise called cognitive illusions. The theory of reality is one of philosophical dimension. Reality means, in the simplest terms, what exists, apart from, or independent of what is being perceived. For example, mirage in a desert. The sun’s hot rays falling on the sands of desert produce conditions in air which give the illusive appearance of a sheet of water. Here the reality is heat in the air, but the illusion is the sheet of water.
In King Oedipus, the matter of illusion and reality plays the most important role. From the beginning till the time towards the end of the drama, everything seems to be illusive, to be covered in darkness, in mystery, so much that everything appears to be what it is not, or-in other words, everything appears not as what it is but as what it is not. As Shakespeare’s Macbeth, being deeply influenced by the predictions of the witches, says:
Shakes so my single state of man
That function is smother’d in surmise,
And nothing is but what is not.
In the very beginning of the drama, we find Oedipus comes out of his palace, and sees all kinds of people supplicating him to save the city from the curse of the devastating plague. A little later Creon comes up with the message that the oracle has revealed the cause ‘of the plague — Thebes is defiled because the murderer of the former King Laius has not been punished so far. The killer must be apprehended and killed or banished to assuage the wrath of the gods. Oedipus pledges himself to find and punish the murder. Here he is under an illusion; he himself is the murderer in reality but different circumstances have cast a veil over the fact, and he cannot see what he is.
Then, when Teiresias is consulted, he at first refuses to state the real fact. He hesitates. Then Oedipus suspects that he is in conspiracy with Creon, trying to dethrone him. Here Oedipus is again under an illusion.
When Jocasta interferes with the quarrel between Oedipus and Creon, her brother over the matter of prophecy made by Teiresias, she remarks that prophecies are not to be believed because they have been found to be false, as in the case of Laius being murdered. It w prophesied that he would be murdered by his son, but that did n happen — Laius was killed by some bandits. When the news of the death of Polybus comes, Jocasta again waxes exuberant over the falsity of the divinations of the oracle which said that Polybus would be killed by his son Oedipus. But she sees the whole thing wrongly, under illusion. The reality is that Oedipus is not the son of Polybus, and Polybus’s death has nothing to do with the prophecies of the oracle.
The main substance of the drama is the exploration of truth; it is a voyage through illusions and an ultimate realisation of the truth — Oedipus is the son of Laius, and he killed his father and married his- mother. So the prophecies prove to be true.
The theme of illusion and truth or appearance and reality is thus found to play a vital role in King Oedipus.