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The central concern in this Sophoclean play is how Oedipus, after his downfall as king of Thebes, finally becomes heroic in death. It is a play about the fallibility of humans and the possibility of their redemption. The play focuses on the stoic courage of the fallible Oedipus, who moves from being a social outcast to a noble and dignified hero in death. Like Tiresias, the soothsayer from Oedipus the King, Oedipus becomes prophetic in his blindness.
In this play, the dramatist shows how the essential innocence of Oedipus' crimes help him overcome the catastrophic turn of events and come to terms with the ruin of his earthly hopes. His ability to see his crimes as being beyond his control provides the chief motive in Oedipus At Colonus. Here he is absolved of the consequences of human error that even the finest of humans cannot avoid in their life.
While the focus of Oedipus At Colonus is on how the aging hero, Oedipus, faces death calmly and stoically, the play also deals with humans in their mystical relationship to the gods. Death is the final mystery in the long and complex journey of life. Hence, Oedipus's final journey to the afterlife is cloaked in secrecy.
Another important sub-theme is the reintegration or rehabilitation of an outcast like Oedipus, the blind and helpless wanderer. Although shunned by his own family, except by his daughters, and the people of Thebes for the terrible offenses of his past life as their king, he now finds acceptance among the citizens of Athens. Athens is seen here as the apogee of democracy and jurisprudence as Theseus, King of Athens, unconditionally allows Oedipus sanctuary in the grove at Colonus.
The master dramatic craftsman, Sophocles, skillfully weaves all these subordinate Themes into the texture of the play.
This rich and spiritually moving play is often regarded as Sophocles' farewell to the stage and to life. It was written when he was nearly ninety, and its Themes convey that the play is a kind of "swan-song" for both its creator and this great mythic figure, Oedipus. The mood is one of deep spiritual devotion as in an elegy or in the description of rituals sacred to ancient Greek religious practices.
A mood of reverent and affectionate nostalgia is created in the description of the natural landscape and sacred groves in the Athenian suburb of Colonus, where Sophocles spent a good part of his boyhood years. The play, however, is not without a more ominous mood of possible conflict and terror. In the middle of the drama, a mood of tense political conflict and imminent violence emerges as the two opposing parties caught in the vortex of the Theban civil war, represented by Creon and Polyneices, attempt to draw Oedipus into the chaotic affairs of their state. For a time, Oedipus is once again seen as a blustering and impetuous figure attempting to protect himself and his last bit of dignity. The play, however, ends on a note of mystery and mystical calm as Oedipus goes to the secret spot where he is transformed by death amid loud claps of thunder.