When I first read Oedipus the King, one character stood out for me the most. For the greater part of the play, Jocasta’s brother Kreon seemed like an unassuming bystander to the unfolding action of the story, appearing mostly to be of occasional use to Oedipus. Pious and level-headed, Kreon tries to solve problems rationally, or with recourse to the gods. He seemed to be just another member of the sad, dysfunctional family. I would often ask myself, what purpose does he have to the story?
Early in the play, Teiresias reveals to Oedipus that the king himself is the killer he is looking for. Not taking the accusation lightly, Oedipus’ first reaction is to convict Kreon of being the killer, and a threat to his throne. Kreon uses his strong sense of reason to convince Oedipus’ that he does not desire to be King. He says: “Consider it rationally, as I have. Reflect: What man, what sane man, would prefer a king’s power with all its dangers and anxieties, when he could enjoy the same power, without its cares, and sleep in peace each night?” ( p. 49 )
After their exchange, it seemed to me that there was not much evil to Kreon. His reply convinced even me. However, it foreshadows that Kreon ultimately fills Oedipus’ shoes, and without the reluctance we would assume he had according to this quote. Is Kreon trying to deceive Oedipus? What are his true intentions? At the end of the play there is evidence that Kreon has resented Oedipus’ power, long before the true identity of the false king was revealed. Oedipus pleads with Kreon, “Drive me out of Thebes, do it now, now – drive me someplace where no man can speak to me, where no man can see me anymore.” To which Kreon replies, “Believe me, Oedipus, I would have done it long ago. But I refuse to act until I know precisely what the god desires.” ( p. 89-90 )
This response of Kreon’s not only reveals his ulterior motives, but also calls back to his piety, or his unwillingness to act without god’s aid. I find it interesting how his strong faith is holding him back from his desires. In the process of banishing Oedipus, we catch a glimpse of Kreon’s power-hungry side, which is fully explored later, in Antigone. Oedipus begs, “No. You will not take my daughters, I forbid it.” Kreon’s rejects his plea, saying “You forbid me? You have no power any more. All the great power you once had is gone, gone forever.” ( p. 93-94 )
In short, Kreon really surprised me as a character in an otherwise predictable tale. What first appeared to be an innocent brother-in-law, ( and uncle, sadly ) ends up taking the throne and exiling Oedipus to, in a way, save Thebes.