This dramatic female monologue comes from Oedipus the King, Sophocles’ most famous tragedy.
Context: Queen Jocasta is one of Greek mythology’s most ill=fated characters. First, she and her husband learn that their child is destined to kill his father and marry his mother. So, they leave the child out in the wilderness to die. Little does Jocasta know, the child is saved by a kindly herdsman. Baby Oedipus is adopted by a King and Queen from another city state.
Oedipus grows up and learns of a prophecy wherein he commits patricide and incest. He quickly leaves town to avoid that terrible fate. While traveling to Thebes, he is almost run over by the chariot of an arrogant king (Oedipus’ biological father). They fight and Oedipus slays the king. (For some reason, no one ever finds out that Oedipus does this).
Oedipus saves Thebes from a monstrous Sphinx and becomes the new king. He weds the older but still beautiful Queen Jocasta. That’s right, he marries his mother! That’s the great thing about Greek Mythology. It’s the original Jerry Springer Show... except with more monsters.
That was perhaps a long introduction for a rather brief monologue. Here, Jocasta tries to ease the fears of her husband/son. Many Freudian scholars have paid particular attention to this short dramatic monologue:
Why should a mortal man, the sport of chance,
With no assured foreknowledge, be afraid?
Best live a careless life from hand to mouth.
This wedlock with thy mother fear not thou.
How oft it chances that in dreams a man
Has wed his mother! He who least regards
Such brainsick fantasies lives most at ease.
Character Interpretation: This is before Jocasta and Oedipus come to realize the disturbing truth. Moments before her monologue, a messenger has announced the death of Oedipus’ supposed father. Jocasta believes this means that the oracle was false. Of course, in the following scene the Queen is proven very wrong!