Oedipus Rex by Sophocles
The Oedipus myth is one of the most recognized from Ancient Greece. Oedipus, though he didn’t know it when he did it, killed his father and married his mother. This was his fate, and the myth teaches that no matter what humans do, they can’t avoid their destiny. Sophocles’ play only deals with Oedipus finding out his true identity, which is how he learns that he killed his father. When the play starts, a plague is destroying Thebes, and Oedipus finds out from Apollo’s oracle at Delphi that the only way to end the plague is to find out who killed the previous king of Thebes. Oedipus is single-minded in his pursuit of the truth, and in the end, he finds out that the truth isn’t always the best policy.
Oedipus: King of Thebes, husband and son of Iocaste.
Creon: Iocaste’s brother, Oedipus’s brother-in-law and uncle.
Teiresias: The blind prophet who tells Oedipus in the beginning that he killed King Laios.
Iocaste: Queen of Thebes, wife and mother of Oedipus.
Shepherd: Tells Oedipus that he is Iocaste’s son.
Chorus: Theban elders.
Thebes suffers from a plague. Oedipus wants to end the plague, so he sends Creon to Apollo’s oracle at Delphi. Creon comes back and tells him that the oracle said that to end the plague, the murderer of Laios (who was king before Oedipus) must be found out and punished. Oedipus, the wisest mortal (he did solve the riddle of the Sphinx), decrees that the murderer will be found and punished. Oedipus finds out King Laios was murdered at some crossroads. Oedipus had killed some guy at some crossroads when he left Corinth. He left Corinth because he had been told it was his fate to kill his father. He didn’t want that so he left. So, he realized he probably was the guy who killed King Laios at some crossroads. Oedipus didn’t know it was his father though because he had been raised in Corinth. But, what happened was that King Laios had been told his son would kill him, so he sent his newborn son to be left on the side of a mountain to die. A shepherd saved him. The kid survived and was raised in Corinth. This kid was Oedipus of course. So, Oedipus finds this out and realizes out Laios was his father and he killed him and that he is married to his mother. His mother/wife hangs herself and then Oedipus stabs out his eyes. Then he says good bye to his daughters and leaves Thebes to roam around a lonely guy.
SCENE BY SCENE
- Most of the people of Thebes are hanging out on the steps of the palace.
- Oedipus comes out and asks them why they’re there.
- The Priest tells him that the people are suffering from a plague and want Oedipus to help them.
- Oedipus tells the Priest that he has sent Creon to Apollo’s oracle.
- Creon tells him that, to end the plague, the murderer of Laios must be found and expelled from Thebes.
- Creon then tells Oedipus how Laios was murdered by a highwayman (robber).
- Oedipus says he’ll find the killer.
The Chorus sings a song about how great the gods are and how bad life in Thebes is, what with the plague.
- Oedipus tells the Chorus not to worry, that he’ll find the killer and expel him from Thebes.
- The Chorus tells Oedipus that Teiresias can tell him who is the killer, because Teiresias is a prophet.
- Teiresias comes out and doesn’t want to tell Oedipus who the killer is.
- Oedipus accuses Teiresias of killing Laios.
- This pisses off Teiresias, so he tells Oedipus the truth, that Oedipus killed Laios.
- Oedipus gets pissed and accuses Teiresias of working for Creon.
- Teiresias tells off Oedipus and leaves.
The Chorus sings a song about how the killer can’t get away and how they don’t believe that Oedipus is the killer.
- Creon comes out and asks the Chorus if it’s true that Oedipus accused him of treason.
- The Chorus won’t answer, and Oedipus enters.
- Oedipus accuses Creon to his face, and they argue for a while.
- Creon gives a speech about why he wouldn’t plot against Oedipus, basically that he (Creon) has all the privileges of office without the responsibilities.
- Oedipus doesn’t listen and tells Creon that he will be put to death for treason.
- Iocaste enters and scolds the two men for arguing in public while Thebes is dying.
- Oedipus and Iocaste talk, and she tells him that Apollo’s oracle once prophesied that Laios’s son would kill him, but Laios put his son out on the mountainside to let him die.
- Iocaste tells Oedipus where Laios was killed.
- Oedipus starts to catch on that he killed Laios, and Iocaste tries to talk him out of it.
- Iocaste tells Oedipus that an old servant still lives who witnessed the murder.
- Oedipus tells how he is from Corinth, not Thebes, and how he once killed a man at a crossroad.
- Oedipus realizes that he killed Laios and that he must leave Thebes, since that’s the punishment he decided for the murderer.
- Oedipus decides to listen to the old servant, now a shepherd, to find out if he really did kill Laios.
The Chorus sings a song about how Pride will bring down men and how great the Gods are and especially Apollo’s oracle at Delphi.
- Iocaste makes an offering at an altar to Apollo.
- Messenger enters and asks for Oedipus, to tell him that Polybos (the king of Corinth and the man Oedipus thinks is his father) is dead.
- Oedipus hears that Polybos is dead and, since he thinks that the prophecy about him killing his dad is wrong, scoffs at the oracles of the gods.
- Messenger tries to get Oedipus to come back to Corinth.
- Oedipus says he’ll never go back because of the prophecy about him and his parents.
- Messenger tells Oedipus that Polybos wasn’t Oedipus’s dad.
- Oedipus doesn’t believe him, and Messenger tells him that an old shepherd saved him as a baby from a mountainside.
- Oedipus figures out that that shepherd is the same guy he’s already sent for.
- Iocaste urges Oedipus to forget the whole thing, because she’s started to catch on.
- Oedipus says to hell with the consequences, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead, i’m gonna find out the truth.
The Chorus sings a song about a mountain and some gods.
- Oedipus interrogates the old shepherd like Ken Starr went after Monica’s mom.
- The Shepherd (after Oedipus threatens to torture him) confesses that he saved Oedipus from the mountainside and that Laios was his father.
- The Chorus sings a song that more or less relates a greatest hits version of what Oedipus has done for Thebes and about how much it now sucks to be Oedipus.
Exodos (the last scene and exit of the Chorus)
- Second Messenger comes out of the palace and announces that Iocaste has killed herself, then tells how she did it. She hung herself.
- Second Messenger tells how Oedipus blinded himself by stabbing out his eyes with Iocaste’s brooches.
- Oedipus comes out of the palace.
- Oedipus goes on for a while about how he wishes he were never born, yada yada yada.
- Creon enters, and Oedipus begs Creon to expel him from Thebes.
- Oedipus asks Creon to take care of his two young daughters (Ismene and Antigone).
- The two daughters come out, and Oedipus hugs them and says goodbye.
- Creon, Oedipus and daughters go into the palace, leaving the Chorus alone onstage.
- The Chorus says that you can’t know if you’re lucky or fortunate until you’re dead, since your whole life could go to hell at any minute and there’s nothing you can do about it. A real uplifting ending; that’s why it’s a tragedy.
THINGS TO MAKE YOU LOOK SMART
- Greek actors wore masks.
- Oedipus Rex is considered the most nearly perfect Greek tragedy by Aristotle and most everyone else.
- The big theme in this play is FATE. You can’t escape your fate no matter how you try to cheat it.
- Greek tragedies were sung.
- Sophocles is one of three Greek playwrights whose plays survive. The other two are Aeschylus and Euripides.
- Freud’s whole theory of the "Oedipus Complex" was Freud’s attempt at a literary analysis of this play, not a diagnosis of one of his patients.
- Only three actors were allowed onstage at any point.
- The Chorus doesn’t count as an actor, and it didn’t leave the stage.
- In Greek theatre, violence didn’t take place on the stage. That’s why the Messenger character is so important. Instead of portraying violence, a Messenger would come out and describe it. Sometimes a body would be rolled out onstage on a cart.