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Oedipus Rex
Sophocles, 496-406 B.C.

Main Characters

Oedipus - The story revolves around Oedipus and his search for the cause of the blight on his city finding it to be himself.

Iocaste - Iocaste is Oedipus’ wife and mother who was very supportive of Oedipus’ search of the truth until she found out that she was part of that truth when she committed suicide.

Creon - Creon, Iocaste’s brother, helps Oedipus find the murderer, but when the truth begins to come out through Teiresias, Oedipus believes that Creon is trying to overthrow him.

Teiresias - He is a blind prophet who knows the truth but doesn’t want to tell Oedipus but does so after being forced to, however, Oedipus does not believe him.

Minor Characters

Laios - Although he never physically appears in the play, he is the one that is murdered and his story is told during the search of his murderer.

Shepherd - This is the man that gave Oedipus to another shepherd who gave Oedipus to Polybos.  This man later told Oedipus without a doubt that Oedipus was actually Laios son, his murderer, and Iocaste’s son.

Settings

Oedipus’ palace in Thebes - The entire play takes place here where people come and go revealing parts of the complete story.

Corinth - The city where Oedipus grew up with the people he thought to be his parents.

Iocaste’s room - Although not actually shown on stage, Iocaste committed suicide and Oedipus gouges out his eyes here.

Plot

The city of thebes is suffering and Oedipus the king wants to know why.  Creon is sent to ask the oracle and Teiresius, a prophet is sent for.  The oracle says that the murderer of Laios must be found and punished so Oedipus proclaimed that he would do everything he could to find the murderer.  Teiresius says that the murderer is Oedipus, but Oedipus does not believe him.  Oedipus charges Creon of sending the prophet to overthrow him.  Oedipus tells Iocaste of his leaving Corinth.  He tells her that it was prophesied that he would kill his father and marry his mother, but so that it would never happen, he ran from Corinth.  On the trip, he met some people on the highway, got in an argument, and killed them.  He also solved the riddle of the sphinx, and became the king of Thebes.  A messenger came from Corinth to tell Oedipus of Polybos’ death and that he would now become the king of Corinth.  The messenger also tells Oedipus that he is not the son of Polybos, but that the messenger was given Oedipus by another man and that he gave Oedipus to Polybos.  The person that gave Oedipus to the messenger was sent for.  The shepherd arrives and tells Oedipus that he was a servant of Laios and that Laios gave him his child to kill because of the prophecy that his son would kill him.  Since the shepherd felt sorry for the child, he did not kill him, but gave him to the other shepherd.  After this, Oedipus finds out that the prophecy came true.  Iocaste commits suicide, and Oedipus gouges out his eyes.  Then he says bye to his children, and leaves the city.

Symbols

The scar on Oedipus foot - Oedipus got this scar when the servant from Laios tied him by his foot and left him to die.  This is where Oedipus (which means swollen foot) got his name.  “Messenger: I cut the bonds that tied your ankles together. / Oedipus: I have had the mark as long as I can remember. / Messenger: That is why you were given the name you bear.”

Teiresias - He symbolizes Oedipus’ blindness to the truth in the beginning of the play and shows Oedipus’ temper.  His title of the blind seer exemplifies the theme of blindness and sight.  “Teiresias: ... A Blind man, / Who has his sight now.”

Style

The style is simple and like normal speech for the most part.  The sentences are not complicated and they are easy to understand.  Sophocles wrote the play in the typical five part tragedy fashion.

Philosophy

The story seems to say that a man cannot run from his fate.  It was prophesied that Oedipus would kill his father and marry his mother, and although he tried to run from that, it happened anyway.  The same is true for Laios who tried to get rid of his son to run from the prophecy that his son would murder him.

Quotations

“Oedipus: Wealth, power, craft of statesmanship! / Kingly position, everywhere admired! / what savage envy is stored up against these,”  Oedipus says this to Creon after the fortune from Teiresias.

“Teiresias: ... But I say that you, with both your eyes, are blind: / You can not see the wretchedness of your life, / Nor in whose house you live, no, nor with whom. / Who are your father and mother?  Can you tell me?”  Teiresias says this to Oedipus after Oedipus starts getting angry with him.

“Teiresias: A blind man, /Who has his eyes now; a penniless man, who is rich now; / And he will go tapping the strange earth with his staff; / to the children with whom he lives now he will be / Brother and father - the very same; to her / Who bore him, son and husband - the very same / Who came to his father’s bed, wet with his father’s blood.”  Teiresias tells this to Oedipus prophesying what Oedipus will find out.

“Oedipus: Let it come! / However base my birth, I must know about it.  The Queen, like a woman, is perhaps ashamed / To think of my low origin.  But I / Am a child of Luck; I can not be dishonored.”  Oedipus says this to Iocaste trying to encourage her to continue with the search of the truth when she was beginning to fear the truth.