Oedipus Rex or Oedipus the King is the play that was written by the famous Greek author Sophocles in 420 B.C. It is probably the most famous tragedy ever written. It is known by various titles including Oedipus Rex, Oedipus the King, and Oedipus Tyrannus. The play Oedipus is a trilogy of Oedipus written in three plays: Oedipus The King, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone. There are three plays also known as Theban Plays. It describes Oedipus’s tale beginning from his appointment as the king of Thebes after answering the riddles of the sphinx until the fall of Oedipus and later the tragedies of his children suffer.
About The Poet
The author of this play Sophocles was one of three great ancient Greek tragedians whose work has survived. Only seven of his 123 plays have survived in complete form. Among his major works included- Ajax, Antigone, The Trachiniae, Oedipus The King, Philoetetes, and Oedipus at Colonus.
Analysis Of The Play
The play starts in the city of Thebes, Citizens are dying from the plague, crops fail, women are dying in childbirth and their babies are stillborn. The people of Thebes gather along with a priest and other elders to request Oedipus, the king to ask for help because he saved them once from the sphinx too. The Sphinx was a monster with a woman’s head, lioness body, eagle’s wings, and serpent’s tale. The Sphinx stood at the entrance to the city of Thebes and used to ask riddles from the people who came across her riddles.
Oedipus solved her riddle and she killed herself. People made Oedipus their king as he was brave and saved them from the monster. As their former king was murdered so Oedipus got married to Jocasta, the widowed queen, and became the king of Thebes.
Oedipus has sent his brother-in-law Creon to the house of Apollo to ask the Oracle about this matter. Creon returns with the Orcale’s news for the plague to be lifted from the city, the murderer of Laius must be discovered and punished. Oedipus promises everyone that he will find the man who killed their king and caused the plague and ensures that he will punish him for his deeds. The priest and the people become satisfied and leave.
Oedipus announces that if the murderer is present in Thebes, he can come forward and admit his crime. However, he promises not to kill the person if he comes forward to surrender and he only suggests banishment for him. The Chorus suggests Oedipus call Teiresias, the blind prophet, to resolve this matter.
When Teireslias arrives, he claims he knows the killer but refuses to tell. Oedipus forces him to tell but he continuously refuses the king saying that the truth will only bring pain to him and nothing. He also advises the king to abandon his search for the killer. Oedipus gets enraged and accuses Teiresias of the murder saying that he is the murderer. Oedipus threatens to kill him and hence he is forced to tell the truth. Teiresias tells that Oedipus is the killer of King Laius.
Oedipus doesn’t trust him and considers it just nonsense. He considers it a plot of Creon against him and Oedipus believes that Creon has paid—Teiresias to say these things. Oedipus orders him to leave. Teiresian then leaves saying his last riddle. He tells that the murderer is in front of them, he is the killer of his father and the husband of his mother, he is the brother of his children and the son of his wife.
When Creon enters, he claims that he never thinks of harming king Oedipus and now he has heard rumors that the king accuses him of treachery. Then Oedipus appears, and he orders to execute of Creon because of conspiring against him. Jocasta, the wife of Oedipus and the sister of Creon requests the king to spare his life and let him go. Jocasta asks Oedipus not to take the prophet and their prophecies seriously because they are never accurate.
She starts telling him about one of the Oracles who came to king Laius and said to them that King Laius will be killed by his son. So they gave their child to a shepherd to kill him. Everyone knows that the king was killed by someone robber at the crossroads when he was on his way to Delphi.
Her story troubles Oedipus because he also killed a stranger at a place where roads met. Then he went to an oracle to ask him about reality. The Oracle told him that according to his fate, he will kill his father and marry her mothers. Then suddenly an old messenger arrives from Corinth with the news that Oedipus’s father, king Polybus, has died. It seems his prophecy might not come true but he remains worried because his mother is still alive.
The messenger tells him that the king and queen of Corinth were not his real parents. The messenger himself brought Oedipus as a baby to the royal family as a gift after a shepherd found the boy in the mountains and gave him to the messenger.
Jocasta begs Oedipus to abandon his search for his origin but Oedipus insists he must know the story of his birth. Jocasta cries out in agony and leaves. The shepherd arrives and reveals that he disobeyed the order to kill the infant son of Laius and Jocasta, and instead gave the baby to the messenger.
That baby was Oedipus, who killed his father Laius and married his mother. Queen Jocasta kills herself seeing her body, Oedipus becomes more depressed. He feels severe pain as the bloodstream starts flowing through her eyes. He becomes blind forever. Oedipus leaves the city as he announced that the punishment for Laius, the Killer will only be banishment. So he acts upon his words.
Thus, the play Oedipus Rex or Oedipus The King has several themes such as – Fate, Individual will, Pity and Fear, Pleague and Health, Self-discovery and Memories of the Past, Hubris, Power, Search for Truth, Guilt and Shame, Ignorance, Justice as well as Blind Faith.