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September 11, 2017

Oedipus Rex

by N@ncy


  1. Conflict:  truth vs ignorance
  2. Oedipus insists on knowing the truth.
  3. Jocasta, the priest, Creon, and Tiresias try desperately to hide the truth
  4. Timeline: 1 day
  5. Setting:   Thebes is the  city in which all events take place.
  6. Structure: the play is a series speeches
  7. (priest, Oepidus (several) Tiresias, Creon, Jocasta and 2nd messenger)
  8. mingled with several series of ‘fast paced dialogue between actors.
  9. Oepidus with Creon – Tiresias (prophet) – Jocasta – messenger shepherd
  10. The chorus speaks 7 times ….we could see this as indicating the next scene.
  11. In 4 choric interruptions Oedipus leaves the stage
  12. … we have some ‘breathing space’
  13. from the intense narrative action!


Basic story line of the myth:

  1. Oedipus is the son of King Laius and Queen Jocasta
  2. The oracle predicts that Queen Jocasta will have a son who will
  3. kill his father and then sleep with his mother.
  4. To prevent this disaster the King and Queen decide to expose the infant
  5. …and leave him out in the countryside to die.
  6. The child is found, rescued and raised by King and Queen of Corinth.
  7. Oedipus returns to his native town, Thebes.
  8. He outsmarts a an half-human half-animal monster  (the Sphinx)
  9. …who is terrorizing the city.
  10. The grateful people make Oedipus  King of Thebes.
  11. Oedipus is also given the
  12. …hand of Jocasta in marriage (….his mother!)
  13. Oedipus and Jocasta have four children
  14. The story follows Oedipus quest to learn the truth about his life.


How does Sophocles ‘alter’  basic myth?

  1. Sophocles adds several details that are important for his play.
  2. All these details are brought out in the play in
  3. bits and pieces in non-chronological order.
  4. Oedipus slowly pieces together the truth as to what actually happened
  5. …and who he actually is..


Detail nr 1:

  • Jocasta gives infant to trusted slave….a shepherd.
  • The Corinthian royal couple raise Oedipus as a prince.

Detail nr 2:

  • A guest at a banquet taunts Oedipus
  • …that he is not really King Polybus’ son.
  • Oedipus decides to ask the Oracle of Delphi.

Detail nr 3:

  • On the way to Thebes Oedipus met, quarreled with
  • ….and killed an old man at a crossroads.
  • Of course….the man is King Laius (…his father).


How does the play open?

  1. Oedipus is approached by a priest and chorus.
  2. They want Oedipus to find out why a plague is destroying their city.
  3. Sophocles does NOT concentrate on the murder of King Laius
  4. does NOT concentrate on the incest with  Queen Jocasta.
  5. He emphasizes  the process by which Oedipus discovers the truth.


What does Opedius do?

  1. He sends brother-in-law Creon (Jocasta’s brother)
  2. to Delphi  to ask why Apollo is punishing the city of Thebes?
  3. Oedipus wants to know what Thebes can do to compensate
  4. for the crime they have committed that has caused this plague?
  5. Answer: there is some in Thebes who is ritually unclean living in the city.
  6. In fact this is King Laius’ killer.


What does Oedipus do…now?

  1. He pronounces a solemn and  binding curse against the murderer.
  2. He commands all to drive this ‘man’ from their homes.
  3. If with Oedipus’ knowledge he lives at his  own hearth…
  4. he prays that he himself will feel this curse!


How does the audience react?

  1. The thing with Greek theater is that
  2. …all the people who were watching the play
  3. ….actually knew the plot, and therefore knew the ending.
  4. After Opedius’ speech the audience  gasps at the irony
  5. he has cursed himself!


What is the turning point in the play?

  1. There are many minor turning points.
  2. This is the first one  at the beginning of the play:
  3. Tiresias, a prophet, is summoned to tell Opedius who the murder is.
  4. Tiresias is reluctant.
  5. Because he is  a wise man he knows  perfectly well that Opedius is the murderer.
  6. Tiresias resists and this arouses Oedipus’ anger and suspicion.
  7. Oedipus begins to suspect that Tiresias might have helped plot the murder of Laius.
  8. Tiresias finally explodes:
  9. You are the land’s pollution…you are the man you seek!


What is the climax in the play?

  1. When you read the play you will discover
  2. …the the situation that makes the Oedipus arrive at the
  3. inevitable  and unavoidable acceptance of the reality.
  4. 2 witnesses each have a part of the knowledge about Oepdius’ life.
  5. When the Thebean slave and the Corinthian shepherd come together…
  6. …the great king suddenly becomes a tragic, miserable  character.
  7. Count no man happy until he dies…..”
  8. [That man is happy, till vexed by no grievous ill.]



  1. Strong point: strong role for women in the theater –> Jocasta
  2. Strong point:   metaphor of  blindness
  3. ...the sighted do not know the truth
  4. …the blind do know the truth.
  5. Strong point:  full of suspense!
  6. Sophocles  uncovers clues one by one.
  7. We know who killed Laius  (that is written in the myth)
  8. what the reader is waiting for is the ‘moment’ when
  9. Oedipus finally realizes who he is!
  10. We all know this play is…..
  11. #MustRead
  12. LibriVox Free Audio Oepidus Rex
  13. I listened to it…..but the
  14. translation is difficult to follow
  15. …does not correspond with my text and
  16. …the chorus is just awful!
  17. If you really want to enjoy the play reading and listening
  18. has the best version!
  19. After the play…there is an interview (35 min) with Nicholas Rudall.
  20. He is the translator and director of the play.
  21. It was excellent!


  • This play is a classic but
  • I did need this diagram to help me before I started reading.

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