Oedipus Summary and Analyses
Author – Sophocles. Greek playwright, not all of his work survived. He wrote this play for an Athenian contest, where he came second.
Oedipus rules a troubled kingdom. He sends his brother in law (Creon) to a oracle, to see how the problem may be resolved. Creon tells Oedipus that the killer of their king must be apprehended for everything to return to normal. Oedipus resolved to find the killer, and asks everyone to find him. Jocasta (his wife) and Oedipus talk, and they summon the sole survivor of the attack that killed Laius. A messenger arrives, and says that Oedipus’ father is dead. Oedipus is happy, because he didn’t kill him, stopping the prophecy. The messenger says that Oedipus’ father is adopted, as is his mother. He tells Oedipus that one of Laius’ men gave him a child, who he gave to Oedipus’ parents. They interrogate that man, who tells Oedipus that he is the son of Jocasta. Jocasta hangs herself, and Oedipus uses her brooches to gouge his eyes out. He leaves, and banishes himself.
Oedipus – Prideful king who believes that everything he does is right, and often disregards other people. He holds himself to very high standards.
Creon – Intelligent man who helps in managing the kingdom, and provides advice to Oedipus. He is a little prideful, but is willing to reconcile with Oedipus after their spat.
Jocasta – Oedipus’ wife, who is scared of the truth. She begs him to go back on his promise, and would rather live in ignorance than embrace the bitter truth.
Tiresias – Blind prophet who knows everything. He refuses to tell Oedipus the truth, and when he does, he enrage Oedipus. They have some verbal wordplay, and then Tiresias leaves.
There is no narrative voice here. The point of view is that of the person watching the play. You don’t see anyone’s inner thoughts, just the drama playing out in front of you. The tone is also rather impersonal. Since this is a translation, the author can’t add additional remarks, and interpreting what Sophocles may have meant 2000 years ago is very difficult. The imagery he uses is very strong, especially near the end with the blood pouring out of Oedipus’ eyes is shown. Whenever a character reminisces about their past, it is well described and easy to understand.
Symbolism is very strong. The fall of a prideful arrogant man, with pride being symbolized by Jocasta’s golden brooch. A blind man who sees symbolizes intelligence, such as Tiresias. The majority of the story happened at a crossroads, showing that even though a prophecy was declared, it wasn’t forced on anyone. Oedipus and Laius made it happen on themselves.
Creon – “You are stubborn—obviously unhappy to concede, and when you lose your temper, you go too far. But men like that find it most difficult to tolerate themselves.” This quote is foreshadowing what will happen later in the story, as Oedipus gives up on himself. He would have killed himself, but he was too proud to do that as well. The best form of torture that he can come up with, is to live with himself, because that is the thing he most fears.
Tiresias – “Let me go home. You must bear your burden to the very end, and I will carry mine, if you’ll agree with me.” Tiresias knows what Oedipus will do. He also seems to liken their burden as being similar, foretelling the blindness that will occur to Oedipus. Oedipus chooses not to agree with Tiresias, making his story that much more tragic.
In Oedipus the King, Sophocles illustrates how pride brings downfall, by looking at Oedipus’ character and showing his stubbornness.
This is illustrated by dialogue. Everything is illustrated by dialogue, since there is no voice, and any style is translated. Oedipus starts out by calling his citizens children, and pretends to know what has been going on. He quarrels with the only threat to his rulership, Creon, even when Creon is just trying to help him. He talks with Tiresias, and belittles him, just because of the truth. He does irrational things because of his pride. He finds out who is true mother and father are because of the promise he makes to all the citizens, not because he hates ignorance.