Labeled by Aristotle as the "Perfect Tragedy", Sophocles' "Oedipus Rex"
is still effective today. The story itself is that of a heroic king,
Oedipus, and the horrifying fate that awaits him.
Before the play starts, the king of Thebes, Laius,
is murdered at a crossroads. Oedipus becomes the next king when he
saves the kingdom from the curse of the sphinx by solving its riddle.
In addition to being crowned, Oedipus is also rewarded with Laius'
As the play opens there is a curse upon Thebes and
its people are suffering. The noble Oedipus vows to right whatever's
wrong, and in fact his delegate to the Delphi has just returned bearing
news from the oracle. The message states that the city will continue to
suffer until the killer of Thebes' previous king is punished and driven
from the city.
Oedipus takes it on himself personally to see to the
inspection of the poor king's death, and interviews the blind prophet
Teiresias. Oedipus isn't told what he wants to hear, however, as the
prophet tells him to look inside of himself for what he seeks in
others. This sets off Oedipus' rage, and he hurls a range of insults at
the prophet. As Teiresias leaves, he once again prophesies Oedipus'
fate, that he will be a patricide and will father children with his
Oedipus then blames the king's brother, Creon, of
treason, and they argue heatedly until they are interrupted by
Iocasta. She begs Oedipus to believe in Creon's goodwill, and
begrudgingly he lets him go. He then explains that he was enraged by
the prophet's words, but he is comforted by Iocasta as she tells him
that no man can see into the future. To prove her point, she tells
Oedipus about the prophecy bestowed upon her and her previous husband,
King Laius. The prophecy stated that Laius would be killed by his own
son and that the son would marry Iocasta, but instead, she tells him,
Laius was killed by a band of thieves at a crossroads. In order to
prevent the prophecy from becoming true, Lauis and Iocasta drove a
stake through their baby's ankles and left him on a hillside to die.
The description of Laius' death is unerringly
familiar to Oedipus, and he begs Iocasta to give him the details.
couldn't be the killer, she tells him, for Laius was killed by more
than one man, according to the only survivor. Oedipus summons the
witness but before he arrives he tells Iocasta the details of his
birth. He was born to the king and queen of Corinth, Polybus and
Meropé. He was told by an oracle that he would murder his father and
marry his mother, and to prevent this from ever happening he left
Corinth without a word. On his way to Thebes he was run off the road by
a wagon, and in a fit of rage he killed all but one of the wagon's
News is sent from Corinth by a messenger that
Oedipus' father, Polybus, has died. Oedipus rejoices that the prophecy
of him killing his father cannot be true, but he still fears that he
may marry Meropé. The messenger tells Oedipus not to worry, however,
because Polybus and Meropé aren't really his parents. He tells Oedipus
the story of his adoption, how he was rescued from the side of a hill
by a benevolent shepherd and then given to the king and queen of
Corinth because they were unable to conceive. Oedipus asks Iocasta for
the name of the shepherd, but she will not answer him and begs him to
leave it be.
The shepherd is eventually brought before Oedipus,
and is convinced to tell what he knows. He tells Oedipus that he is the
son of Laius, and that he was given to the shepherd to be essentially
done away with. At this Oedipus runs inside the palace to find Iocasta,
and it is later related that she hanged herself, and Oedipus gouged out
his eyes with the brooches of her robes. Before he flees the city, the
blind Oedipus begs Creon to bring him his children, and Oedipus weeps
at their fate.