Oedipus the King: Play Analysis

Oedipus the King Part 1: Conflict Analysis Priest/Oedipus/Creon The first unit of action in the first scene of the play begins with Oedipus addressing the people of Thebes. I assume that a crowd has gathered and he is talking to them, but the Priest is the only one that is talking back to him so for this unit I will the characters in conflict are Oedipus and the Priest. Oedipus knows that something is wrong in Thebes so he has to ask his people about it. He wants to know what their troubles are.

The Priest tells Oedipus of the horrible plague that is terrorizing Thebes and reminds him of his past glories and how he now has to come through for Thebes once more. He charges him with a quest. Oedipus vows to do so and save the townspeople. Creon enters and tells the people and Oedipus that in order to save Thebes, their previous king Laius’ never captured murderer must be found and thrown out of town. This scene is important because it sets up the goal of Oedipus: to find out.

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He has to find the killer. Without this scene, the play doesn’t happen. Chorus/Oedipus

The chorus is praying to the Gods to help them. They’re describing their plight to them, but they’re the Gods so it’s not like they don’t know. Anyway, Oedipus enters and tells the chorus that he hears their prayers and asks the people of Thebes to come forward with any knowledge they might possess about the killer’s identity, and he swears to save the city.

The chorus suggests Oedipus speak to Teiresias and find out what he knows. Oedipus replies that he has already sent for him. This scene is important because it during this scene that Oedipus vows to find out the truth.

Oedipus/Teiresias Teiresias enters, and Oedipus immediately asks him to tell him what he knows. Teiresias refuses him, telling him he will not hurt himself or his king, and this makes Oedipus progressively angrier.

Oedipus says that he now believes that Teiresias is the one who planned the murder. It’s now that Teiresias tells Oedipus that he himself is the murderer. Oedipus refuses to believe it, and Teiresias goes on to say that he is lying with his mother as well. Oedipus tells him that he’s a liar and now accuses Creon of helping Teiresias with the murder.

Teiresias tells him that he is wrong and that he will be ruined by days’ end.

Teiresias then leaves. This is amazingly important because it introduces the concept that Oedipus himself is responsible for the plague of Thebes. It also introduces the thought to Oedipus about his years-ago prophecy being true. This scenes set up the conflict for the rest of the play. Oedipus/Creon/Chorus/Jocasta Creon comes to clear himself of the charges Oedipus has leveled against him. Creon talks to the chorus about what was said about him.

Oedipus enters and immediately accosts Creon. They get into an argument, during which Oedipus accuses Creon of going after the throne. Creon explains why he would never want the throne. He likes living like a king, but he wants none of the power because it comes with responsibilities. The chorus tells Oedipus that Creon’s logic is sound, but Oedipus will have none of it.

Jocasta enters and tells them to stop acting like children. Both the chorus and Jocasta tell Oedipus to believe Creon because he has never spoken false before. Oedipus relents, and Creon leaves.

This scene is important because it starts to show that maybe Teiresias was speaking the truth, and it also highlights Oedipus’ rash, rageful nature. He makes angry accusations with nothing to back them up. Oedipus/Jocasta Jocasta tells Oedipus to pay no mind to prophets and explains how her and her first husband Laius received a prophecy about how he was supposed to be killed by his own son, but they had their son cast out of Thebes, and Laius was killed at a three-way crossroads just before Oedipus arrived at Thebes by a band of thieves.

Oedipus tells Jocasta that he may be the one who murdered Laius.

He tells Jocasta that, long ago, when he was the prince of Corinth, he heard at a banquet that he was not really the son of the king and queen, and so went to the oracle of Delphi, which did not answer him but did tell him he would murder his father and sleep with his mother. Oedipus ran from home, never to return. On his journey to Thebes, he was confronted by a group of travelers at the very crossroads where Laius was killed. Oedipus killed them all. Jocasta tells him of a lone survivor of the attack, who claimed several highwaymen did the killing.

Oedipus sends for him, hoping to be cleared. This scene is important because it shows the greater possibility of the prophecy having come to pass. It also offers the hope that maybe there’s been a horrible misunderstanding. Messenger/Oedipus/Jocasta A messenger enters, looking for Oedipus. He tells Jocasta that he has come from Corinth to tell Oedipus that his father, Polybus, is dead, and that Corinth wants Oedipus to come and rule there. Jocasta rejoices, convinced that since Polybus is dead from natural causes, the prophecy that Oedipus will murder his father is untrue.

Oedipus arrives, hears the messenger’s news, and rejoices with Jocasta; they both agree that prophecies are worthless and the world is ruled by chance. However, Oedipus still fears the part of the prophecy that said he would sleep with his mother. The messenger says he can rid himself of that worry, because Polybus and his wife were not really Oedipus’s parents. The messenger explains that he used to be a shepherd years ago. One day, he found a baby on Mount Cithaeron, near Thebes. The baby had its ankles pinned together, and the former shepherd set them free.

That baby was Oedipus, who still walks with a limp because of the injury to his ankles so long ago. When Oedipus inquires who left him in the woods on the mountain, the messenger replies that another shepherd, Laius’s servant, gave him baby Oedipus. It’s about here that Jocasta realizes what is going on. Oedipus wants to find this shepherd, so he can find out who his natural parents are. Jocasta begs him to abandon his search immediately, but Oedipus is insistent.

After screaming and pleading some more to no avail, Jocasta finally flees back into the palace.

Oedipus dismisses her concerns as snobbish fears that he may be born of poor parents, and Oedipus and the Chorus rejoice at the possibility that they may soon know who his parents truly are. This scene is important because even more of the truth comes out, and Jocasta realizes that the prophecy has come true. It also highlights Oedipus’ refusal to quit searching for the truth. Shepherd/Oedipus/Messenger The other shepherd, who turns out to be the same shepherd who witnessed Laius’s murder, enters. The messenger identifies him as the man who gave him the young Oedipus.

Oedipus interrogates him, asking who gave him the baby, but the shepherd refuses to talk. Finally, after Oedipus threatens him, the shepherd answers that the baby came from the house of Laius. Questioned further, he answers that it was Laius’ child, and that Jocasta gave it to him to destroy because of a prophecy that the child would kill his father. Instead, the shepherd gave him to the other shepherd, so that he would be raised as a prince in Corinth. Realizing who he is and who his parents are, Oedipus screams that he sees the truth, and runs back into the palace.

This scene is important because it’s the climax of the play.

The entire truth finally comes out, and it’s finally revealed that the prophecy has come true. Messenger/Chorus The chorus enters and cries that Oedipus was brought down by fate, for he unknowingly murdered his father and married his mother. The messenger enters again to tell the chorus what has happened in the palace. Jocasta is dead; she hanged herself. She locked herself in her bedroom, crying for Laius and crying for her fate.

Oedipus came to the door in a fury, asking for a sword and cursing Jocasta.

He threw himself at the bedroom door and burst through it, where he saw Jocasta hanging from a noose. Seeing this, Oedipus sobbed and held Jocasta. He then took the gold pins that held her robes and stabbed his eyes out. This scene is important because it tells you the consequences of the climax. Oedipus/Creon/Chorus Oedipus enters with his mutilated eyes and rants about fate.

He says the Gods are the ones who has cursed him. Oedipus curses everything about his life and wishes he had never been born. Creon enters, and the chorus hopes that he can restore order.

Creon forgives Oedipus for his past accusations of treason and asks that Oedipus be sent inside so that the public display of shame might stop. Creon agrees to exile Oedipus from the city but tells him that he will only do so if every detail is approved by the gods. Oedipus embraces the hope of exile, since he believes that the gods want to keep him alive (for the sequel).

He asks to see his daughters and that Creon take care of them. He asks his daughters to pray that they have better lives than he did. Everyone goes inside, and the play is over. This scene is important because it’s the denoument.

You learn what will happen to the characters.

Part 2: Formalist Analysis The story of Oedipus the King is that a great plague has descended upon the city of Thebes. The townspeople call on their king Oedipus to save the city. He vows to do so, and at that point, his brother-in-law Creon shows up with the information of what Oedipus must do. He must remove the never captured killer of Thebes’ previous king, Laius, from the city. Oedipus summons the blind prophet Teiresias for his help. When he arrives, Teiresias refuses to tell Oedipus what he knows and tells Oedipus to stop what he’s doing.

This angers Oedipus incredibly, and he accuses Teiresias of being an accomplice to the murder with the actual killer being Creon. Fed up with it, Teiresias comes cleans and tells Oedipus that he himself is the murderer. They argue, and eventually Teiresias leaves, saying that Oedipus will learn that he is both father and brother to his children and son and husband to his own mother. Creon arrives to confront Oedipus about his accusations, and Oedipus demands that he be killed. The chorus convince him to let Creon live, and Jocasta, Oedipus’ wife, enters and tells them to knock off all this commotion.

She tells him not to pay attention to any prophets and tells him about an oracle which never came true. It said that Laius would be murdered by his son. Jocasta mentions that Laius was killed by bandits at a crossroads on the way to Delphi. Oedipus asks about it and becomes worried that Teiresias might actually be right. He sends for the last remaining witness to Laius’ murder. Oedipus then tells the story of how a man once accused him of not being his father’s son.

Bothered by this, he questioned an oracle about his parentage. He was given a prophecy that he would some day murder his father and sleep with his mother.

When he heard this, he left his hometown and vowed to never return. While he was traveling, he came to the very same crossroads where Laius was killed. A carriage tried to run to him off the road there, an argument ensued, and Oedipus ended up killing the travellers, including a man who matches the the description of Laius.

At this point, a messenger arrives from Corinth, where Oedipus is originally from, with the news that Oedipus’ father has died. This makes Oedipus very happy because it means he can’t fulfill the prophecy, but he is still wary because he’s afraid he’ll still commit incest with his mother.

The messenger tells him to cool it because his mother was not actually his mother. Turns out that Oedipus was given to the King and Queen of Corinth. The messenger was a former shepherd, and he was given the baby which he, in turn, gave to the King and Queen.

The baby was given to the shepherd by another shepherd from Laius’ household. The chorus tells Oedipus that the shepherd who gave the messenger the baby is the same man who witnessed Laius’ murder, the same one that they are waiting on to arrive. Convoluted? I know.

At this point, Jocasta realizes the truth of what’s going on and begs Oedipus to stop what he’s doing, but he refuses and she runs inside the palace. The shepherd finally arrives and asks Oedipus not to question him, but Oedipus keeps pressing forward. The shepherd admits, finally, that Oedipus was the baby he gave to the messenger, and he had taken him to the hilltop to kill him but could not do it.

So, yeah, Oedipus killed his father. And slept with his mother and fathered his sisters. That’s grody, coach. Oedipus curses himself and goes inside the palace.

Shortly, a servant comes out and tells the chorus and us what has happened.

Jocasta has hung herself, and Oedipus has stabbed his eyes out. Oedipus, now blinded, comes out of the palace and begs to exiled. Creon enters and says that Oedipus will be taken into the house until the oracles decide what is the best course of action. Oedipus’ children come out, and he laments that they were born to such a cursed family. Oedipus asks Creon to watch over his daughters, and he agrees. Upon my first reading of Oedipus the King, my first impressions was that I greatly enjoyed it, and that it was a terrific tragedy.

I really felt sorrowful for Oedipus and anyone involved, really. No part of the play worked out for anybody, not even Creon, even though he was made king at the end. Even though I had known about the ending of the play for years and had heard for a long time about an “Oedipus complex,” I still found the play to be incredibly suspenseful. Whenever some new evidence was brought to light, I hoped against hope that maybe, just maybe things would turn out alright for Oedipus and he did not actually kill his father and become his mother’s lover.

It’s just like the Hitler assassination plot movie Valkyrie; not the incest part, mind you, but the suspenseful nature.

The whole time you are watching it, you’re hoping that the plan to kill Hitler succeeds, knowing the whole time it’s doomed. Alas, my hopes still wound up being dashed at the conclusion. I think that’s a sign of something that is pretty special if you know the outcome, and yet you believe that there might be a chance for success in spite of everything. The entire play seemed to keep up a very brisk pace, as well.

It took a few minutes for me to get into it, just because the dialogue is more verbose than I am used to, but it was very easy to read and get into after a bit.

There’s just event after event after event. Once it gets started, you just have to hold on until the conclusion. In that aspect, it reminds me of a soap opera but not terrible like those things. I thought Oedipus himself was a very interesting and compelling character. He really wants to help his people, or at least, is acting like it. When Teiresias is brought before him, he is persistent and relentless in his pursuit of information about Laius’s killer.

He wants to know so he can help his people and bring prosperity back to his land, even though Teiresias keeps telling him it is horrible news and keeps asking not to pursue it any further. However, Oedipus seems to be one that jumps to conclusions. When Teiresias refuses to tell him what the oracle has said, he automatically assumes that Teiresias must have some part in the murder, and when Teiresias tells him that Oedipus himself is the murderer, Oedipus says that he must be lying and that Creon paid him off to say such things. In the end, I do feel horrible for Oedipus, though. He seemed like a good man and a good king.

The prophecy was fulfilled, and there was nothing he could do about it.

Sure, he could have not murdered Laius, but he did not know who he was or what consequences his actions would have. His fate was decided before he was conscious, which is a horrible thought to me. I feel equally as bad for Jocasta. She believed that her son was dead, and that the prophecy could not come to pass because of that supposed fact. I could not begin to imagine what sleeping with your son and having his children feels like.

The events and relationships that precede the play that you need to know about are quite a few.

First of all, the original prophecy that said that Oedipus would kill Laius puts the entire play into motion before our protagonist is even born. You need to know that when Oedipus was born, Laius and Jocasta decided to have him killed in an attempt to avert the prophecy and had they not done that, the events of the play could have been avoided and everybody involved would have lived much happier lives. Probably. Another event is that it was Oedipus who defeated the Sphinx and her clever riddle. If it were not for this, Oedipus would not be king in the first place.

This proved to the people of Thebes that he was indeed a capable leader. Another past moment of importance is when the drunken man tells Oedipus that he is not his father’s son in Corinth, which caused him to seek out the oracle and question his parentage. If it were not for this, he would have stayed in Corinth for maybe his entire life, oblivious to his true identity. Laius’ murder is incredibly important because it is a fulfillment of the original prophecy. Following that logic, the births of Oedipus’ daughters are very important because they help to fulfill the other half of the prophecy.

As horrible as it sounds, Oedipus bedding Jocasta might not have been so bad had it not been for the fact that they had two children together. I mean, incest is never a good thing, but it might not have been so severe. As far as relationships go, I think the only ones that need to be addressed for sheer importance after Oedipus and his parents. It’s kind of what the play centers around. If we did not find that Laius was Oedipus’ father, he would just be a guy that Oedipus randomly murdered.

If we did not find that Jocasta was Oedipus’ mother, she would just be his wife and the mother of his children and it wouldn’t be horribly naughty at all.

It’s worth noting, too, how the messenger from Corinth is tangled up in this horrible mess. Originally a shepherd, he’s the one who was given Oedipus and took him to the king of Corinth. Now, sometime later, he’s the one arriving to deliver the news of Oedipus’ fake father’s death. We find out about all of these events and relationships through the dialogue of the play.

The play takes place in ancient Greece in the city of Thebes. We are never told the exact date of when the play takes place, although it was first performed around 429 so we could maybe assume it was some time around then.

The social systems that most affect the characters the most would probably be the religious system. Since the play was written in ancient Greece, the Greek gods play very important parts in the characters’ lives, and the audience should keep in mind how essential the gods are to the characters’ decisions. The Greeks believed that the Gods had several hands in their everyday lives, more so than even Christians believe today, in my opinion.

On everything they do, they have to consult the Gods pretty much. The most important attitudes regarding race, class, and gender is that the king rules over almost all.

To me, it seems that Oedipus is above everyone except for the oracles. This is, I believe, because the oracles are closer to the Gods. They may not having any ruling power, but they essentially rule everyone because they know their fates. These are the only people that have the right to stand up to the kings of ancient Greece.

Regarding the characters’ attitudes towards family, love and marriage, I think it’s safe to say that they find incest really, terribly, awfully horrible, even more so than our modern society does.

I mean, we find it horrible, and we would probably shun whoever was guilty of it, but people who commit incest in our day don’t go stabbing their eyes or hanging themselves. They would be an outcast, much like Oedipus at the end of the play, but they would deal with it in a more subdued manner. They too would have to live with the guilt for the rest of their lives, but they would be able to deal with it, I feel. That’s the thing about modern society; we seem much more able to deal with the horrible things that happen to us.

Give us enough time, and we’ll eventually move on.

The most important given circumstance, without a doubt, is the prophecy around which the entire play revolves. Oedipus being sent to his death as baby, his unknowing rescue, Laius’ murder, and Oedipus bedding and producing children with Jocasta all would have not happened were it not for the prophecy. Actually, the entire action of the play would not have occurred had the events of the play not been foretold. Several characters in Oedipus the King address the audience; Oedipus himself, Creon, the chorus, etc. The way they address us, I think, is quite ingenious.

It starts off in the very beginning of the play. Oedipus comes out, and he addresses the people that are there, but he also addresses us. Why? Because we too are the people of Thebes. When Oedipus, Creon, and the other characters address us, it’s as if we’re a crowd that’s gathered to see what all the commotion is. I mean, literally we are, but I meant figuratively, dang it. They look at us when they’re delivering their lines; they even physically touch some of us.

Later on in the play, once all the bad events happen, it’s as if we are the jury for the judgment of Oedipus.

We have seen all the events unfold, and now it’s our job to deliver a verdict. That’s the way it seemed to me. It really put me into the play. The essential protagonist of the play is definitely Oedipus. He drives all the action forward.

He is a good leader, as shown by his quick actions to help the town of Thebes, but in his quickness, he also shows the unfortunate side-effect of rash decision making. He wants to get to the bottom of things and help people out very quickly, but he doesn’t think about his actions. Perhaps Oedipus’ most important character flaw is his rage, which has to do with his rashness.

Rage is Oedipus’ El Guapo. If he did not get so easily angry, he would not make horrible rash decisions, which would not lead to him finding out about his sordid past. If only he could have overcome it.

The essential antagonist is Jocasta, I believe. She is a level-headed woman who makes calm, collected decisions. You know, up until the end when she kills herself, but that’s understandable, I suppose. I mean, she just did figure out she had horrible incest babies with her son. Aside from that, she’s the opposite of Oedipus. She doesn’t anger easily, and she does things methodically.

Part 3: Action Structure and Conflict The protagonist of Oedipus the King is… wait for it..

. Oedipus! Didn’t see that one coming, did you? All joking aside, that’s one thing I’ve learned this semester is that just because the play is named after someone in the play that doesn’t make him the protagonist. The protagonist is the person that drives the action forward, not necessarily the hero. Oedipus’ core need is to find out. He has to find out who Laius’ killer is.

He has to find out the information Teiresias is keeping from him.

He has to find out if Creon is plotting against him. Simply put, he has to find out the truth. The essential antagonist of the play, I believe, is Jocasta. She just wants Oedipus to leave well enough alone and stop trying to find out information about the prophecy. The climactic moment of the play is when Oedipus learns that he is, in fact, his father’s murderer, his mother’s husband, and the brother of his own children.

The shepherd tells Oedipus that he is what Oedipus fears himself to be. The shepherd does not want to tell him, but the king forces it out of him.

The major dramatic question is if the prophecy is true. Is he his father’s killer? Did he lay with his mother? This is the question that is answered during the climax. The introductory incident is when Oedipus learns that he has to find Laius’ killer in order to end the plague in Thebes. It sets the whole play into motion.

Oedipus wants to save his city so he sets out to find the killer’s identity. The moment of engagement happens immediately after Oedipus learns what he has to do in order to save Thebes. His goal is to find out, and he begins his quest to learn the truth.

The scene that I feel best reveals the conflict of the play is the scene between Oedipus and Teiresias towards the beginning of the play. This is when Teiresias tells Oedipus that he is responsible for the plague in Thebes, but Oedipus refuses to believe him.

It raises the question of if whether or not Oedipus is responsible for the very thing he’s trying to stop. The resolution in this scene is when Teiresias leaves, and Oedipus is left to ponder if he is truthful or not. When Teiresias enters, Oedipus immediately wants to know what the oracle told him. Teiresias keeps refusing him, and Oedipus’ anger just keeps building and building.

Eventually, Oedipus accuses Teiresias of being complicit in Laius’ murder for the reason he won’t talk.

At this point is when Teiresias flat-out tells Oedipus that he is the murderer and it’s his fault the plague is upon Thebes. Oedipus refuses to believe it and dismisses Teiresias, telling him to never set foot in his house again. The chorus then ponders on what it has just witnessed. Part 4: Synthesis If I had to pick a theme or predominant element for Oedipus the King, it would probably be that sometimes, ignorance is indeed bliss or ignorance versus knowledge.

Oedipus’ life was in good shape until he started pursuing the truth.

Although he was the one responsible for the plague, once he heard what Teiresias said, he could have dismissed it. He could have brushed it off as the ramblings of a crazy man, but he did not. Instead, he dwelled on it, and it got the better of him. Even knowing that he was Laius’ killer, he could have chose to cover it up and pinned the blame on some one else. Any old drifter would have sufficed.

The man could deny it, but who is going to believe his word against that of a king?

At any point in the play, Oedipus could have stopped his pursuit of the truth. Nearly every character in the play told him to do so, but he didn’t. Teiresias, Creon, and Jocasta all tried to stop him, and he should have listened to them. Oedipus’ constant pursuit of the truth was his downfall. I see myself as kind of like Oedipus in that respect.

Even if I am happy, if I hear that some one has said something bad about me, I have to find out who it was, even if it makes me horrible. It’s like we hunt for things to make us feel bad. Since the play’s genre is a tragedy, though, it had to end horribly.

That’ s why I think tragedies are still popular. People are always looking for something to feel bad about.

You may have a few laughs and some good times along the way, but it has to make you feel terrible by the end or it has not done its job. Another reason the play might still be popular is that we, as a race, love to see the important people fall from power. Schadenfreude, it’s called. We take pleasure from other people’s failures, especially people in higher positions of power than we. That’s what the play’s about; an important man’s fall from power. O