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Oedipus the King

By Sophocles, Translated by Robert Fagles 1984, The Three Theban Plays, Penguin Books, New York


PLOT: Oedipus, present king of Thebes, embarks on a quest to discover who murdered the former king, Laius. Along the way he learns that it was he who killed Laius, and that Laius and Jocasta are his parents who gave him away as a baby to prevent him from fulfilling a prophecy which declared that he would one day kill both of them. Despite everyone's best efforts, Oedipus has fulfilled the prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother, leading his mother to kill herself and Oedipus to gouge out his own eyes and live out his life in exile. THEMES: Self-Knowledge, pride, Sight vs. Blindness / Light vs. Darkness, Truth, Responsibility/Accountability, Fate vs. Choice EPISODE Setting: The play takes place entirely outside of the royal house at Thebes, with a set of double doors entering the house and a stone altar. Characters: Oedipus (King of Thebes), a Chorus (Theban Citizens and their Leader), Jocasta (Queen of Thebes, wife of Oedipus, who really turns out to be his mother), Creon (brother of Jocasta, prince of Thebes), Tiresias (a blind prophet), a messenger (from Corinth, where Oedipus was raised as the son of Polybus and Merope), a shepherd (who was supposed to kill Oedipus as a baby, but gave him to another shepherd instead), a messenger (from the palace), Antigone and Ismene (Oedipus' daughters who are really his sisters), a priest of Zeus, guards and attendants, priests of Thebes.

CHAIN OF EVENTS Initiating event: In answer to the probing of Creon about why Thebes has been struck with a devastating plague, the oracle at Delphi warns that the city must be purged of corruption in order to end the plague on the land. Creon suggests that this corruption is due to the still unidentified murderer of the former king, Laius. Internal Response: Oedipus takes it upon himself to free the city from the plague and bring justice to the criminal-at-large. He also fears that Laius' murderer may try to kill him, too. He issues a declaration that he will stop at nothing to find Laius' murderer and exile him, no matter who it is. Attempt/Outcome: Oedipus begins the investigation to find Laius' murderer. He is led to distrust everyone, eventually even himself as he begins to fear that is was he who killed Laius at the crossroads where three roads meet. Through his investigations, he discovers that Polybus and Merope are not really his parents, and that, in fact, he is son to Laius and Jocasta, fulfilling a prophecy given at his birth that he would kill both of his parents, or that he would kill his father and marry his mother. This discovery leads Jocasta to hang herself, after which Oedipus uses pins from her dress to gouge out his own eyes in grief. Having discovered himself to be the murderer, he pleads with Creon to exile him from Thebes. Resolution: Oedipus entrusts his daughters to Creon's care and asks to be exiled, but Creon insists on waiting to hear from the oracle is that is the will of the gods. We assume that he will spend the rest of his life exiled and wandering. Reaction: Oedipus, deeply repentant of fulfilling the oracle's prophecy, desires to bear the proscribed punishment. He is reviled by the truth that he is brought to see and, therefore, puts his own eyes out. Although he could attempt to undo the declaration of punishment that he made at the beginning of the story, he is true to his word that it does not matter who the killer is, they will be exiled. Although Oedipus takes responsibility for the outcomes of the play, the audience is left to internally resolve the fact that for Oedipus choice could not overcome fate. The story leaves a feeling of misery, but also a desire to know and control ourselves, thus preparing us for whatever fate has in store for our lives.

Aimee Pierce, BYU, 2003


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