An Analysis of Oedipus the King

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An Analysis of Oedipus the King


Here is a story where Oedipus the King, who has accomplished great things in his life, discovers that the gods were only playing with him. He has everything a man of that time could want; he is king of Thebes, he has a wonderful wife and children, and great fame through out the lands. He has lived a good life, but in the end everything is taken from him.

The priests of Thebes have come to Oedipus to stop the plague that is killing the people of Thebes. They revere him for his knowledge, since he solved the riddle of the Sphix many years before and became the king. As the reader is introduced to Oedipus, they are given many facts about his life so that they become familiar with this man who has done great things. But Oedipus learns from his brother-in-law, Creon who he had sent to Delphi, that Apollo has placed this plague upon Thebes until they "Drive the corruption from the land, don't harbor it any longer, past all cure, don't nurse it in your soil - root it out!" ¹ Oedipus swears an oath before the priests and the chorus (which represents all people of Thebes) that the murderer would be found and driven from the land.

Oedipus at the time does not realize that he has just condemned himself. By a strange twist of fate, Oedipus who was discarded by his great father at birth and was raised in a foreign land, comes back to his home land and kills his father, Laius, and marries his own mother, Jocasta. All of this is unknown by Oedipus making him "the tragic hero conscious or unconscious of his intentional tragic act?"²

Poor Oedipus discovers that he had killed his father and married his mother at the climax of the play when the Shepard is questioned. He states "I stand revealed at last - cursed in my birth, cursed in marriage, cursed in the lives I cut down with these hands!"³ He then finds his mother after she has committed suicide and proceeds to gouge out his own eyes with her brooches.

Here in lie's the real tragedy of this play. Oedipus was ignorant of the fact that his father had discarded him at birth because of another prophet's predictions, but the twist of fate reveals all, condemning him to loose all things dear to him and to be pitied by the his loyal followers and the audience.

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According to Dr. Lucas refers to catharsis (purging) when watching this play and "The viewer will experience this purging vicariously through the actions of the tragic hero....." as with Oedipus.

¹Sophocles, "Oedipus the King", ¶109-111

²Gerald R. Lucas, Catharsis in the Aristotle's Poetics, ¶3 page 1

³ Sophocles, "Oedipus the King", ¶ 1309-1311


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