Oedipus Rex Characters

Character Analysis


Creon is the brother of Laius. Before the play begins Oedipus sent him on a mission to receive the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi, and he returns with its news during the prologue. With great hesitation he reports that "The god commands us to expel from the land of Thebes/An old defilement we are sheltering.'' He says that in order to rid the city of its woes, Oedipus must find the murderer of King Laius, his predecessor. Oedipus feels threatened by Creon and believes that he covets the throne (by some accounts Creon was to have been the next ruler following his brother's death, and he is thus filled with resentment).

When Teiresias tells the unbelieving Oedipus what he will come to know, his true identity and responsibility for his father's murder, Oedipus immediately assumes that Teiresias is working for Creon, trying to get him the throne. Creon takes these accusations seriously and wishes to clear his name: "The fact is that I am being called disloyal/ To the State, to my fellow citizens, to my friends." Creon defends himself to Oedipus in the next scene, saying that he has no desire to become king and that Oedipus harms himself and the state in leveling such accusations. Oedipus grows more incensed and calls for Creon's death; only the pleading of Jocasta and a member of the chorus prevent him from acting. At the end of the play, after Oedipus has blinded himself, Creon becomes king and acts with compassion towards the repentant Oedipus, leading him into...

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Jocasta is Oedipus's wife and mother; she is also the mother of his children. Her first entrance onstage occurs when Oedipus and Creon are in the midst of arguing; Jocasta storms in and demands that they resolve their petty personal dispute because the country's troubles are far more urgent: "Poor foolish men, what wicked din is this?/With Thebes sick to death, is it not shameful/That you should rake some private quarrel up?" She pleads with Oedipus to believe Creon's good intentions towards him, and their hostilities momentarily abate. She assures Oedipus that the oracle proclaiming Laius's murder by his own son was false, since Laius was killed by highwaymen, and his son had been left "to die on a lonely mountainside." Rather than placating Oedipus, her words haunt him, he recalls "a shadowy memory,'' and asks her to give details about Laius's death. The surviving witness to the crime, tells Jocasta, had come to her when Oedipus was made king and asked her if he could be sent far away; she granted him his wish and now is asked by Oedipus to recall this witness—a shepherd—to the palace to testify about the murder.

Jocasta tells Oedipus not to trust in the truth of oracles. When the messenger arrives to tell of Polybos's death, Jocasta is hopeful that she can allay Oedipus's fears about fulfilling the prophecy. Later in the same scene she tries to stop him from questioning the messenger regarding his true father: "May you never learn who you are!" In...

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Oedipus, the title character, is the protagonist of the play. His name means "swell-foot" or "swollen-foot." One of the most famous dramatic characters in the history of western literature, he was singled out by Aristotle in his Poetics as the right kind of protagonist because he inspires the right combination of pity and fear. "This is the sort of man who is not preeminently virtuous and just, and yet it is through no badness or villainy of his own that he falls into the misfortune, but rather through some flaw in him; he being one of those who are in high station and good fortune, like Oedipus and Thyestes and the famous men of families such as these." Oedipus's fatal flaw, the technical Greek term for which is hamartia, can be thought of as a character fault or a mistake, or more like an Achilles heel rather than a flaw for which he can be held directly responsible. A hereditary curse has been placed on his family, and he unknowingly has fulfilled the terms of the prophecy that Laius's son would kill him and marry his wife.

The play's action is concerned with the gradual and delayed revelation of the fulfillment of this oracle. It specifically focuses on Oedipus's quest for knowledge, on the one hand, and, on the other, the other characters' resistance to discovering the truth; Jocasta tries to protect her husband/son from the facts, and the shepherd cannot be forced to speak until his life is at stake. Oedipus impatiently confronts...

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Teiresias, a blind prophet and servant of Apollo, twice was asked by Oedipus to come to the palace to discuss the crisis in Thebes. In the first act of the play he finally appears, revealing the reasons for the city's devastation, knowledge that he is reluctant to reveal to Oedipus for fear of making him miserable. Oedipus, feeling himself to be betrayed by the prophet's resistance, verbally abuses Teiresias ("You sightless, witless, senseless, mad old man!" ) and accuses him of working on behalf of the "usurper" Creon.

Reluctantly, Teiresias tells Oedipus that he should not mock him so quickly; in a famous moment of foreshadowing, he tells the king that it is he who is blind: "But I say that you, with both your eyes, are blind:/You cannot see the wretchedness of your life,/Nor in whose house you live, no, nor with whom." Significantly, Teiresias is also the first character in the play to question Oedipus's assumption that he knows his parentage and to tell him that he has committed atrocities that he does not yet know are his own. He tells Oedipus that he will become blind and poor, that Oedipus is himself Laius's murderer, and that he will learn that he has fathered children with his mother. While Teiresias's presence on stage is brief, as a prophet representing the god Apollo he remains one of the most powerful characters in the play; in addition, the Athenian audience would have recognized him from Homeric mythology (in The Odyssey the title...

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Other Characters

Chorus of Theban Elders
Unlike the chorus in Antigone, whose Ode on Man historically has been regarded as a model expression of Athenian individualism, the chorus in this play has no famous statement, though its role is not insignificant. The Theban elders of the chorus are considered to be fairly representative men of Thebes who honor and respect the king and the gods; their odes reveal both a strong attachment to the king as well as a grounding in religious culture. In The Idea of a Theater, Francis Fergusson likens the chorus' role to that of a character who provides a broader context for the action of the play as a whole: "the chorus' action is not limited by the sharp, rationalized purposes of the protagonist; its mode of action, more patient, less sharply realized, is cognate with a wider, if less accurate, awareness of the scene of human life.''

The messenger enters in Scene iii and tells Oedipus that King Polybos of Corinth, whom Oedipus had believed to be his father, is dead. Oedipus also learns from this messenger that Polybos was not his father; the messenger himself had been given Oedipus as an infant by one of Laius's men, and that he had untied Oedipus's bound ankles. He causes the shepherd who left Oedipus to die (having been given him by Jocasta, his mother) to come in and testify that Oedipus is Laius's son.

Messengers were common devices used in Greek drama. They were often...

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