What is the structure of tragedy in Oedipus Rex?

The story of Oedipus Rex unfolds in five parts: prologos, parodos, episode 1, stasimon 1, episode 2, stasimon 2, etc. until the exodus. The episodes contribute to the exposition, rising action and climax of Oedipus Rex; the stasimons comment on the episodes and also provide background information for the audience about the mythology of Oedipus Rex; and the exodus is when all of these elements come together in a resolution or denouement.

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The dramatic structure used by Sophocles in Oedipus Rex is essentially the same five-part structure found in tragic plays written by other ancient Greek playwrights, including Aeschylus and Euripides.

Prologos. The play opens with a prologos (prologue ) which is the first entrance of one or more actors...

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The dramatic structure used by Sophocles in Oedipus Rex is essentially the same five-part structure found in tragic plays written by other ancient Greek playwrights, including Aeschylus and Euripides.

Prologos. The play opens with a prologos (prologue) which is the first entrance of one or more actors in the play. These actors provide "exposition" (background information) on the play for the audience (although the audience is very familiar with the myths and legends on which the play is based), and they set the play in motion.

In Oedipus Rex, a Priest appeals to Oedipus, King of Thebes, on behalf of the Theban people who are suffering from a drought and plague. Creon returns from the Oracle at Delphi to report that Apollo commands that in order for the drought and plague to be lifted, Thebans must find and banish from Thebes the murderer of their former King, Laius. Oedipus vows to do so.

Parodos. Following the prologos, the Chorus enters, dancing and singing the parados—a choral ode. The Chorus in Oedipus Rex describes how the drought and plague are affecting the people of Thebes and prays to Apollo, Athena, and Artemis to help them find the murderer and end their suffering.

Episode. An episode is what we know as a "scene." In the Greek tragedies of the 5th century, the number of episodes varied from play to play. In the 4th century, tragedies usually had five episodes, from which the five-act play structure of the plays of Shakespeare and other playwrights evolved. Oedipus Rex was written in about 429 B.C., and has six episodes. The episodes in Oedipus Rex contribute to the "exposition" of the play, as well as the" rising acting," composed of the complications and conflict in the play, and the "climax" of the play.

Stasimon. After each episode, the actors leave the stage, and the Chorus returns and sings and dances another choral ode called a stasimon. The stasimon usually comments on the preceding episode, and sometimes expands on the story and provides further information for the audience, as is the case in Oedipus Rex. The play then alternates between episodes and stasimon until the final scene.

Exodus. The exodus is the final scene of the play consisting of the "resolution" or "denouement" of the play, in which all of the issues of the play are resolved. In Oedipus Rex, Creon becomes King, restoring order to Thebes, and Oedipus is exiled (although Oedipus actually exiles himself).

The actors leave the stage, the Chorus sings one last choral ode imparting to the audience the lesson of the play, and the Chorus leaves the stage for the final time.

The last lines of the Chorus in Oedipus Rex are very interesting. The Chorus points out the moral of the play, as expected.

CHORUS: Look ye, countrymen and Thebans, this is Oedipus the great,
He who knew the Sphinx's riddle and was mightiest in our state.
Who of all our townsmen gazed not on his fame with envious eyes?
Now, in what a sea of troubles sunk and overwhelmed he lies!

The Chorus provides some further guidance for the audience, and at the same time, in the last two lines of the play, gives a hint of a sequel to Oedipus Rex.

CHORUS: Therefore wait to see life's ending ere thou count one mortal blest;
Wait till free from pain and sorrow he has gained his final rest.

This is a fairly precise description of the plot of Oedipus at Colonus, although Sophocles didn't write Oedipus at Colonus until about 406 B.C, and it wasn't performed until 401 B.C., five years after his death.

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In addition to adhering to the classical unities, as well described in the other answer, the play is structured so that it begins "in media res," which means in the middle of the action. A plague has already erupted in Thebes—we come into the play to find Oedipus addressing his citizens about it and then to find Creon returning from the oracle of Delphi with information that a sin must be rooted out to end the plague.

The play also starts many years after what precipitated the plague, which was Oedipus murdering his father and marrying his mother. We start at the moment of crisis that causes the backtracking in time that reveals the awful truth about the plague's origin.

As the unravelling leads closer and closer to the final revelation that even Oedipus can't deny, the play reaches its cathartic—and tragic—high point as Jocasta hangs herself and Oedipus puts out his eyes, at which point he achieves the insight and wisdom he could not achieve when he could see.

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The dramatic structure of Oedipus Rex is intimately related to its status as a tragedy. In other words, the way in which the play is structured is designed to serve the time-honored demands of Greek tragedy. To this end, Sophocles sticks to the traditional three-fold unity of time, place and action. Why were these norms of classical drama considered so important to the Greeks? And how do they relate to the tragedy of Oedipus Rex?

Unity of time- The play must take place over the course of a single day. It needs to be dramatically plausible, making the action on stage appear as realistic as possible. The shorter the period of time involved, the more real the drama will appear.

In relation to Oedipus Rex Sophocles concentrates upon the latter part of Oedipus's life for maximum dramatic impact. The tragedy of the play lies in the revelation that Oedipus has unwittingly killed his father and married his mother. That all this is revealed in such a short space of time makes this tragic outcome all the more intense.

Unity of place- The events of the play must happen in one place. In the case of Oedipus Rex that means the palace of Oedipus. Again, credibility is an important consideration here. However, what's also important is that unity of place gives us no breathing space, as it were. For everything happening in one place means that there's nowhere to hide, either for ourselves or the characters. We can see how this heightens the tragedy further in Oedipus Rex as everyone is confronted with the terrible truth in a dramatically enclosed, claustrophobic environment.

Unity of action- Everything that happens in the play should be related to its overriding theme. In Oedipus Rex this means the question of Oedipus's birth, his past actions and how they will impact on his fate. All action in the play points to one thing, which is a tragic end for Oedipus and Jocasta.

 

 

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