Oedipus Rex Questions and Answers
by Sophocles

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What is the role of women in Sophocles's Oedipus the King?  

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Renata Kelly eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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This is a tricky question because the women in the play are mostly offstage, with the exception of Jocasta, Oedipus's mother/wife. The other women specifically mentioned in the text include Merope, Oedipus's foster mother, Ismene and Antigone, his daughters, and, as another educator cannily noted, the Sphinx (who, although not human, is female). Finally, the ordinary women of Thebes should also be considered.

The women of Thebes form a large part of the crowd of supplicants at the palace at the opening of the play. The Chorus of Elders speaks on their behalf, telling Oedipus of the suffering of the Thebans in the plague and how "by no birth of offspring do women surmount the pangs in which they shriek." Their babies are dying, along with their husbands, brothers, sisters, and friends:

With such deaths, past numbering, the city perishes. Unpitied, her children lie on the ground, spreading pestilence, with no one to mourn them. Meanwhile young wives and grey-haired mothers raise a wail at the...

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