A character who is noble in nature but possessive of great pride, Oedipus, the king of Thebes, who has previously aided the people of his city by solving the riddle of the Sphinx, vows to discover the cause of the plague that has beset the city. Unfortunately, this pride, which becomes hubris, "Excessive pride toward or defiance of the gods" is what leads to his downfall.
When he first learns of the woes of the citizens of Thebes, Oedipus vows to "help...In every way I can."
- He entreats Kreon to tell him what he has learned "from the god" Apollo, asking further what "the defilement" is that the city of which the city must rid itself and where they can find a clue about this "defilement."
- Kreon tells Oedipus that King Laios was murdered and Apollo commands them to take revenge upon whoever committed this murder; so Oedipus asks if there were witnesses to this murder and is told there was one. This man was so terrified that he ran off after declaring that a band of highwaymen attacked Laios.
- In his pride, Oedipus states that as he did with the riddle of the Sphinx, he will again bring "what is dark to light"; in addition, in dramatic irony, Oedipus makes a promise he will fulfill:
You shall see how I stand by you....
And not as though it were for some distant friend,
But for my own sake, to be rid of evil.
- Oedipus, ironically, in his pride also orders anyone who has knowledge of the crime to tell him everything no matter what he fears, and he decrees that the murderer will be driven from the city, praying that this man's life "be consumed in evil and wretchedness," adding that the curse even applies to himself.
- When the seer Teiresias enters, Oedipus questions him arrogantly as Teiresias declares that he wishes to "be more prudent."
- They exchange angry words, and Oedipus, in his hubris, accuses Teiresias of having planned the murder of King Laios. In response, the seer charges Oedipus, telling the king the crime is his.
- This charge enrages Oedipus, who accuses Teiresias of "infantile riddles" and the seer retorts that "A blind man,/Who has his eyes now"...will go to a strange land with his staff and never see his family again.
- Then, Oedipus accuses Kreon of trickery because he wishes to become king. But, Kreon tells Oedipus he has no reason to want to rule when he alread has the benefits of royalty.
- Oedipus becomes vituperative, accusing Kreon of treason.
- Oedipus begins to blame the gods [fate]: "Ah, what net has God been weaving for me?" But, then, realizes that Teiresias may be right: "I am not sure that the blind man cannot see."
- With some hope, however, Oedipus reasons that his father was already dead when he was grown.
- But, after calling in the one witness, a shepherd, Oedipus realizes it was he who killed Laios, his real father. Jocaste entreats him, "Talk is a waste of time," hoping he will never learn who he is.
- Saying, "the greatest griefs are those we cause ourselves," Oedipus mourns the suicide of Jocaste, and he blinds himself "When all my sight was horror everywhere."
- He asks forgiveness of Kreon, and begs to leave Thebes that he may purge the city of its pollution. Bidding farewell to his children, Oedipus departs, believing in nothing but fate.