Oedipus at Colonus

by Sophocles

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Does Oedipus achieve recognition in Oedipus at Colonus?

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The story of Oedipus can be seen as a series of three plays, one after another. The first play, Oedipus Rex, is a tragedy about an individual's downfall through his own actions. In the second play, Antigone, the focus switches from the individual to a wider perspective on the problems that plague Greek society in general. The third play, Oedipus at Colonus, is again focused on Oedipus himself but he has now come to reflect on the role he played in both his downfall and his redemption and how these events have led him to find meaning in what would otherwise have been a tragic life.

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In Oedipus at Colonus, there is no traditional recognition scene or moment of anagnorisis. Instead, Oedipus as a protagonist has already developed from the brash, aggressive but inherently decent hero of Oedipus Rex to a more reflective and philosophical person, whose tragic experiences have left him wiser. He also now appears to have a much stronger relationship with the gods and to be looking beyond his own life to a greater good. Perhaps we could argue that in accepting the need for his own death and the consequences of the prophecy, Oedipus has experienced a sort of epiphany or recognition of his true purpose in the world.

The essential conflict is the play is essentially between Creon, an evil ruler who wishes to exploit Oedipus and his family for his own ends, and Theseus, a fair and just ruler. The climactic moment of the tragedy, the death and apotheosis of Oedipus, occurs offstage, with only Theseus as a witness. 

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