Last Updated on March 19, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 775
The Chorus now respond to Oedipus’s discovery of his birth, bemoaning how all lives come to nothing in the end and questioning the substance of our existence. They recall Oedipus’s greatness and his heroic defeat of the Sphinx, upon which he was crowned king of Thebes. Together, the Chorus lament his tortured fate. Time, they claim, has brought all this to light and brings with it a sense of impending doom.
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A Messenger enters from the palace with news so dreadful that, he states, all the waters of the Danube and the Nile could not cleanse it. First, we learn that the queen is dead, having committed suicide in a way so appalling that the Messenger is unable to describe it. In her final moments of agony, we are told that Oedipus burst hysterically into the room and eventually wrenched the double doors open to the bedchamber, where he saw Jocasta hanging by her neck from the high ceiling. He lowered her down from the noose and, ripping the golden pins from her dress, proceeded to scrape his own eyes out with them. The Messenger describes the gory scene in graphic detail and notes how this royal couple have been undone in a single day.
There is a cry from within, and the Messenger states that Oedipus is shouting for the doors to be unbolted so that the bloody truth can be revealed to all of Thebes. We learn that he will now exile himself from the city forever. Upon this revelation, the palace doors open, and Oedipus enters, blinded and led by a boy. The Chorus react in horror to the sight of him and wonder aloud what dark power has now consumed him. Disoriented, Oedipus describes his agony and the darkness that now surrounds him, while the miserable truth keeps circling in his mind, driving him mad.
Upon questioning, Oedipus reveals that Apollo instructed him to blind himself in this way and that he now wishes to be taken far away from this place, despised as he is by the gods. The Chorus lament that Oedipus ever found out the truth, and Oedipus himself curses the man who cut his ankles free and saved him from death as an infant.
Mourning his tragic fate, Oedipus asserts that he alone fulfills this destiny and, refuting the Chorus’s claim that he would be better off dead, argues that he could not look his parents in the eye even in death. He goes on to maintain that he couldn’t witness the sacred shrines, nor look at his fellow citizens with the same eyes that had witnessed such corruption. He claims that if it were possible, he would plunge himself into total oblivion. He laments Mount Cithaeron, which sheltered him, and King Polybus, who raised him, bringing his attention back to the fateful crossroads which ended his father’s life and brought about these dark deeds. The Chorus backs away from him as he begs them to throw him into the sea.
Creon enters from the palace, and the Chorus name him as the country’s defender in the absence of king or queen. Creon speaks openly, mending the rift that existed between him and Oedipus and insisting that the guards treat Oedipus with dignity by escorting him into the palace. Oedipus begs to be exiled immediately, but Creon insists they consult the gods before taking action. Agreeing to this, Oedipus next requests that the body of Jocasta be buried, and while his sons are grown, he implores Creon to take care of his daughters, Antigone and Ismene. The girls are brought forth from the palace, and Oedipus embraces them one last time, thanking Creon for this kindness but warning his children of the cursed future that awaits them as his descendants.
Turning to Creon, Oedipus implores him to be charitable to his children, who find themselves alone in the world. He reaches his hand toward Creon, who draws back. Finally, alone, Oedipus asks his children to pray for their own salvation, until Creon declares that it is time for the girls to return to the palace. Oedipus again requests to be driven from Thebes in exile, but Creon is unyielding, repeating that only the gods have the authority to decree this. In a final, tragic scene, Antigone and Ismene are torn from their father by the palace guards and ushered inside, whereupon Creon reminds Oedipus that his authority has ended, and they exit together.
The Chorus now address the audience directly, reiterating the story of Oedipus's tragic downfall and noting that no man can be considered truly happy until he is dead.