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Key elements and character relationships in Sophocles' Oedipus Rex

Summary:

In Oedipus Rex, key elements include fate, prophecy, and the quest for truth. The relationships between Oedipus and other characters are central: Oedipus is the son of Laius and Jocasta, though he is unaware of this initially. His relationships with Jocasta, his wife and mother, and Creon, his brother-in-law, underscore the themes of familial bonds and tragic irony.

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What is the relationship between characters and plot in Sophocles' Oedipus Rex?

In writing Oedipus Rex, Sophocles closely intertwined all elements of the drama with each other to produce a coherent whole. Some plays are character driven, others are driven by plot; in Oedipus Rex the two go together, serving the drama's overriding needs. The plot of the play is intimately related to Oedipus's hubris, his overweening pride. This pride is progressively revealed as the plot develops; it almost comes to take on a life of its own, so much so that Oedipus's pride effectively is the plot for much of the play. The pride is always there, in one form or another; what changes is how it manifests itself and what the consequences are for plot development. Sophocles's purpose in writing Oedipus Rex is didactic, that is to say he wants to teach and instruct. He is keen to present the dangers of hubris, and as such it's absolutely imperative for him that Oedipus's pride is integral to the plot, to the events that unfold on stage.

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What is the relationship between characters and plot in Sophocles' Oedipus Rex?

There is a very close relationship between plot and characterization or character development. As the plot moves forward, the plot reveals the characters' qualities. Likewise, it is also the characters' actions, beliefs, attitudes, and motivations, all of which make up characterization, that help to move the plot forward.

One of Oedipus's qualities is his excessive pride and it is that quality which drives the plot forward the most. His excessive pride is especially seen when he refuses to believe the truth of the oracle that Creon reports, believing instead that Creon is involved in a conspiracy to overthrow him and take the crown. We first see Oedipus reach the conclusion that there is a treasonous plot afoot in Thebes when he learns from Creon that the late King Laius was killed by bandits. Oedipus can't believe that bandits would dare attack a king unless they were bribed to do so by a Theban as part of a plot to take the thrown, as we see in Oedipus's lines, "How did a bandit come to dare so much, unless he acted with money from here?" (135-136). Instead, he begins to accuse both Creon and Tiresias of being involved in the plot to, not only assassinate Laius, but himself as well.

As Tiresias points out, it is Oedipus's excessive pride that leads to his blindness, preventing him from being able to see the truth of both Tiresias's prophecy and even the one Oedipus was given by the oracle at Delphi when he was a younger man. When he was a young man, Oedipus went to the oracle to find out who his true parents were but was only told that he would one day murder his own father and sleep with his own mother, just as Tiresias is presently warning him. It was his pride and his temper that drove him to kill a man at the crossroads of Delphi, who turned out to be his own father, just as his pride is prohibiting him from seeing the truth of his own actions, as Tiresias argues in the lines, "You, even though you see clearly, do not see the scope of your evil" (433-434).

However, as the plot continues, Oedipus begins to realize more and more things about himself. Both his blindness and his pride are lifted, leaving him a cursed and agonized man. Hence, we see that it is Oedipus's characterization as being prideful and blind that helps to drive the plot forward; likewise, Oedipus's pride and blindness are revealed in the progress of the plot.

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What are the key elements of the plot in Oedipus Rex by Sophocles?

Oedipus Rex is an ancient Greek tragedy by Sophocles.

The inciting incident is when Oedipus sends Creon, his brother-in-law, to ask the oracle at Delphi for advice on the plague victimizing Thebes. This action sets the rest of the plot into motion, as the king soon learns the reason for the plague is a curse, because Laius’s murderer is still at large. In order to combat the plague and curse, Oedipus sets out to find the murderer.

The rising action begins once Oedipus’s search begins. Specifically, this aspect of Freytag’s Pyramid begins with the blind prophet Tiresias’s prophecy that the murderer is a native citizen of Thebes, brother and father to his own children and son and husband to his own mother.

The climax occurs when Oedipus realizes that the prophecy describes himself through the conversation with the shepherd, who confirms that Laius and Jocasta left their infant to die but that the child was secretly kept alive.

The falling action includes the discovery of Jocasta’s suicide and Oedipus’s blinding himself. Now that Oedipus has discovered the truth, his mother and wife is unable to live with herself, and he is so sick that he removes his ability to see, which is a theme reinforced by both the oracle at Delphi and Tiresias.

The resolution/denouement occurs when Oedipus asks Creon to exile him, thus removing the curse from Thebes.

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What are the key elements of the plot in Oedipus Rex by Sophocles?

Oedipus Rex by Sophocles is considered to be one of the best tragedies every written. It chronicles a very short period of Oedipus's current life; most of the tragedy centers around what happened before the play begins and what happens after he finds out the truth about his past. 

As the play opens, the priest and the citizens of Thebes have come to the royal palace to beg their king, Oedipus, to do something to alleviate their serious problems.

For our city, as you yourself can see,
is badly shaken—she cannot raise her head
above the depths of so much surging death.
Disease infects fruit blossoms in our land,
disease infects our herds of grazing cattle,                                 
makes women in labour lose their children.
And deadly pestilence, that fiery god,
swoops down to blast the city, emptying
the House of Cadmus, and fills black Hades                                       
with groans and howls.

The king listens, assuring them he has already taken action on their behalf by sending Creon to the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi.

The inciting action, the incident which changes the course of the play, happens early. One could make the case that it is when Creon returns from his task and announces what the Oracle told him: the city is harboring a the murderer of Laius, the former king of Thebes. One might also make the case that the inciting action is shortly after that, when Oedipus actually takes some action toward discovering the culprit; however, it seems to me that Creon's news is the spark that triggers the rest of the action. In either case, it is when Oedipus learns how he can lift the curse on his city that everything changes.

Rising action includes everything which leads up to the climactic grand revelation, and it begins with Oedipus asking questions about the death of Laius and his vow to discover the truth. He delivers his curses to those who have anything to do with the murderer (which of course is him) and sends for the blind prophet Teiresias. The prophet tells Oedipus the truth, though of course it is in veiled language, but the king does not believe him. In fact, Oedipus then accuses Teiresias and Creon of trying to usurp his throne and sends the prophet away. Creon and Oedipus argue, and Jocasta comes out of the palace to stop the fight. She tells the story of her own experience with prophecies which were not accurate (which, of course, we discover were actually true), and Oedipus gradually begins to suspect that he is the murderer of Laius. A messenger announces that Polybus is dead; a witness tells what he knows about the death of Laius and a shepherd admits he did not kill Jocasta's son as he was ordered to do. Jocasta realizes the truth and immediately goes inside and hangs herself.

In the tragic climax of this story, Oedipus also realizes the truth. (A case might also be made that Jocasta's death is actually the climax, since that is when the audience discovers the truth and Oedipus is simply slow to comprehend what he does not want to believe.)

The falling action is almost negligible. Oedipus goes inside and blinds himself because, he says,

In my wretched life, why should I have eyes
when nothing I could see would bring me joy?

The resolution/denouement is Oedipus's appeal to Creon to "see" his daughters for one last time and for Creon to banish him from the city. Creon agrees to both requests.

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