Editor's Choice

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The only female character in Oedipus Rex is Jocasta. We can compare and contrast her to her husband/son Oedipus.

Like Oedipus, Jocasta tries to beat the prophecy that says her newborn infant will grow up to kill his father and marry his mother. She tries to negate the prophecy by agreeing to have her baby exposed on a hillside so he will die. Oedipus also tries to beat the prophecy when he learns of it, leaving Corinth and the people he thinks are his parents before he can hurt them.

Both Jocasta and Oedipus, however, fail to take the words of the prophecy seriously enough, and both, tragically, fail to look deeply enough into the events that occur in their lives. Jocasta is too quick to accept the stories that robbers, not Oedipus, killed her husband on the highway. When Oedipus shows up on the heels of her husband's death, that should have been a red flag reminding her of the prophecy. It should have seemed a little suspicious that this younger stranger arrived after her husband's death and then pushed to marry her. However, she thought she had already beaten the prophecy by exposing her son, never considering that somebody might have saved the infant. Likewise, Oedipus never questions whether the people who raised him are his real parents. He also never stops to consider the prophecy when he kills Laius. Both Jocasta and Oedipus believe they have outsmarted the gods.

As for contrasts, Oedipus has the much larger ego, and he wants to solve mysteries. He shows his ego and alludes to his fame for solving puzzles when he says:

Here I am myself—
you all know me, the world knows my fame:
I am Oedipus.

He doesn't stop to think he could be at fault or shouldn't be bragging about himself.

Jocasta doesn't brag about herself (which probably reflects the subordinate position of women in her society) and wants to protects Oedipus from finding out the truth. She, unlike him, is happier not solving puzzles and urges him to let go of the quest for knowledge:

Listen to me and learn some peace of mind:
no skill in the world,
nothing human can penetrate the future.

She, however, realizes the truth before Oedipus does. She is also more deeply impacted by the guilt the incest causes her to feel and commits suicide rather than deal with her shame. Oedipus, although he has more sins on his head—he not only slept with his mother, but he also killed his father—nevertheless only blinds himself, rather than killing himself.

Jocasta's suicide is consistent with her character: she seeks oblivion. Oedipus is also true to himself, using the tragedy to grow in wisdom.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Oedipus the King (also known as Oedipus Rex), the male characters dominate the play in terms of numbers. The men are the heroes and the villains in the sense that the conflict on stage and in recounted stories revolves around them. 

Oedipus, Creon and Tiresias are each male (although Tiresias was once turned into a woman and can be seen as somewhat androgynous perhaps) and these three characters do most of the speaking in the play.

Some of the biggest differences in characters are not best seen by contrasting male and female characters, but instead by comparing attitudes held among both genders in regards to logic and insistence. However, in making the gender comparison, we can see that men are presented as being rash and quick to anger and fits of pride. The queen, Iocaste, is level-headed and largely keeps her own counsel (whereas Oedipus feels the need to find support for his views from others).

When Oedipus begins to doubt Creon and threatens to have Creon killed, Iocaste arrives on the scene. The chorus wonders if “this dreadful quarrel can be resolved through her,” suggesting that this female character might have powers of reason and influence enough to mediate between the male king in his brother-in-law.

She chastises both men:

“Poor foolish men, what wicked din is this?

With Thebes sick to death, is it not shameful

That you should rake some private quarrel up?”

In admonishing the men, Iocaste is also offering a direct characterization of their foolishly violent attitudes. 

Iocaste is respected by the men for her position and for her intellect. Oedipus tells her that “none of these men deserved [his] confidence as you do.” Yet, in the end, she kills herself after unsuccessfully pleading with Oedipus to give up on his inquiry into his own past and then finds out the truth about her husband.

The female character is a figure of caring, making repeated attempts to advise Oedipus in ways that will assure his comfort and peace of mind. The male characters hear Iocaste, but, as in the case of Oedipus, these male characters do not always listen.

The male characters are head-strong and stubborn, standing on points of pride. This is true for Oedipus to a greater extreme than it is for Creon and Tiresias, but we can still see both minor characters acting on stubborn pride as well.    

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial