Short Summary of Oedipus Rex, a play by Sophocles



The play is a tragedy highlighting the role of fate and chance as well as the pride which often times combine to bring a disastrous end much beyond human imagination. The play opens with Oedipus, the king of Thebes, who is addressing the people of Thebes. They are thunderstruck by an infliction which is killing them in such numbers that they are likely to be swept off the land. They have come to ask Oedipus for doing something to rescue them from their misfortune and calamity. Oedipus is also informed that the calamity is caused, according to Oracle, because the Thebes have not arrested and punished the murderer of their former king Liaus. When the people are gone, Oedipus begins to discuss with the people of his court about the murder of the king. They relate that they know nothing of the murder and the killers. However, they do relate the fact that the king was killed near cross roads when Sphinx had inflicted death upon them till Oedipus rescued them.

Soon Oedipus is informed of Tiresias, the seer by Creon. He can see beyond human knowledge and is known to have power over things hidden from mortals. Oedipus seeks him in the court. Tiresias arrives but does not tell Oedipus anything of the killer. Oedipus abuses and blames him of falsehood and Tiresias is enraged and blames Oedipus for having killed the former king. This infuriates Oedipus and he charges both Creon and the seer of conspiracy. He wishes to abandon both. The seer leaves while Oedipus wishes to kill Creon. The queen, sister of Creon, arrives and calms Oedipus down. She asks him not to be furious because several years ago an oracle did give a prophecy of her son's killing her husband and marrying her. She proudly relates that the prophecy has failed to come true. Oedipus asks her to relate in detail what led to the incidents and how. He also wishes to meet the guards of the king that escaped while the king was killed. Deep inside he is perturbed but keeps on inquiring into the matter.

Oedipus tells her that it was probably him that slayed her later husband in a fit of rage and proud. He awaits the man that survived to ask him again the story of the murder while Jocasta says she has lost her only son due to a prophecy, so she utters:

"And I will no more turn mine eyes
This way nor that for all their prophecies".

Soon a messenger arrives from Corinth and informs Oedipus of the death of his father. Oedipus relates how he fled to avoid the killing of his father. The stranger reveals to Oedipus that he is the adopted son of the king. This puts Oedipus in deep gloom and he wishes to go further. His wife and mother, Jocasta, realizes the foul play at the hands of fate and tries to stop Oedipus from advancing into the matter but he would not listen to her. He digs into the matter and is soon arrived at the result that he is the son of the dead king he himself slayed. He is the accursed that married his own mother and cannot run away from the truth. He remembers the words of the seer and rues his ill fate.




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