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Sophocles wrote more than one hundred plays, but only a handful of his works survived in their entirety ("Sophocles - Information, Facts, and Links"). One of the plays still talked about today that Sophocles wrote was Oedipus the King. Oedipus the King is the perfect example of a tragedy. It contains a complete combination of all the features of a tragedy. In tragedies the Greeks dramatized climactic events in the lives of heroes, and Oedipus' story is no exception. By using many different literary devices it brings moral dilemmas of action and motive to the public stage. Sophocles demonstrated the characteristics of an impressive disaster unforeseen by the protagonist that involved a character of respect, included irony, and was accompanied by misery and emotional distress.
Oedipus had everything a man could want; he was the King of Thebes, married with children, and had gained great fame throughout the land.
As the play opens, the citizens of Thebes beg their king, Oedipus, to take away the plague that threatens to destroy the city. Oedipus responds to the citizens in the following excerpt from the play.
Ah! My poor children, known, ah, known too well, the quest that brings you hither and your need. Ye sicken all, well wot I, yet my pain, How great so ever yours, out tops it all. Your sorrow touches each man severally, Him and none other, but I grieve at once both for the general and myself and you. Therefore ye rouse no sluggard from day-dreams. Many, my children, are the tears I've wept, and threaded many a maze of weary thought. Thus pondering one clue of hope I caught, and tracked it up; I have sent Menoeceus' son, Creon, my consort's brother, to inquire Of Pythian Phoebus at his Delphic shrine, how I might save the State by act or word. And now I reckon up the tale of days since he set forth, and marvel how he fares. 'Tis strange, this endless tarrying, passing strange. But when he comes, then I were base indeed, If I perform not all the god declares. (Storr)
On his return, Creon announces that the oracle instructs the city to find the murderer of Laius, the king who ruled before Oedipus. The discovery and punishment of the murderer will end the plague that is threatened to destroy the city.
Oedipus sets out to find the murdered of Laius. Oedipus calls on the blind prophet Tiresias begging him to tell him who killed Laius. Tiresias tells Oedipus and the entire city that Oedipus is the one who killed Laius. Oedipus gets very angry at Tiresias and starts to insult him about being blind and his powers. Tiresias responds to Oedipus by saying the insults will be turned on Oedipus by all of Thebes. Tiresias taunts Oedipus by saying he does not even know who his parents are. This enrages Oedipus and also makes Oedipus question. Jocasta, Oedipus wife, calms him by telling him that prophets are false. She begins to tell Oedipus that Laius was told he was going to be murdered by his own son, but in fact his son was sent out of Thebes as an infant. She then told Oedipus that Laius was actually murdered by a band of thieves.
A light bulb goes off in Oedipus head when hearing what Jocasta has told him about Laius. He pushes Jocasta for more information on Lauis death. She preceds to tell him that Lauis was killed just before Oedipus arrived in Thebes. Oedipus questions where he was killed at, "When Laius fell in bloody death, where was he at home, or in his fields, or in another land?" (Rudall pg. 140). Jocasta tells Oedipus that Lauis was killed at a three-way crossing. Oedipus in total shock realizes he may actually be the one killed Laius. He explains to Jocasta that when he was the prince of Corinth, he heard that he was not really the son of the king and queen. After hearing this he went to the oracle of Delphi, who told him that he would murdered his father and end up sleeping with his mother. Oedipus left Corinth in fear of endangering his parents.
Oedipus then fled to Thebes where he killed some travelers in self defense. It happened to be at the exact crossroad where Laius was murdered. Hoping it was just a coincidence that it happened to be the exact crossroad, he calls on the only shepherd that survived to find out if it was really him who killed Laius.
In the mean time Oedipus finds out that Polybus and his wife, Merope, are not his biological parents. "Why then did he acknowledge me as his?" (Johnston). A messenger who used to be a shepherd explains to Oedipus that he found a baby on Mount Cithaeron, whose ankles were pinned together. The messenger tells Oedipus, "I loosed the pin that riveted thy feet" (Rudall pg. 169). Oedipus realizes the baby the messenger is speaking of his actually him, who to the day was walking with a limp due to them being pinned together after birth. Oedipus starts to question who left him on Mount Cithaeron. The messenger explains to Oedipus that another shepherd who was Laius's servant gave him Oedipus. Oedipus immediately wants to find out who this shepherd was. Jocasta states, "Who is the man? What matter? Let it be. 'Twere waste of thought to weigh such idle words" (Storr). She does not want Lauis to find the shepherd which leads the audience to believe she knows what it going on.
The shepherd that had given Oedipus to the other shepherd ended up being the same shepherd who witnessed Laius's murder. Oedipus questions the shepherd of where he got the baby from (Oedipus). The shepherd refuses to speak until Oedipus threatens him with torture. The shepherd finally answers Oedipus stating that the baby had come from Laius house and that the baby was actually Laius and Jocasta child. They gave the shepherd the baby to destroy because they were told by a prophet that the child would end up killing his parents. Instead of doing what Laius and Jocasta asked the shepherd gave him to another shepherd.
Oedipus screams out in shock of what he has found out.
After finding out the news Jocasta went back to the palace and committed suicide. Oedipus finds Jocasta in the room and starts to cry. He removes the gold pins from her robes, with the gold pins he gouges out his eyes. He asks that he be banished from Thebes. Creon agrees with Oedipus's wish to be exile from the city. Before he leaves the city, Oedipus asks to see his daughters and begs Creon to take care of them. Oedipus is then taken away, while Creon and Oedipus daughters go back in the palace.
As one can see Sophocles did a fantastic job at portraying the perfect Greek tragedy. "Oedipus the King" is without a doubt, one of the best Greek tragedies ever written. Each necessity of Aristoles definition was fulfilled. Oedipus was a confident and intelligent king who worked hard for the people and would stop at nothing to save his beloved Thebes. He began the play as a king, only to end the play as a blinded beggar. Throughout the story Oedipus searches for his identity. The answers to his questions are visible to the audience, but not to Oedipus. His fall from his kingly status was not by accident and could not be blamed on anyone but himself. Oedipus' character traits are shown most clearly during his spiraling downfall, thinking he is a simple man, who knows nothing, yet knowing more than he realizes by the end of the story.