Plot in Oedipus Rex
Oedipus Rex begins when a plague blights the city-state of Thebes. Oedipus, the king, discovers the source of the plague: a curse resulting from the disappearance of the former king Laius. Laius was reportedly murdered by bandits, and so Oedipus resolves to find and kill the bandits. Oedipus requests the advice of the prophet Tiresias, who tells the king that he himself is the criminal he seeks. Oedipus rages at the prophet and ignores his words. As the play continues, Oedipus continues his search, discovering more and more about the circumstances of Laius’s murder. In the process, Oedipus inadvertently learns more about himself. It is revealed that Jocasta abandoned her first-born son on Mount Cithaeron due to a prophecy that the boy would grow up to kill his father and wed his mother. It is discovered, too, that the shepherd who witnessed Laius’s murder was the same shepherd who rescued and raised the infant Oedipus. When the truth is revealed, Jocasta and Oedipus spiral into grief. Jocasta hangs herself, and after finding her body, Oedipus gouges out his own eyes with her hairpins. At the play’s end, Oedipus’s fate is ambiguous, left to be decided by oracles. He pleads to be exiled. In the final moments, the Chorus reminds us that misfortune can befall even the most admired people: “Therefore, it is necessary to call no man blessed as we await the final day, until he has reached the limit of life and suffered nothing grievous.”
Plot Examples in Oedipus Rex:
Sophocles creates a chain of communication that Oedipus must go through to obtain information. This creates difficulties for Oedipus for two reasons. First, it makes the flow of information slower, and facts about Oedipus’ life do not reach him until after they would be of use to him. Second, Oedipus does not know whether he can trust the second-hand information he receives. He struggles with coming to terms with the truth, and his doubts about what others tell him are a main source of tension in the play.
Oedipus believes that his ascent to rule over Thebes happened by chance, not of his own volition or through his own actions but by an act of the gods. The conflict between fate and free will, as well as the difficulty to discern between them at times, provides tension as the play progresses.