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Oedipus the King

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Oedipus the King (also known as Oedipus Rex and Oedipus Tyrannus) is a Greek tragedy by Sophocles, written around 427 BC.

The subject of the play is Oedipus, a mythical character who was exposed on a mountainside as an infant in an effort to avoid a prophecy that he would kill his father, King Laius of Thebes. However, he was spirited away by a passing shepherd and raised in the court of King Polybus of Corinth. Hearing from an oracle that he was destined to kill his father and marry his mother, and believing Polybus and his wife Merope to be his real parents, he left Corinth. Meeting Laius by chance on a road and not recognizing him, he got into an argument with him and killed him. Later he met and married Jocasta, living as King of Thebes; again, neither recognized the other.

The play begins after Thebes has been struck with plague by the gods in outrage at Oedipus' unintentional wrongdoing. The play shows Oedipus' investigation, in which he curses and promises to exile those responsible for the murder. Although the blind prophet Tiresias explicitly tells Oedipus at the beginning of the play that he is the cause of the plague, Oedipus at first does not understand. Instead he accuses Tiresias of conspiring with Creon, Jocasta's brother, to overthrow him.

Oedipus then calls for a former servant of Laius, the only surviving witness of the murder, who fled the city when Oedipus became king. Soon a messenger from Corinth also arrives to inform Oedipus of the death of Polybus, whom Oedipus still believes is his real father, until the messenger informs him that he was in fact adopted. In the subsequent discussions between Oedipus, Jocasta, the servant, and the messenger, Jocasta discovers the truth and runs off; Oedipus learns the truth more slowly, but later runs off-stage as well. The chorus fills in the unseen details: Jocasta hanged herself, and Oedipus, upon discovering her body, blinds himself with her brooches. The play ends with Oedipus entrusting his children to Creon and going into exile, as he promised at the beginning.

The play depends very heavily on dramatic irony. At one point, Oedipus and Jocasta discuss the oracle, dismissing it as its prophecies have apparently not come to pass. The audience was expected to understand Oedipus' history well before he does.

Oedipus the King was the second of Sophocles' three Theban plays to be produced, but its events occur before those of Oedipus at Colonus or Antigone.

See also: Oedipus, Oedipus complex

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