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Oedipus the King

This study guide will help you analyze the play Oedipus the King (also known as Oedipus Rex) by Sophocles. You can also find a summary of the text, detailed characterizations, as well as inspiration for interpreting it and putting it into perspective.

Presentation of the text

Title: Oedipus the King (around 429 BC)

Author: Sophocles

Genre: Tragedy

Sophocles (497/496-406/405 BC) is one of the most famous Greek playwrights. He wrote mainly tragedies, although only seven of his plays have survived to this day. His most notable works are a series of plays set in Thebes: Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone.

Oedipus the King (or Oedipus Rex) was the second of the Theban plays to be written, after Antigone, although it chronologically takes place earlier. The tragedy presents the fate of the King Oedipus, as he tries to uncover the murder of King Laius and therefore save his city from a plague, unaware that he is actually the one he is looking for.

The quotes for the English translation used in this study guide are taken from the 2004 translation by Ian Johnston.

Excerpt 

Below, you can read an excerpt from our study guide: 

Dialogues 

As the main character, Oedipus has the most lines of dialogue and is present in almost every scene. The dialogues of a play can be characterized by their function, such as an argument, debate, or discussion. Since the play deals with the search for Laius’ murderer, it is natural that many dialogues are presented as interrogations. This structure is supported by dichomytia, a line speech in which speech and counter-speech alternate in almost every verse: 

Jocasta: What news is that? Where have you come from?

Messenger: I’ve come from Corinth. I’ll give you my report at once, and then you will, no doubt, be glad, although perhaps you will be sad, as well.

Jocasta: What is your news? How can it have two such effects at once? 

Messenger: The people who live there, in the lands beside the Isthmus, will make him their king. They have announced it. 

Jocasta: What are you saying? Is old man Polybus no longer king?

Messenger: No. He’s dead and in his grave.

Jocasta: What? Has Oedipus’ father died? (ll.1108-1114)

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Oedipus the King

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