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Free Study Guide for Oedipus the King by Sophocles

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LITERARY ELEMENTS


SETTING


The entire action of this classical tragedy by Sophocles is set in the ancient city of Thebes. This setting does not change because unity of place was one of the most important characteristics of Greek tragedies. Thebes is presented as a city in the grip of a crisis. A deadly plague has transformed this city into a barren land. It is against the backdrop of this sterile and desolate land that the tragedy unfolds itself.


CHARACTER LIST


Major Characters


King Oedipus
The king of Thebes. A man ruled by a fate, according to which he is to murder his father and marry his own mother. Oedipus is unaware of the fact that he has already committed these dreadful acts. He is highly intelligent, short of temper, and impetuous.

Jocasta
The queen of Thebes. She is Oedipus’ wife as well as his mother but is as ignorant about the latter fact as is Oedipus. She is a good and loving queen who does not hesitate to speak her mind.

Creon
Jocasta’s brother. He is a responsible and loyal Theban citizen. Judicious, rational, and consistent in nature, he acts as a foil to the more impulsive Oedipus.

Tiresias
The blind prophet of Thebes, Tiresias has been blessed with immortality. He is the only one in Thebes who is aware of the facts of Oedipus’ life.



Chorus
The Chorus plays a very important role in Greek tragedies by providing background information, commenting on the action of the play and revealing the psychological and emotional tenor of the action. In Oedipus Rex, the chorus is formed of Theban citizens who witness Oedipus’ tragedy. They are a link between the actors and the audience because they voice the emotions, anxieties and concerns of the people watching the tragedy.


Minor Characters


A Corinthian Shepherd
An old man from Corinth, who brings the news of the Corinthian king’s death. He is also the man who had presented the infant Oedipus to the Corinthian ruler after he had been abandoned by the Theban shepherd.

A Theban Shepherd
Another old man who was a confidante of King Laius. He is the sole witness of Laius’ murder and also the one to hand over the infant Oedipus to the Corinthian Shepherd. Although both these shepherds are minor characters in the tragedy, they do play a major part in unraveling the mystery of Oedipus’ birth and Laius’ murder.

The two daughters of Oedipus
Antigone and Ismene make an appearance in the play although they are not assigned any dialogue.

A messenger, priests, and attendants
Other minor characters.


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