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Free Study Guide for Oedipus the King by Sophocles

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CONFLICT


Protagonist

Oedipus, the king of Thebes, is the protagonist of the play. Oedipus is born with a terrible prophecy to kill his own father and marry his mother. To prevent this from happening, Oedipus’ father orders the baby to be killed but instead he is given to a childless king and queen who raise him as if he were their own. In attempting to deny his fate, Oedipus runs away from who he is and yet ironically ends up in the homeland of his origins, ruling as king and marrying his mother. When he finally realizes the truth of the prophecy, Oedipus must accept his punishment and his limitations as a man.

Antagonist

The antagonist in this classical Greek tragedy is Fate. The awful fate with which Oedipus is born is his greatest enemy. Despite attempting to flee his fate, Oedipus ends up doing exactly what it predicts and then having to confront the consequences of these actions.

Oedipus’ destiny is engendered by Oedipus’ own character defects: his temper and impulsive nature and his pride (hubris) as well as his erroneous judgment (hamartia) all contribute to his eventual downfall. These character defects are governed by his fate and in turn aid his fate to take its course towards his destruction.

Thus, Oedipus’ fate as well as his hamartia work as the antagonists in this tragedy.


Climax

The character flaws of the protagonist Oedipus work in tandem with fate to take the tragedy to its climax. Oedipus, in his eagerness to solve the mystery of Laius’ murder and later in order to find the facts about his birth carries out an investigation. His wife and others advise him not to do so as the results may be unpleasant. But the stubborn Oedipus does not take their advice.

The climax occurs at the point when he realizes that fate has played itself out and in his ignorance he has killed his father and married his mother. This realization marks the climax of the play.

Outcome

The outcome of this climax is that Jocasta, Oedipus’ mother/wife commits suicide, as she is unable to bear the burden of her abhorrent existence. Oedipus is devastated and blinds himself as a punishment. He only wants to be exiled from Thebes, destroyed and vanquished. Through his pain and suffering, Oedipus is humbled yet he also gains self-knowledge, as he knows who he is and where he is from.


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