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Free Study Guide for Oedipus the King by Sophocles

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SCENE SUMMARIES WITH NOTES


RISE IN ACTION (Lines 513-910)


Summary

This section can be divided into three distinct scenes. The first is a debate between Oedipus and Creon. Creon is disturbed and deeply hurt by Oedipus’ accusations that he is a traitor. He confronts Oedipus and provides evidence of his honesty and loyalty. He refers to his past record as a loyal Theban citizen, but Oedipus refuses to listen to him so angered is he.

The next scene involves Jocasta, Creon, and Oedipus. Entering the scene, Jocasta persuades Oedipus and Creon to stop quarreling. She tells Oedipus that he has grievously wronged Creon and that he should try and see reason. Finally Oedipus relents, but makes it very clear that only on behalf of his wife’s appeals is he willing to do so. Creon leaves the palace and the second scene ends in a short lyrical dialogue among Oedipus, the chorus and Jocasta.

The third scene involves Oedipus and Jocasta. Oedipus expresses his fears about Tiresias’ prophecy and his accusations. Jocasta tries to soothe his nerves by stating that prophesies may be fallible. To substantiate her claim, she explains how her husband, the late Laius, had been destined to be murdered by his own son. Instead, he had been killed by a band of robbers and the child they had was abandoned as an infant.

When she mentions the location where Laius was killed, Oedipus is disturbed as he recalls that he too had killed an old man in combat at a similar crossroad. He asks Jocasta the details of the murder and she answers his questions, saying that one servant who survived the attack lives outside the city as a shepherd. Jocasta reassures him by saying that he could summon this witness. This information manages to calm Oedipus and he awaits the arrival of this sole witness to assuage his now growing fears.

When Jocasta finds that Oedipus is still a little agitated, she asks what is still troubling him. He in turn relates his own story, telling her that he was born in Corinth and grew up as a prince of the kingdom. On learning that he was not truly the son of the king of Corinth, he decided to consult the oracle. Then he was told that he was destined to kill his father and marry his mother. Therefore, he had left his home in Corinth and approached Thebes. On his way he had met an old man with his servants and after an argument, he had killed them all in self-defense. He expresses his suspicion of having murdered the king of Thebes and is concerned about the consequences. Jocasta again reassures him that it is a known fact that the old king had been attacked by a band of robbers and not a single person. Therefore, the cases do not coincide and Oedipus could not have been the murderer.

The second Stasimon at the end of this episode comments on how arrogance and pride will often provoke the ire of the gods. If a man steps beyond what is his destiny, he may be struck down. Piety and reverence are what is needed. The ode ends with a reaffirmation in prophecies and oracles. The chorus draws the conclusion that man should respect the gods and not get carried away by his power.

Notes

The second episode of Oedipus Rex presents the rise in the action of the play. The first scene depicts a confrontation between Creon and Oedipus. This scene is full of high drama and reveals Oedipus irrational and short-tempered nature in contrast to Creon’s rational behavior. Besides, the audience gets a picture of Creon’s strong character in this scene. His patriotism, his loyalty and his honesty are all evident in his emotionally charged speech. He makes the claim that if he wanted to have influence it would be through being king and bearing the burdens of that office. In this scene Sophocles is preparing the audience for the future ruler of Thebes, Creon.


The second scene involves Jocasta appealing to Oedipus to quell his rage. What is noteworthy here is Sophocles’ craftsmanship as a master dramatist. He very cleverly uses this lyrical dialogue as the second Stasimon and has the chorus become part of the action as they defend Creon from Oedipus’ attack and lament the troubles besieging their land. By weaving the chorus into the action, Sophocles is able to build a long act of several scenes, without an intervening ode.

The third scene consists of a serious dialogue between Oedipus and Jocasta and marks the emotional peak of the play. A new twist is revealed in this scene when Jocasta in an attempt to pacify Oedipus describes the details surrounding her husband’s death. These seem to coincide with Oedipus’ history and the audience knows that the prophecy is true and that Oedipus and Jocasta are ignorant. Jocasta appeases Oedipus by telling him that the oracles can sometimes be wrong and that she is almost positive that Laius was killed by a band of robbers. She is quick to deny the prophecies’ truth although both Laius’ and Oedipus’ prophesies are one and the same.

Thus, in this section the plot of the play thickens. At the end of this act, all the characters are left in uncertainty. Doubt is created in the minds of both Oedipus and Jocasta. Oedipus is doubtful about whether he has really murdered Laius or not and Jocasta expresses her doubt about prophecies.

The citizens of Thebes now express doubts about their ruler’s birth, the murder of Laius and most importantly about the truth of prophecies and oracles. Their faith is in suspension and it is important to their culture and religion that this suspense is soon cleared.

The second section ends on a note of uncertainty and suspense as many new discoveries have been made but nothing is clear, especially as to who killed Laius. The sole witness to Laius’ murder, the Theban shepherd, holds the key to all these mysteries. He is awaited anxiously at all at the end of this act.


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