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Free Study Guide for Oedipus the King by Sophocles

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SCENE SUMMARIES WITH NOTES


EXODUS (The Outcome) (Lines 1223-1531)


Summary

The final section opens with a scene in which a messenger narrates the horrible events that have occurred inside the palace. In an emotionally charged speech, he describes Jocasta’s outburst as she wanders through the palace madly until committing suicide. Meanwhile, Oedipus is furious at both himself and Jocasta. He seeks her out in order to kill her and on entering the palace discovers she has hanged herself. At the sight of her, he breaks down and weeps. Then in a fit of self-flagellation, Oedipus takes the gold brooches from her robes and pierces his eyes with them.

Following this narration, a blind Oedipus comes out and sings a long ‘kommos’ with the chorus. The chorus moans Oedipus’ misfortune, empathizing with his pain and sorrow. Oedipus wishes that he had died in infancy. He surveys the past events and concludes that he does not even deserve the mercy of gods.

This is followed by the last scene, in which Creon arrives on the stage. Oedipus’ passion turns to shame before the man he has wronged. Oedipus appeals to Creon to banish him from the kingdom immediately and to give Jocasta a formal funeral, as Creon is the new king. Creon refuses to take any decision without consulting the oracle. He summons Oedipus’ daughters who are led on stage. Oedipus laments their fate and prays for their future that they may have a happier life than his but is concerned that their incestuous births may bring shame and rejection. He implores Creon to take care of them and then attempts to embrace them.

Finally the act ends, when Oedipus is ordered into the palace and Creon tells him that he should not be master in everything, “for the things you mastered did not follow you through your life.” The scene ends with a last Stasimon lamenting Oedipus’ fate in verse.



Notes

The Exodus presents the outcome of the tragedy and although Oedipus has fallen from his great stature as king, he remains dignified if not slightly humbled by the recent circumstances. It is an act charged with violence as well as melancholy and tenderness. A highly dramatic and passionate narration of Jocasta’s suicide and Oedipus’ blinding of himself is relayed to the audience. The emotions thus heightened are then subjected to a long kommos by the protagonist of the play. The ‘kommos’ is the final lament of the protagonist in a tragedy. It is used to stir the emotions of the audience and make them sympathize with him. It is the ultimate act of persuasion to achieve the catharsis of emotions.

The emotions that reach a peak by the passionate speech of the messenger and the Lament song of Oedipus are calmed in the last scene where Oedipus is united with his daughters. This final scene is one of reconciliation, realization and purgation. Oedipus realizes his mistakes and seeks Creon’s forgiveness. He reconciles with Creon and more importantly with his fate that he has been avoiding ever since his birth. Moreover, he atones for his sinful existence through self-infliction and self-exile. He can only be purged by intense suffering. It is through his pain that he discovers humility and reverence for the gods. Earlier in the play, Oedipus is shown to be an impetuous and arrogant man who defies all who do not agree with him; by the end of the play, a new Oedipus has emerged, one who has been humbled and who has become accountable for his sins, regardless of whether or not he has inflicted them consciously or not. It is in this acceptance of his limitations that Oedipus finds true value in his life.

The effect of Oedipus’ purgation is shared by the audience who is moved to pity this wretched soul. They are left wiser as the chorus chants:

“And none can be called happy until that day when he carries His happiness down to the grave in peace.”


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