The Tragedy of Oedipus Rex: A Summary

The Tragedy of Oedipus Rex: A Summary

The play opens as the citizens of Thebes plea with their king Oedipus to get rid of a plaque that could destroy the city. At this time, Creon, who is Oedipus's brother, is in the oracle learning how to react to the situation. When he returns, he informs them that the oracle requires them to find out who murdered Laius, the king that preceded Oedipus. He also states that once they discover the murderer and punish him, the plaque will end. The king decides to solve the murder to help his people. Oedipus summons Tiresias, who is a prophet, and he accuses Oedipus of murdering Laius. The king gets angry, mocks the prophet, and asks him to leave.

Tiresias Warns Oedipus

Before leaving, Tiresias suggests that they will be an incestuous marriage that will lead to a future of blindness and wandering. Oedipus seeks the advice of Jocasta, who is the queen of the land. She urges him to ignore the prophecy as Tiresias prophesied that Jocasta's son would kill her husband. However, Laius died in the hands of thieves at crossroads. Jocasta's remarks stress Oedipus as before relocating to Thebes; he murdered a man that looked like Laius. Oedipus requests the murder witness so that he can learn the truth.

 A messenger informs Oedipus that his father, Polybus, who is the king of Corinth, died of old age. Jocasta feels relieved because the death of Oedipus's father proves that the prophecies are false. Oedipus still worries that he might fulfill the prophecy by marrying his mother, Merope. The messenger overhears the conversation and gives the two some new information. Merope and Polybus are not Oedipus' biological parents. The messenger also states that he gave Oedipus to the couple after a shepherd found him abandoned in Laius' house. Oedipus decides to locate the shepherd and find out the truth about his birth.

Jocasta becomes terrified and begs him not to look for the shepherd; then, she runs to the palace filled with grief. When the shepherd arrives, he refuses to speak, but after a threat of death, he reveals the truth. Oedipus is the son of the former king Laius and Jocasta. Fate terrorizes Oedipus after realizing that the prophecy in the oracle came true. He rushes to the palace but finds that the queen has taken her own life. Oedipus pierces his eyes so that he cannot see the misery caused by him. He pleads with Creon to kill him, and before the play ends, he submits his leadership to Creon. He then waits the prophecy to decide whether he continues to live in Thebes or become an outcast.

Oedipus at Colonus

 The play begins with Oedipus being a blind beggar and an outcast of Thebes. Antigone, his daughter, guides him, and they reach a city near Athens named Colonus. They stand on a ground that is holy to the Eumenides. After realizing this fact, Oedipus demands to see the king of Athens, Theseus. His daughter Ismene comes from Thebes, bearing news that Creon and Oedipus' son Eteocles want him to go back to the city and give his blessing. However, Oedipus refuses to go back to the town and awaits Theseus. When he arrives, Oedipus promises that he will bless him and the city. This is under the condition that he will let Oedipus live and die in Colonus. Theseus agrees, but Creon holds Oedipus' daughter's hostage so that their father can return. The king of Athens sets the daughters free, and after Creon's departure, Polynices, Oedipus' son, pleads his father to support him in war. Oedipus, however, curses his son and says that he and Eteocles will kill each other. Oedipus declares his death after hearing thunder, hides his daughters, and prepares for his death. After he dies, Athens receives his blessing while Thebes receives his curse. The play ends as Ismene and Antigone go back to Thebes.


Eteocles and Polynices kill each other as per their father's curse. Antigone informs his sister that Creon ordered that Eteocles get buried in honor while Polynices body is left to rot. Creon also declares death upon anyone who tries to bury the body. Antigone reveals to his sister Ismene her plan to bury their brother. Ismene refuses to go against the king's order, and Antigone rejects her and buries her brother. Creon realizes that someone defied his orders and later discovers that it is his niece Antigone. However, Antigone argues that Creon also went against the law of the gods. Antigone's attitude and failure to follow authority frustrates Creon, and he orders the murder of Ismene and her sister. Creon's son Haemon pleads his father to change his decision. The two argue, Haemon leaves home angry and says he will never return. Creon changes his mind, stating that Ismene can live, but Antigone's sentence is to live in a sealed tomb.

 Tiresias warns him that gods will not approve of his decisions and that he will receive punishment for the act. Creon changes his ruling, decides to give Polynices a decent burial and set Antigone free. Unfortunately, he is too late as Antigone hangs herself, and his son also kills himself. When Creon's wife learns of her son's death, she curses Creon and kills herself. A despaired Creon takes responsibility for all the events and prays to die quickly. The play comes to an end with a dark warning from the chorus stating that fate will be a punishment for pride.


Published on: 1 Jun 2020

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