Characteristics of Oedipus the King

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Characteristicsof Oedipus the King

Sophocles penned the play, Oedipusthe King, in 429 B.C. The dramarevolves around the life of Oedipus as a child, up to the time hebecomes the king of Thebes. As an infant, King Laius, casts out hisson to avoid the accomplishment of the prophecy that he would killhim and marry his mother. Consequently, the prince ends up in theneighboring Monarchy of Corinth. Unaware that the Royals of Corinthwere not his real parents, he flees after he learns about theprophecy. He heads back to Thebes. After unraveling the Riddle of theSphinx, he kills a man who turns out to be King Laius. He alsobecomes the king of Thebes. The play revolves around the life ofOedipus in search of a Killer, but unaware that he was the victim.

Thesis: Inthe play, Oedipus the King, the character played by Oedipusrepresents an ideal tragic hero because the individual contains bothflawed and admirable moral behaviors that help the audience toidentify with him, as well as reflect themselves in his situation.


In the first scene, Oedipus appears as a proud, compassionate,efficient and intelligent leader. He meets with the priestssurrounded by impoverished and sorrowful citizens of Thebes. He askswhy the crowd has gathered around the palace and learns it is becauseof a plague that has befallen Thebes (Carr). His compassion comes outthrough his response that he already knew about the status andunderstood the terrible fate of the city. In fact, as the King, hestated that no one had as much sorrowful as he did. His efficiencyoccurred when he told the priests that he had already sent Creon,Queen Jocasta`s brother, to the Oracle to find a way to end thepandemic. His pride originates from the way he replied to Creon uponhis return from the prophet with terrible news. He ignored Creon’sproposal to inform Oedipus the news from the Oracle in private and,instead, insisted that the crowd must hear the news in public.Oedipus made the decision without the knowledge that the feedbackinformation in store for him could affect his future (Berkoff andSteven 121).

Creon announces that the god Apollo sent the plagues to Thebes sincethe murderer of Laius – the previous king was in the city. Therefore,the deity advised that for the suffering to end, the authoritiesshould identify the killer and exile him or her. Oedipus’efficiency emanates from the shock that struck him when he learnsthat an unidentified person killed the previous king. He ponders onwhy it took so long for Thebans to find the murderer and, in turn,vows to catch him or her. He also depicts his efficiency through theway he responds to the chorus that enters the palace. Upondiscovering the need to identify and chase the king`s murderer fromThebes, the chorus advised Oedipus to call Tiresias- the greatprophet for the task. In return, Oedipus replies that he had alreadysent the request (Seneca et al. 214).

In scene two, Oedipus masquerades as an unreasonable King with thewill to acquire power forcefully. The phase begins when a boy leadsprophet Tiresias into the palace. Oedipus begins by begging him toreveal the murderer of King Laius. Tiresias tries to warn the kingthat he wishes he does not know the murderers of the previous king.Instead, Oedipus accuses the prophet of the murder, criticizes him,and insults his blindness. After the prophet reveals that Oedipus wasthe killer, the ruler observes that Creon- his brother in law, andthe prophet had conspired to overthrow him (Carr). His unreasonablenature occurs when he ordered for the murder of both Creon andTiresias. In contrast, Creon argues that he had no reason tooverthrow Oedipus since he shared equal powers with Jocasta (Senecaet al. 315). Creon observed that he had kingly powers without anyresponsibility and confessed he had no interest in the throne. TheChorus also showed their ability to reason by advising the king tosend Creon away instead of killing him. Besides, he appears as aquick-to-anger leader as demonstrated by instances where the head ofthe chorus put efforts to calm him down. His pride-driven ragesprouted when he killed Laius out of irritation, a part not acted inthe story. His passion led him to the ensuing situation where he isnot aware that he is the key culprit behind the murder (Berkoff andSteven 121).

However, despite the current confusion, Oedipus gives the impressionof an intuitive leader who is willing to unearth the story behind theexecution of the King. Most importantly, he begins a new search forinformation about his parents (Berkoff and Steven 221). The prophetcreated anxiety when he indicated that the murder of the former Kingwould turn out to be the brother and father to his children. It makesOedipus recall about a day when he met a drunken man. The man toldhim that he was not his parent’s son and when he went to theoracle, it prophesied that he would end up killing his father andmarrying his mother. He later found and killed a man on his way toThebes. Therefore, he continues the quest to find his origin bydemanding the search for the shepherd who witnessed the killing ofthe Prince so that he could further provide more information aboutthe issue (Carr).

The third scene presents Oedipus as a determined and courageousleader in the pursuit of knowledge about the secret behind hisidentity. The choruses appear loyal to the king. However, they serveas an assurance that there is more to tell from the ensuing story.Moreover, they advocate for the rightfulness of prophecy. Besides,they stipulated that the oracle spoke to a purpose as inspired by thegods who controlled the destiny of men. The choruses remain tensed asthey seek an end to the plague and, in turn, to restore stability inthe city. They staunchly believe that prophesies are bound to beapparent (Carr).

Jocasta – the king’s wife – tries to convincehim that Tiresias’ prophecy was false. She adopts the strategy todeter him from questioning the shepherd who witnessed the killing ofKing Laius. In the process, she describes that the prophecy said thattheir son would kill King Laius. However, she explains that theprediction was false since the son was expelled from Thebes and,instead, thieves at the crossroads killed the king. Oedipus, on theother hand, realizes that his wife was trying to calm him down(Seneca et al. 400). Instead, he questions the description by Jocastaand observes that it sounds familiar to the way he killed a man onhis way to Thebes. He is stunned to realize that he could be the onewho killed the king. As a result, he discloses that he was the princeof the neighboring city – Corinth. He also adds that he fled fromthe town after realizing that he was not the real son of the king. Healso revealed that the Oracle once told him that he would murder hisfather and sleep with his mother, which further led him to flee thecity (Berkoff and Steven 317).

In the fourth scene, Oedipus gives the idea of a courageous man whoseeks the truth despite knowing that he is bound to get awful news. Amessenger enters and informs the king that Polybus, the ruler ofCorinth, had passed away (Carr). Consequently, the citizens requiredOedipus to return and lead the kingdom. At first, he was happy andconcluded that the prophesy was never bound to happen. However, heindicated fear of the curse that he might sleep with his mother inCorinth. The messenger then replied that he should not worry sincePolybus and Merope were not his biological parents. The messengerexplained that he delivered Oedipus to the Corinth monarchy after hefound him abandoned in the wilderness. He revealed that anotherservant of the King Laius left the baby in the wilderness (Seneca etal. 437). Therefore, Oedipus sent for the second servant. Uponarrival, the king’s servant stated that the baby was a son of KingLaius who was banished because of the prophesy that he would kill hisfather. At that moment, Oedipus unravels the mystery behind hisidentity. His heroism befalls when he decides to take his punishmentin his hands (Berkoff and Steven 317).


In conclusion, Oedipus depicts good characteristics of courage andwisdom. However, his key flaws include anger, pride, and poordecision-making. Unlike any other character in the play, he isadmired by declining to take matters passively. He finally acceptsthat if he is fated to be doomed in life, it is his responsibility tobring it to fruition. He, therefore, goes ahead, begs Creon for hisexile, and indicates the determination to carry his curse in dignity.

Works Cited

Berkoff, Steven, and Steven Berkoff. Oedipus. London:Bloomsbury, 2013. Print.

Carr, Karen Eva. “Oedipus Rex – Oedipus the King – Sophocles.”Quatr U.S. August 19, 2016. Web. September 20, 2016.

Seneca, Lucius Annaeus, and Boyle.&nbspSeneca: Oedipus.Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011. Print.