Oedipus study guide
The play begins with a plague that has stricken Thebes.
Seeking an oracle at
Delphi, Thebes and its king, Oedipus, are told the plague will end when the murderer of
the former king, Laius, is caught and expelled.
Teirasias, the blind prophet of Apollo, is
summoned to reveal who the murderer is.
Under questioning he tries to refuse to answer
Oedipus; after Oedipus accuses him of being the murderer, Teirasias reveals that Oedipus
is in fact the murderer.
Oedipus flies into a rage and accuses his brother-in-law Creon of
concocting a scheme through which to seize the throne.
Creon protests that he is
innocent of these charges, and to prove it explains that he and Jocasta (Creon’s sister,
Oedipus’ wife, Laius’ window) are as happy as they could conceivably be and thus he has
no motive to be king.
Jocasta intercedes on Creon’s behalf, attesting to his innocence.
Jocasta and Oedipus talk and compare stories of the dead king’s murder.
prophesies come together.
Jocasta explains that her and Laius’ son was prophesied to kill
Laius pierced the baby’s ankles and told others to leave him out to die.
tells how, when he was a young man, it was prophesied he would kill his father and lie
with his mother, causing him to run away from his parents, Polybus and Merope of
While fleeing, Oedipus met and killed a rude old man and the better part of his
entourage at a crossroads.
A messenger comes to tell Oedipus and Jocasta that Polybus is
dead, which initially brings them great joy because clearly Oedipus didn’t kill him, thus
rendering the prophesy false.
However, their joy is short lived because the messenger
also reveals that Polybus is not Oedipus’ blood father; Oedipus was saved from being left
out to die, and his ankles were pierced.
Oedipus, being characteristically slow on the
uptake, thinks that the messenger’s story just means he is of plebian rather than royal
blood, even while Jocasta panics as she realizes the truth.
A herdsman comes and
reluctantly reveals that baby Oedipus was sent off to die, only to be saved by Polybus.
After this revelation the audience learns that Jocasta has killed herself.