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Free MonkeyNotes Summary-Oedipus Rex by Sophocles-Free Booknotes Synopsis
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OVERALL ANALYSES

CHARACTER ANALYSIS

Major Characters

Oedipus

Oedipus, the protagonist of this classical tragedy, is a character ruled by fate and conflict. Oedipus is destined to kill his father and marry his own mother. As this fact comes to light, his father Laius, the king of Thebes, orders a shepherd to kill the infant. The shepherd instead hands him over to the shepherd of the neighboring kingdom of Corinth. The Corinthian shepherd gives the child to his childless king. The queen and king of Corinth raise Oedipus as their own child.

A young Oedipus hears about his dreadful fate from the Delphic oracle and flees from Corinth. But instead of fleeing from his fate he runs into it when he kills Laius in an altercation at a crossroads. Later he saves Thebes from the riddle of the Sphinx and marries the widowed queen Jocasta who in reality is his own mother.

Oedipus' character is controlled by his fate yet at the same time his impetuous and short-tempered nature contributes to his fate. Oedipus possesses the impulse and intelligence to unravel and solve every mystery. It is this very impulse which takes him to Delphi to seek the truth about his parentage yet rather than face his fate, he attempts to run from it, thereby defying the Gods. It is also his impetuous and short-tempered nature that lands him in a fight with Laius at the crossroads. The consequence is that he kills Laius. Oedipus has killed his father and the first part of the oracle is fulfilled. Fate has played its trick assisted by the very nature of Oedipus.


The impulse to solve the riddle of Sphinx brings him to Thebes where he ends up marrying the widow queen Jocasta. By marrying his own mother, the second part of the oracle is also fulfilled, aided by Oedipus' nature.

Apart from his eagerness to solve riddles, Oedipus makes some grave judgmental errors. He very quickly blames Creon for conspiring against him and does not even hesitate in calling the great prophet Tiresias, a traitor. As a result, he fails to heed Tiresias' advice and warning (Tiresias warns him against the consequences of the investigation.) Oedipus is obsessed with solving this particular riddle, it his nature and he cannot go against it.

Finally, it is the same impulse to solve the mystery of Laius' death and his own birth which makes Oedipus continue the investigations despite advice from both Tiresias and Jocasta to stop. The result is the ultimate tragedy as Oedipus realizes the truth of his wretched existence.

Oedipus is an intelligent man, an ideal king and a genuinely good human being. He has all the qualities of a great man, but he carries the seeds of his destruction within himself. His impulsive and short-tempered nature along with fate determines his downfall.

Oedipus' character is typical of the protagonists of Greek tragedies. In Greek tragedies the protagonist was supposed to be a royal person, almost perfect, but the perfection was restricted by hamartia, a character flaw in the protagonist, which determined his downfall. Oedipus is a proud figure who does not take advice well. He is arrogant as when denouncing Tiresias' prophetic capabilities, but he is also fearless as he does not back down from his quest although he fears the worst. Despite his flaws, Oedipus is a good person who seeks the truth no matter how devastating. With the realization of who he is also comes a newfound acceptance of being fallible and accepting responsibility for his actions. At the end of the play, Oedipus accepts his fate as well as the punishment meted out to him and thereby becomes a greater hero.

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