Broken Down Oedipus Rex is a classic tragedy that shows how King Oedipus does some detestable things that led to his misfortune and eventually end his reign as the “King of Thebes.” I will be breaking down the Plot, Structure and Setting of this play, and then go more in depth into the theme. The Plot in Oedipus Rex had a set pattern. The play opens with a Prologue, which is in the form of a dialogue. In the Prologue, the protagonist lays down the statement for the rest of the play to proceed.
In Oedipus Rex, in the prologue all the necessary details about Laius’ murder are presented. These work as premises for the further development of the plot. The prologue ends with a choral ode called the Pa rodos. The prologue is followed by the Exposition. In this act the protagonist repeats the statement from the prologue. This statement is developed and explained by him in the speech.
With the introduction of a new character, the plot takes on a different turn. In Oedipus Rex, the old prophet Tiresias’ arrival and his revelations about Oedipus’ birth and life serve this purpose. This is where the conflict in the plot is presented. The Exposition also ends with an ode called Stasimon I.
The Exposition is followed by the second Act. This marks the rise of action in the play. This is the longest act and is divided into three scenes: the confrontation between Oedipus and Creon, the intervention and persuasion by Jocasta and the dialogue between Oedipus and Jocasta. This is an act of high drama as the action reaches its peak. The climax is suspended as this act ends with a choral ode, the second Stasimon.
The third act or the climax follows the second act of high action. In this act all the questions raised in the previous act find a solution. The mystery of Oedipus’ dreadful life is solved and the play reaches its climax and the tragedy is complete. In the fourth Stasimon, this ends the third scene, the chorus comments on Oedipus’ fate.
The final scene or the Exodus of the play presents the outcome of the tragedy. The queen commits suicide and the devastated Oedipus blinds himself. These acts are not performed onstage but narrated by a messenger. Finally the blind Oedipus appears on the stage and a long lyrical dialogue between the chorus and Oedipus is presented. This dialogue is a lament on the situation.
After this final Lament song, a long dialogue between Oedipus and Creon marks the conclusion of the play. Oedipus leaves as a broken man. All eyes are now resting on Creon and the citizens of Thebes hope to see an ideal king in him. SETTING The entire action of this classical tragedy by Sophocles is set in the ancient city of Thebes. This setting does not change because unity of place was one of the most important characteristics of Greek tragedies. Thebes is presented as a city in the grip of a crisis.
A deadly plague has transformed this city into a barren land. It is against the backdrop of this sterile and desolate land that the tragedy unfolds itself. Thus, the entire plot of the play is divided into the prologue, exposition, the rise in action, climax and exodus. Fate, divine laws, and pre-ordinance were issues that deeply concerned the ancient Greeks as it was a developing civilization where its faith in the supernatural was constantly examined and re-examined.
In the cosmic order of Sophocles’ plays, fate is the overruling order. This does not mean that characters do not have free will but that they cannot go beyond the cosmic order that rules the universe. In defying fate, humans are subjected to being struck down for going beyond their limitations as humans. To accept this order is to be part of the harmony which rules the universe. To go against it means disrupting this order and taking the consequences of one’s actions. In Oedipus Rex, the main theme explored is that fate is character.
This becomes clearer with the study of the tragedy of Oedipus, the king of Thebes. No doubt Oedipus was destined to kill his father and marry his mother, but it is Oedipus’ own character which leads him to perform these acts. An impulsive, hot-headed youth, Oedipus ends up inflicting immortal wounds on his own father after a mere quarrel. He is obviously ignorant of the fact although if he had taken the prophecy seriously, he would have avoided conflicts or interactions with older people. Instead he acts in a rash manner… Later he successfully solves the riddle of Sphinx.
Again, in ignorance, he marries the widow queen of Thebes, Jocasta, his own mother who must have been much older than him. Thus the belief that fate and character are one and the same forms the main theme in Oedipus Rex. The major theme explored in Oedipus Rex is Fate and divine law are explored on various levels in the play. As the play unfolds the importance of prophecies is shown.
This theme is an extension of the theme of fate. Whereas Jocasta fervently expresses her disbelief in prophecies, she is the one to realize the ultimate truth of the situation and dissuades Oedipus from continuing his venture. Her character also contributes to her eventual downfall. By attempting to divert catastrophe, she has ironically invited it. Also, knowing Oediupus’ nature, Jocasta knows that he will not abandon his inquiry. Both Jocasta and Oedipus reveal an inability to come to terms with their past and an aversion to truth.
It is these qualities which bring the ruling family of thebes to ruin. The skepticism they have of the oracles is in fact an avoidance of truth and understanding one’s place in the cosmic order.