Click this quilt piece to go to Litonline's home page.VCCS Litonline Introduction to Literature
English 112 (English Composition II)
Click on the sphinx to read the play.

Oedipus the Wreck

Objective for this Page: To reflect upon the play’s themes, sequels, filming, conflicts, and irony.

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Considerations: Further thinking on the play toward a possible essay


Check the last statements of the chorus and of Creon to see if they tell the theme of this tragedy. Is this a story of personal tragedy? Is it a religious story, justifying the gods?

Click for archived suggestions of themes.

Also review any questions after the play in your textbook for more understanding of this play and possible notes toward an essay.


In the sequel to this play, Antigone (shown at right in a production at a Canadian college),* Creon has set Oedipus' sons against each other in a civil war and ascended to the throne himself when they both die in battle. He forbids anyone to bury the son he had not backed, but Antigone (now the grown daughter of Oedipus) sneaks outside the city and tries to cover her brother so that his soul may be at peace. Creon has actually broken another decree of the gods with his own civil decree against care for the dead. His own son, Haemon, is betrothed to Antigone and ends up perishing with her as she resists Creon.

The end of the trilogy is Oedipus at Colonus. Oedipus finally comes to terms with his being disgraced by the gods (maybe) in this rarely read philosophical play, having spent the remainder of his life in a small town just outside Thebes.

Filming Oedipus Tyrannos

Click to archived ideas on filming.Consider how you would film this play--or how Hollywood might. Given today's special effects, the hanging and the blinding could be staged directly and would not have to be simply reported by a horrified messenger. How much of Oedipus' life would you tell? Would you flashback to the birth, the exchange at Mount Cithaeron, any of his life at Corinth, his visit to Delphi, the fight where three roads meet, his confrontation with the Sphinx, accepting the throne of Thebes, his life with Jocasta, the plague, the investigation?

Click to archived views of forum contributors who were thinking like directors.

(I've seen only one commentary that mentions a motive for the gods, that Oedipus' grandfather, Labdacus, was responsible for introducing homosexuality to Thebes.) Is this the story of a family that destroys itself by violating many of the taboos of this ancient society? Can't it be all of these at once? How would you convey any of these themes if you were filming the story?

Oedipus vs. Hamlet

Click to archived ideas on these two protagonists.Compare and contrast Oedipus and Hamlet. Is Oedipus more a man of action? Or is he more a man driven by whim and sudden, rash decisions? Which character is more selfless? Does Hamlet show any signs of selfish motives in his actions or inactions? Which protagonist seems more learned? wiser? more religious? more loving? more incestuous? Which seems to be a better murder investigator? Does Oedipus have any of Claudius' motives when he kills the king, Laius? Then which murderer is more blameworthy--Oedipus or Claudius?

Click to archive on this comparison-contrast.

Irony and Themes

Part of the power of this play comes from the many ironies in it. When theUniversity of Utah outdoor production town needs saving, it turns to the guy who saved them before--Oedipus--because the townspeople think he's tapped into the knowledge of the gods. Boy, are they wrong or what!

How intertwined are the fates of Laius, Jocasta, and Oedipus? That's part of the drama, too. A woman orders her baby to be abandoned on a mountainside--presumably to starve, if that is the will of the gods. It wasn't.

How rare the plot gimmick is--killing one's father and marrying one's mother. But that's pretty mild in comparison to the violation of a series of cultural taboos: incest, regicide, patricide, infanticide.

And who's behind all this? Oedipus is fighting the gods! Talk about powerful conflict! In addition, his sense of duty (to save the town, as he promised early in the play) is driving him to his inevitable downfall. Besides that sense of duty, though, he finds out he was adopted by Polybus and Merope in Corinth. So part of the power of the conflict is his obsession to find out exactly who he is. Ironically, he does.

In short, these sources of conflict rage through the play.

  • the incest taboo
  • king-killing
  • father-killing
  • fighting the gods
  • inevitability
  • questing for self-knowledge
  • irony
  • divine knowledge of events vs. free choices by humans
  • anger
  • suicide
  • coincidence

In the conflict between Oedipus and the gods, and Oedipus against himself, his children and the town are caught in the middle, suffering the consequences of actions they did not take--or did they? Who didn't hunt for Lauis' killer? Who put Oedipus on the throne? Who sought the marriage of Oedipus and Jocasta to solidify the royal power? Those now-suffering townspeople. Is anyone blameless in Oedipus's fate?

Other People's Reflections on Oedipus

  • John Porter clarifies why Oedipus might reasonably be suspicious of Teiresias's motives and other issues in the play.  (At Porter's course notes page, scroll down to the last entry, just above the footnotes, for the Oed. vs. T. commentary, though all of the page can be very helpful.)
  • Leigh Denault considers good news and bad news about Oedipus's personality, contrasting him with Creon. (A brief biography of Sophocles is included.)
  • Anthony Boyer on Jocasta as a tester of other people's faith
  • Andrew Wilson's The Oedipus Game: After a few pages of scene setting (and despite a really gross picture of Oedipus with eye sockets gushing red), this plot summary with multiple-choice questions will steer you through O's story as if you were an ancient Athenian at the Festival of Dionysus.

* If you can identify this production and the cast shown, please notify me so that I can give proper credit or link to this Web photo:

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