Summary and Analysis: Oedipus the King
The scene opens with Creon's denial of plotting against Oedipus. When Oedipus angrily repeats his charges, Creon again denies it, arguing rationally that he has no motivation to usurp the throne. The wrangling stops when Jocasta — the queen and Creon's sister — divides the men, sending Creon home.
Oedipus continues to complain of Creon's charge (through Tiresias) that he himself killed Laius. When Jocasta hears that the charge comes from a prophet, she dismisses it immediately. No one can see the future, she insists. As proof, she offers the story of a prophecy that her son would kill her husband, a fate avoided when Laius abandoned the child on a mountain.
After Oedipus learns the details of Laius' death, he begins to worry that he is indeed the murderer. Jocasta, however, reminds him that Laius died at the hands of many men, not one. Nevertheless, Oedipus asks that the only living witness to the murderer — a shepherd — be brought to him for questioning.
This scene marks the change in the play from a simple detective story to psychological drama. From now on, the problem of the play will be not only who killed Laius, but also what can people know of one another and themselves, and how can they know it.
Despite his rejection of Tiresias, Oedipus does believe in the power of prophecy, as he confesses to Jocasta. Oedipus recalls two disturbing revelations — one from an oracle, the other from a drunken man — that make him doubt himself. Note that the drunken man's railings complement and confirm the oracle's message about Oedipus' fate. At the Festival of Dionysus — the god of wine — such a telling detail would be regarded as a tribute.
Jocasta, in contrast to Oedipus, rejects the power of prophecy, citing as proof her own experience with the oracle who predicted that her son would kill her husband. But as she takes Oedipus through a rational explanation of why the prophecy turned out to be false, she unexpectedly jogs his memory. Paradoxically, then, Jocasta's skepticism brings Oedipus to the suspicion that perhaps the prophet is right after all — and that he is the murderer of Laius.
hearsay something one has heard, but does not know to be true.
Phocis ancient region in central Greece. Here, the place where Oedipus killed Laius.
Daulia area north of the road from Thebes to Delphi.
Dorian a native of Doris, a member of one of the four main peoples of ancient Greece. Here, the term describes Oedipus' adoptive mother.
Corinth ancient city of Greece located in the north east Peloponnesus, in the islands off central Greece. A city noted for its luxury, here, it is the home of Oedipus after his adoption.