Oedipus is the king of Thebes, married to Jocasta. He is unaware, at the start of the play, that he has murdered his father and slept with his mother. Soon he learns that it was he that put his kingdom at such terrible risk, and blinds himself using a brooch. He has a 'tell-tale limp', a piercing wound in his ankles, made as a child by the father who exposed him. This echoes his name, which roughly translates as 'swollen-feet'. In line with most tragic 'heroes,' Oedipus has a clear hamartia - or tragic flaw - which precipitates his woeful fate. in this case, it's his pride, which allows him to disbelieve the Gods and hunt the source of a plague instead of looking inside himself. That said, Oedipus' hamartia is not always so clear - since it appears that his prideful sins occurred long before the start of the play. Indeed, Oedipus' greatest sin appears to take place when he kills a man at a roadside in a fit of temper, suggesting that no deed goes unpunished. Ultimately, however, Oedipus must pay the price for dismissing Teiresias' judgment and the Oracle's prophecy, as yet another reminder that the Gods are infinitely more powerful than men.
Jocasta is the wife and mother of Oedipus and queen of Thebes. Before marrying Oedipus, she was married to Laius. She commits suicide at the end of the play, perhaps in guilt that she left Oedipus to die as a baby, thus precipitating his course towards a tragic end for their whole family.
Teiresias is the blind prophet, led by a small boy, who knows the truth about Oedipus's parentage. Oedipus calls on him to find Laius's killer but becomes furious when Teiresias claims that Oedipus himself is the killer. Teiresias's words, however, prove true ultimately, suggesting that he is a mouthpiece for the Gods and an oracle to be trusted far more than the convictions and hopes of man. Teiresias is often represented as being part-male, part-female in classical literature.
Creon is Jocasta's brother, who shares one third of Thebes's riches with Oedipus and Jocasta. He is a devout follower of the oracle of Apollo, and as the play opens, he is returning from the oracle with the news that Laius's killer must be found. He is a loyal friend to Oedipus, and ultimately remains forgiving and kind to Oedipus even when Oedipus turns on him and suggests he is conspiring against him. He is to take over Thebes after Oedipus' exile. (Creon also takes center stage in Sophocles' play, Antigone, which adds another chapter to Oedipus' doomed lineage.)
Messenger from Corinth
The Messenger from Corinth arrives to tell Oedipus that his father, Polybus, is dead, and that the people of Corinth wish Oedipus to be their new king. He also reveals to Oedipus, however, that Polybus and Meropé are not his real parents. He says that long ago a stranger from Thebes gave him a baby as a gift to the king and queen of Corinth. This baby was, of course, Oedipus who would grow up to be king himself. The Messenger, then, provides the audience with the first real clue of dramatic irony that suggests that Teiresias' words (and those of the Oracle) are true - long before Oedipus discovers their veracity.
The Herdsman gives Laius' and Jocasta's baby to the messenger upon their orders - and is also the same man who witnessed Laius's death. When he returns to Thebes and sees that the man who killed Laius is the new king, he asks leave to flee from the city. Oedipus sends for him when the messenger alludes to his intimate knowledge of the crime, in the hopes of discovering the identity of his true parents. He then reveals that the baby he gave to the messenger was Laius and Jocasta's son, adding one of the last pieces to the puzzle that will implicate Oedipus as the source of the kingdom's plague.
The Priest's followers make sacrifices to the gods at the beginning of the play, hoping that the gods will lift the plague that has struck the city. At this point, the followers believe that the Gods have punished the city for some sin that must be rooted out. Oedipus, then, takes it upon himself to visit the Oracle to determine whose sin it is and for how it might be atoned.
The Second Messenger is a servant of Oedipus and Jocasta who tells Oedipus and the Chorus of Jocasta's suicide.
Ismene and Antigone
Ismene and Antigone are Oedipus's young daughters who are led out at the end of the play. Oedipus laments the fact that they will never find husbands with such a cursed lineage and begs Creon to take care of them. Antigone, in the Oedipus at Colonus, will become her father's guide.
Chorus of Theban Elders
The Chorus of Theban Elders is a group of men who serve as an emotional sounding board and expositional device in the play, reflecting on the plot developments while asking important philosophical questions. The Chorus speaks as one person, but occasionally, single Chorus members would have delivered lines. They might be considered somewhat meta-theatrical - operating within the confines of the play while also having the power to step outside the boundaries of the mundane plot.
Oedipus Rex or Oedipus the King Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Oedipus Rex or Oedipus the King is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
The origins of this play in the Oedipus myth (see 'Oedipus and Myth') create an compelling question about foreknowledge and expectation. The audience who knew the myth would know from the start far more than...