Oedipus at Colonus Literary Elements

Oedipus at Colonus Literary Elements


Tragic play



Setting and Context

The action in the play takes place in the mythological time when Oedipus lived. The action takes place at the end of Oedipus’s life and it spans over a small period of time.

Narrator and Point of View

Because this is a play, there is no narrator since the play is composed entirely of dialogue.

Tone and Mood

Tragic, violent

Protagonist and Antagonist

The protagonist of the play is Oedipus and the antagonist is Creon.

Major Conflict

The major conflict is between the protagonist and the antagonist of the story. Oedipus, returns to Athens after a long period of time in which he was a nomad. Because of his past sins, he is not easily accepted back into the city until the kings hear about a prophecy claiming that the city in which Oedipus will die will be safe from harm. After the prophecy is found, the Kings try to convince Oedipus to remain in their city, sometimes going as far as to kidnap Oedipus’s children.


The play reaches its climax when Oedipus dies.


When Oedipus claims that others will try to take him away foreshadows the scene in which Creon comes and takes Oedipus’s two daughters and then when he tries to take Oedipus as well.


When Creon comes to Oedipus to take him home, he claims that no harm will come to him and that he will not try to persuade him with force to go with him. This is an understatement however, as Creon kidnaps Oedipus’s two daughters while trying to convince him to return to his kingdom.


No allusions can be found in the play.


An important image appears at the end of the play when Oedipus dies. Then, as if sensing the event that will take place, the skies became darker and other natural phenomenon such as lightning began taking place. The events scared those who were close to Oedipus and the image transmitted here is that of an important event that will change the lives of the characters in the play.


Oedipus seems to hate his sons for not coming to his aid. Until the end of the play, the sons are portrayed as being heartless and cold as they willingly let their father to fend for himself. When Oedipus sees his son Polynices again, he is not the heartless son Oedipus described in the beginning. In fact, Polynices is warm and affectionate, showing that he cared for his father even though Oedipus believed that he was not loved by his sons. This proves that Oedipus was at least partially prejudiced against his sons who may have loved him and cared for him.


When Polynices comes to Oedipus, he compares himself to his father in order to convince him to act and support him in his battle against his brother. Polynices points out that just like his father, there was a time in which he lived a good life, having everything he wanted and being loved by his people. Because of various circumstances, Polynices had fallen out from grace and reached the point in his life when he was an outcast, going from one place to another looking for people to help him regain what was stolen from him by his brother. By making this parallel, Polynices hoped to convince his father to join his side and fight together against his brother.



Use of Dramatic Devices

Because this is a play, the author used various dramatic devices. For example, the chorus that appears often in the play is used to suggest various events and to reveal details that would remain otherwise unknown for the reader.

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