protagonist of Oedipus the King
Oedipus becomes king of Thebes before the action
of Oedipus the King
begins. He is renowned for his
intelligence and his ability to solve riddles—he saved the city
of Thebes and was made its king by solving the riddle of the Sphinx,
the supernatural being that had held the city captive. Yet Oedipus
is stubbornly blind to the truth about himself. His name’s literal
meaning (“swollen foot”) is the clue to his identity—he was taken
from the house of Laius as a baby and left in the mountains with
his feet bound together. On his way to Thebes, he killed his biological father,
not knowing who he was, and proceeded to marry Jocasta, his biological
in-depth analysis of Oedipus.
wife and mother, and Creon’s sister. Jocasta appears only in the
final scenes of Oedipus the King.
In her first
words, she attempts to make peace between Oedipus and Creon, pleading
with Oedipus not to banish Creon. She is comforting to her husband
and calmly tries to urge him to reject Tiresias’s terrifying prophecies
as false. Jocasta solves the riddle of Oedipus’s identity before
Oedipus does, and she expresses her love for her son and husband
in her desire to protect him from this knowledge.
of Oedipus and Jocasta, and therefore both Oedipus’s daughter and
his sister. Antigone appears briefly at the end of Oedipus
when she says goodbye to her father as Creon
prepares to banish Oedipus. She appears at greater length in Oedipus
leading and caring for her old, blind father
in his exile. But Antigone comes into her own in Antigone.
that play’s protagonist, she demonstrates a courage and clarity
of sight unparalleled by any other character in the three Theban
plays. Whereas other characters—Oedipus, Creon, Polynices—are reluctant to
acknowledge the consequences of their actions, Antigone is unabashed
in her conviction that she has done right.
in-depth analysis of Antigone.
brother-in-law, Creon appears more than any other character in the
three plays combined. In him more than anyone else we see the gradual
rise and fall of one man’s power. Early in Oedipus the King,
to have no desire for kingship. Yet, when he has the opportunity
to grasp power at the end of that play, Creon seems quite eager.
We learn in Oedipus at Colonus
that he is willing
to fight with his nephews for this power, and in Antigone
rules Thebes with a stubborn blindness that is similar to Oedipus’s
rule. But Creon never has our sympathy in the way Oedipus does,
because he is bossy and bureaucratic, intent on asserting his own
in-depth analysis of Creon.
of Oedipus, and thus also his brother. Polynices appears only very
briefly in Oedipus at Colonus.
He arrives at Colonus
seeking his father’s blessing in his battle with his brother, Eteocles,
for power in Thebes. Polynices tries to point out the similarity
between his own situation and that of Oedipus, but his words seem opportunistic
rather than filial, a fact that Oedipus points out.
the blind soothsayer of Thebes, appears in both Oedipus
Tiresias tells Oedipus that he is the murderer
he hunts, and Oedipus does not believe him. In Antigone,
tells Creon that Creon himself is bringing disaster upon Thebes,
and Creon does not believe him. Yet, both Oedipus and Creon claim
to trust Tiresias deeply. The literal blindness of the soothsayer
points to the metaphorical blindness of those who refuse to believe
the truth about themselves when they hear it spoken.
son, who appears only in Antigone.
Haemon is engaged
to marry Antigone. Motivated by his love for her, he argues with
Creon about the latter’s decision to punish her.
daughter Ismene appears at the end of Oedipus the King
to a limited extent in Oedipus at Colonus
minor part underscores her sister’s grandeur and courage. Ismene fears
helping Antigone bury Polynices but offers to die beside Antigone
when Creon sentences her to die. Antigone, however, refuses to allow
her sister to be martyred for something she did not have the courage
to stand up for.
king of Athens in Oedipus at Colonus
. A renowned
and powerful warrior, Theseus takes pity on Oedipus and defends
him against Creon. Theseus is the only one who knows the spot at
which Oedipus descended to the underworld—a secret he promises Oedipus
he will hold forever.
comically obtuse or fickle, sometimes perceptive, sometimes melodramatic,
the Chorus reacts to the events onstage. The Chorus’s reactions
can be lessons in how the audience should interpret what it is seeing,
or how it should not interpret what it is seeing.
in-depth analysis of Chorus.