The Oedipus Plays, written by Sophocles in the 5th century BCE, are a trilogy of Greek tragedies consisting of Oedipus Rex (Oedipus the King), Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone.

Oedipus Rex revolves around King Oedipus of Thebes, who, in his quest to save the city from a plague, discovers the horrifying truth about his own identity: that he unwittingly fulfilled a prophecy by killing his father and marrying his mother. Oedipus at Colonus takes place after Oedipus’s exile and depicts his journey to Colonus and his encounter with King Theseus. Antigone shifts the focus to Oedipus’s daughter Antigone. After Oedipus’s tragic downfall, his sons, Eteocles and Polynices, kill each other in a power struggle. Antigone is determined to give her brother Polynices a proper burial, defying the orders of her uncle Creon, the new king of Thebes.

Sophocles’s cycle of plays explores themes associated with the tragic conflict arising from a paradox in human nature: a desire for freedom and power coupled with an awareness of fate (or the will of the gods). Throughout the plays, clear vision serves as a metaphor for insight into the human condition, although that insight is oftentimes limited. The Oedipus Plays continue to hold immense historical and literary significance, exploring timeless themes of moral duty, justice, and the consequences of defying authority. In addition, they explore the tragic mechanisms of fate, the consequences of free will, and the complexities of human relationships. They remain foundational works in Greek drama, having influenced countless subsequent playwrights and storytellers.

Read full plot summaries of the three plays, an in-depth analysis of Oedipus, and explanations of important quotes from The Oedipus Plays.

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