The protagonist of Oedipus the King and Oedipus at Colonus. 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 mother.
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Oedipus’s 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.
Child of Oedipus and Jocasta, and therefore both Oedipus’s daughter and his sister. Antigone appears briefly at the end of Oedipus the King, when she says goodbye to her father as Creon prepares to banish Oedipus. She appears at greater length in Oedipus at Colonus, leading and caring for her old, blind father in his exile. But Antigone comes into her own in Antigone. As 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.
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Oedipus’s 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, Creon claims 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 Creon 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 authority.
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Son 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.
Tiresias, the blind soothsayer of Thebes, appears in both Oedipus the King and Antigone. In Oedipus the King, Tiresias tells Oedipus that he is the murderer he hunts, and Oedipus does not believe him. In Antigone, Tiresias 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.
Creon’s 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.
Oedipus’s daughter Ismene appears at the end of Oedipus the King and to a limited extent in Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone. Ismene’s 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.
The 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.
Sometimes 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.
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