full title Antigone, Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus
type of work Play
genre Antigone and Oedipus the King are tragedies; Oedipus at Colonus is difficult to classify.
language Ancient Greek
time and place written Antigone is believed to have been written around 441 b.c., Oedipus the King around 430 b.c., and Oedipus at Colonus sometime near the end of Sophocles’ life in 406–405 b.c. The plays were all written and produced in Athens, Greece.
date of first publication The plays probably circulated in manuscript in fifth-century b.c. Athens and have come down to modern editors through the scribal and editorial efforts of scholars in ancient Greece, ancient Alexandria, and medieval Europe.
publisher There is no known publisher of original or early editions. The most important modern edition of the Greek texts, prepared by A. C. Pearson, was published by Oxford University Press in 1924 and reprinted with corrections in 1928.
setting (time) All three plays are set in the mythical past of ancient Greece.
setting (place) Antigone and Oedipus the King are set in Thebes, Oedipus at Colonus in Colonus (near Athens).
protagonist Oedipus is the protagonist of both Oedipus the King and Oedipus at Colonus. Antigone is the protagonist of Antigone.
major conflict Antigone’s major conflict is between Creon and Antigone. Creon has declared that the body of Polynices may not be given a proper burial because he led the forces that invaded Thebes, but Antigone wishes to give her brother a proper burial nevertheless. The major conflict of Oedipus the King arises when Tiresias tells Oedipus that Oedipus is responsible for the plague, and Oedipus refuses to believe him. The major conflict of Oedipus at Colonus is between Oedipus and Creon. Creon has been told by the oracle that only Oedipus’s return can bring an end to the civil strife in Thebes—Oedipus’s two sons, Eteocles and Polynices, are at war over the throne. Oedipus, furious at Thebes for exiling him, has no desire to return.
rising action The rising action of Oedipus the King occurs when Creon returns from the oracle with the news that the plague in Thebes will end when the murderer of Laius, the king before Oedipus, is discovered and driven out. The rising action of Oedipus at Colonus occurs when Creon demands that Oedipus return to Thebes and tries to force him to do so. The rising action of Antigone is Antigone’s decision to defy Creon’s orders and bury her brother.
climax The climax of Oedipus the King occurs when Oedipus learns, quite contrary to his expectations, that he is the man responsible for the plague that has stricken Thebes—he is the man who killed his father and slept with his mother. The climax of Oedipus at Colonus happens when we hear of Oedipus’s death. The climax of Antigone is when Creon, too late to avert tragedy, decides to pardon Antigone for defying his orders and burying her brother.
falling action In Oedipus the King, the consequences of Oedipus’s learning of his identity as the man who killed his father and slept with his mother are the falling action. This discovery drives Jocasta to hang herself, Oedipus to poke out his own eyes, and Creon to banish Oedipus from Thebes. The falling action of Oedipus at Colonus is Oedipus’s curse of Polynices. The curse is followed by the onset of a storm, which Oedipus recognizes as a signal of his imminent death. The falling action of Antigone occurs after Creon decides to free Antigone from her tomblike prison. Creon arrives too late and finds that Antigone has hanged herself. Haemon, Antigone’s fiancé, attempts to kill Creon but ends up killing himself. Creon’s wife, Eurydice, stabs herself.
themes The power of unwritten law, the willingness to ignore the truth, the limits of free will
motifs Suicide, sight and blindness, graves and tombs
symbols Oedipus’s swollen foot, the three-way crossroads, Antigone’s entombment
foreshadowing Oedipus’s name, which literally means “swollen foot,” foreshadows his discovery of his own identity. Tiresias, the blind prophet, appears in both Oedipus the King and Antigone and announces what will happen to Oedipus and to Creon—only to be completely ignored by both. The truth that comes from Tiresias’s blindness foreshadows the revelation that inspires Oedipus to blind himself. Oedipus’s command in Oedipus at Colonus that no one, not even his own daughters, know where he has been buried foreshadows the problems surrounding burial in Antigone.