The Oedipus Plays

by: Sophocles

Oedipus the King, lines 1008–1310

Summary Oedipus the King, lines 1008–1310

The messenger and shepherd are both similar to and different from the messenger characters who enter at the end of Greek tragedies to announce the terrible events that have occurred offstage (as will happen at the end of Oedipus the King [lines 1365–1422]). Like the typical final-scene messenger, these characters bear important news that is largely concerned with events that have not happened onstage. But unlike the typical final-scene messenger, these characters bear news not only to the audience but also to the man whom the news directly affects.

Because Oedipus receives news of his own tragedy, his drastic actions near the play’s conclusion become an exaggerated model of how the audience is expected to react to the words of the messenger characters, who narrate the catastrophes in the final scenes of Greek plays. Throughout the play, Oedipus has been concerned with precise words—of the oracle (102), of Jocasta when she mentions the three-way crossroads (805), of the messenger who escaped death in Laius’s traveling party (932–937). After learning the truth of his origins, however, Oedipus gives words physical consequence. He transforms the messenger’s statement into a tangible, life-changing, physical horror, in a manner that shows the audience what its reaction should be.