Oedipus Rex by Sophocles

Section 1 Analysis (lines 1-244)

Greek tragedy followed a rigid formula. For more information about these concepts refer to Aristotle's Poetics. The story of Oedipus was an old myth even in Sophocles's time, and would have been well known by the audience. Sophocles relies on the audience's familiarity with the tale to masterfully employ dramatic irony throughout the play. Dramatic irony occurs when the audience understands the situations in the play and their implications better than the characters on stage do. The end of the opening passage contains an example of dramatic irony. Oedipus, addressing his people, says, "Here I am myself—you all know me, the world knows my fame: I am Oedipus" (ll. 7-9). The character Oedipus is referring to his defeat of the Sphinx and his rise to power in Thebes, but Sophocles's audience knows he will become famous for killing his father, marrying his mother, and raising incestuous children.

Blindness is a prevalent motif in this play, and Oedipus will later literally blind himself because he is figuratively blind to the circumstances of his life. One could argue that this blindness to his true nature is his hamartia, or tragic flaw (sometimes referred to as "mistake".) The audience knows Oedipus will blind himself, so the statement by Oedipus "I would be blind to misery not to pity my people kneeling at my feet" (ll. 14-15) is far more meaningful to the audience than to Oedipus. References to Oedipus's sight and eyes are constant throughout the work. Oedipus even vows to "bring it all to light" (l. 150), which adds tension to the work, for the more Oedipus searches, the closer he will come to discovering the terrible truth about himself and his family.

The Chorus beseeching the gods to end the plague would probably have resonated with the Greek audience because Athens, where these religious, theatrical festivals took place, also endured a plague like the one in the play. The Chorus here also serves to underscore how much power the gods have over man and his fate—which is an important theme in the play.