Oedipus Rex or Oedipus Tyrannus



  • A one-act play by Sophocles that is perhaps the best knownof all Greek tragedies. Considered by many to be Sophocles's finest work,it was first performed in 429 BC and followed by a sequelOedipus at Colonus. In his Poetics, Aristotle held upOedipus Rex as the paradigm of the genre. The theme, of a son murderinghis father and marrying his mother, was adopted by Freud as a symbol of thehidden desires that (supposedly) exist in all male children.

    Oedipus Rex has been frequently revived. In 1585 theplay was the opening production of the Teatro Olimpico, Vicenza. MaxReinhardt presented a famous staging in London in 1912 at Covent Gardenstarring John Martin-Harvey (1863 - 1944). A legendary Old Vicrevival took place in London in 1945 at the New Theatre, with LaurenceOlivier in the title role and Michel Saint-Denis directing.Olivier shocked the audience with two blood-curdling screams, oneoffstage and one when he entered with blood flowing from his eyesand hands. The critic John Mason Brown wrote: "They are thedreadful, hoarse groans of a wounded animal. They well out of a babythat has been clubbed by fate." Olivier claimed he was imitatingthe cry he had once heard from a Canadian skunk, trapped by its tonguesticking to a block of salt.

    The play is set in Thebes after Oedipus has become king andwed Jocasta, wife of his murdered predecessor, Laius. Oedipus pronouncesa curse on the murderer and swears to avenge Laius. When Teiresias,the blind prophet, accuses the king himself, Oedipus banishes himalong with Creon, Jocasta's brother, whom he suspects of plottingagainst him. Jocasta tells Oedipus that he must be innocent, sincean oracle said that Laius would be killed by his own son. But shealso reveals that Laius was killed at the junction of three roads,reminding Oedipus that he once killed a man at such a place. Oedipusgradually realizes that he is the dead king's son and has marriedhis own mother. Jocasta commits suicide and Oedipus blinds himself,leaving Thebes to be ruled by Creon.