Oedipus Lesson Plans

Oedipus is the most widely known of all Sophocles’ plays. This is primarily because of the psychological concept of the “Oedipal Complex” that Sigmund Freud named for the play’s protagonist, also know as an Oedipus Complex. It posits that all men subconsciously seek to kill their father and marry their mother. After hearing his prophesied fate was to kill his father and then marry is mother, Oedipus tried everything to ensure that this very thing did not happen. However, the very actions taken to avoid this fate led him to fulfill the prophecy.

Student Activities for Oedipus Rex

Essential Questions for Oedipus the King

  1. Are our lives defined by fate?
  2. Do we control our own fate or destiny?
  3. Do we cause our downfall or do circumstances beyond our control cause our downfall?
  4. When is it OK to blame others for our actions, and when must we take the blame ourselves?

Oedipus the King Summary

The story of Oedipus (Oedipus Rex in Latin, or Oidipous Tyrannos in Greek) begins in the city of Thebes, where a terrible plague has struck the land. Oedipus sends his brother-in-law, Creon, to the oracle at Delphi to ask what the fate of Thebes will be. The news is disturbing; Creon returns with a message from the oracle saying that the plague will end when the murderer of Laius (former king of Thebes) is caught and expelled, and that the murderer is within the city.

Disbelieving Creon, Oedipus summons the prophet Tiresias. The blind seer refuses to tell Oedipus who the murderer is, and Oedipus accuses him of being in on the crime. Tiresias declares Oedipus is the murderer and storms off. Oedipus can’t see how this is possible, and continues to investigate the crime.

Through speaking with his wife, Jocasta, the widow of the last king, and other citizens, Oedipus’s tragic fate emerges. He is, in fact the son of Laius, and despite his best efforts, has killed his father and married his mother.

When Oedipus was first born, his father, Laius the King of Thebes, received a prophecy that his son would one day kill him. The king ordered the infant be staked through the foot in the wilderness. However, the servant charged with the act couldn’t bring himself to abandon the child; he gave the baby to a shepherd who brought him to the king and queen of Corinth. The rulers adopted the child and raised him as their own. One day he received the same prophecy as Laius. Believing his father was the king of Corinth, he left the city to prevent the prophecy from coming about.

On his way out of the city, he encountered a group of men at a crossroads and he quarreled with the passenger of a coach and ended up killing him. When he reached Thebes, he found that the city was oppressed by the Sphinx, who would not leave until her riddle was answered. Oedipus, being clever, answered it correctly, sent the Sphinx plunging to her death, and became the ruler of Thebes. To consolidate power, he married Jocasta, the widow of the late King Laius.

Once all is revealed, Jocasta hangs herself. Distraught, Oedipus uses the pins of her scarf to gouge out his own eyes. He gives Creon control of Thebes and leaves the city to wander the land as a blind beggar.

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How To Discuss Sophocles’ Plays in Class


Give Historical Background

Introduce Sophocles as a well-known Greek playwright from the fifth century BCE to start. Mention his influence on Western literature as well as his contributions to Greek tragedy. Encourage the students to perform some independent research on the history and tragedies surrounding the era during which Sophocles started writing.


Discuss Common Themes and Motifs

Talk about the play's recurring themes and concepts. For instance, the fundamental themes of "Oedipus Rex" are fate vs. free choice, knowledge, and the effects of hubris. Teachers can also introduce other plays written by Sophocles and students can try to figure out the most commonly used themes in his plays.


Link Central Ideas to Background

Once the students have collected some information on Sophocles, his background, and the historical and cultural context of his time period, they can make connections with the commonly talked about ideas in his plays. Students will be able to gain a better understanding of the context and influence behind his work.


Investigate Ethical Issues

Talk about the characters' moral and ethical difficulties. Encourage the students to analyze the characters' decisions and take into account many viewpoints. Teachers can arrange a class discussion for students to discuss their perspectives on these dilemmas.


Make Comparisons

Encourage the students to make comparisons between Sophocles' play and other ancient and modern works of literature. Talk about recurring themes or narrative strategies. Students can also draw an interesting comparison between the works of recent writers and ancient writers.

Frequently Asked Questions About Oedipus the King by Sophocles

Who is the main character in "Oedipus the King"?

The play's main character is Oedipus. He is the king of Thebes and is renowned for his wit and willpower. He accidentally carries out a prophecy that states he will kill his father and wed his mother. Oedipus who is rather wise and admirable is believed to be a tragic hero in literature.

What is the play's main conflict?

Oedipus' quest to learn the truth about his own identity and the reason behind the disease that has befallen Thebes are at the center of the main struggle. He eventually learns the awful truth about his background as a result of this. His struggle with accepting the truth and coming to terms with himself after the reality has been disclosed is also an important conflict within the story.

What is the significance of other characters in the play?

Other characters like Laius and Jocasta who are the biological parents of Oedipus play a significant role in the story. They are the reason the prophecy came true and Oedipus became a tragic hero who killed his own father and married his own mother.

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