Oedipus the King by Sophocles

Teacher Guide by Rebecca Ray

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Oedipus Lesson Plans

Student Activities for Oedipus Rex Include:

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.

Oedipus Rex Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Three Act Structure in Oedipus Rex

Students can create and show a storyboard that captures the concept of a Five or Three Act Structure by creating either a three or six-cell storyboard which contains the major parts of the diagram.

Five Act Narrative Structure
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Aristotle’s Three Act Structure

Aristotle believed that every piece of poetry or drama must have a beginning, middle and end. These divisions were developed by the Roman, Aelius Donatus, and called protasis, epitasis, and catastrophe. The three act structure has seen a revival in recent years, as cinema blockbusters and hit TV shows have adopted it. The beginning (protasis) consists of setup, the middle (epitasis) contains conflicts, thwarted protagonist, or complications, and the end (catastrophe) is where fortunes are reversed and the protagonist meets their fate.

Example Oedipus Rex Three Act Structure


A terrible plague is upon Thebes and Oedipus sends Creon to oracle at Delphi to get answers. He finds out that they only way to lift the curse is by expelling the former king's murderer.


Wanting to hear the prophecy for himself Oedipus summons the blind prophet, Tiresias, who declares Oedipus himself is the killer. In disbelief, he goes home to question his wife, a messenger, and others to uncover the truth.


In despair Jocasta and Oedipus both realize that the prophecy is true. Jocasta is, in fact, Oedipus's mother, and he has murdered his father, Laius, long ago. After this realization, Jocasta hangs herself and Oedipus stabs his own eyes out. He leaves Creon in control of Thebes and exiles himself.

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Themes, Symbols, and Motifs in Oedipus

Theme, symbols, and motifscome alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify themes and symbols from the play, and support their choices with details from the text. In the classroom students can track symbolism and themes Sophocles employs in to convey the tragedy of Oedipus's story.

Oedipus Rex Themes, Motifs & Symbols to Look For and Discuss


Throughout the story of Oedipus, the theme of fate becomes a guiding element. From the moment, the prophecy is foretold to King Laius, until the moment the truth is revealed, both Oedipus and his father try to outrun their fate. With every move, they only bring the prophecy closer to finally coming true.

The Three Way Crossroads

Several time during the play the three-way crossroads, where King Laius was killed, is mentioned. A crossroads suggest a choice or a path that a character could have taken. Do we have the freedom to choose or is everything inevitably chosen for us? Could Oedipus have taken another road, or was he always doomed to meet Laius and travel on to Thebes?


Sight for the Greeks was a powerful symbolic notion. The language of the play repeatedly references physical sight as Oedipus tries to track down the killer of Laius. It is not a coincidence that the prophet of the story is blind. Although he does not have bodily sight, he has a power to see the truth of situations. Perhaps this is why Oedipus decides to take his own sight at the end of the play. Had he possessed the ability to see beyond what mere mortals see he could have prevented his catastrophic outcome.

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Character Map of Oedipus Rex

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As students read, a storyboard can serve as a helpful character reference log. This log (also called a character map) allows students to recall relevant information and details about important characters. The relationships between characters in Oedipus Rex a vital to understanding how the tragedy unfolds. A character map can help keep this complex web of characters from getting tangled.

Note that you can click on this map and create a copy to your teacher account. Feel free to use this one or edit it to make it easier or harder for more advanced classes! The easiest way to use this is to print it and use as worksheets for your students to complete while reading!

Oedipus Rex Characters

King LaiusFormer King of Thebes who is killed by Oedipus, his son.
JocastaWife of King Laius, who, after his death, married the savior of Thebes, Oedipus, who turns out to be her son.
OedipusThe tragic hero of the play who cannot escape prophecy: he kills his father and marries his mother.
CreonBrother-in-law of Oedipus and future ruler of Thebes.
TerisiasThe blind prophet who warns Oedipus not to investigate Laius's death.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a character map for the major characters.

  1. Identify the major characters in Oedipus and type their names into the different title boxes.
  2. Choose a character from the "Classical Era" or "Greek Mythology" tabs to represent each of the literary characters.
    • Select colors and a pose appropriate to story and character traits.
  3. Choose a scene or background that makes sense for the character.
  4. Fill in the Textables for Relationship to Oedipus/Description, Evidence of Fate, Character's Major Choice, and Character's Major Consequences.
  5. Save and submit the assignment.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Oedipus the Tragic Hero

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Oedipus the King is full of common literary elements that are important for students to explore. One of the more important elements is that of the tragic hero. This is a protagonist who is typically of noble birth and seems to be ill-fated and destined for doom. In this play, it is clear that Oedipus fits this description, as he is lead to his tragic ending.

The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, first articulated the specific attributes or principles of a tragic hero. In fact, he said Oedipus the King was the perfect example of a tragedy. For the storyboard below, students can use a template to storyboard the qualities that make Oedipus, a tragic hero. The finished product outlines each of Aristotle's principles with a detailed explanation of the specific attributes.

Oedipus - Tragic Hero

HamartiaHero's Flaw that Causes Downfall Oedipus’ ignorance of his parenthood, combined with his anger, pride, and determination leads him to discover the horror of his past actions.
HubrisExcessive Pride He believed that could defy prophecy and Tiresias’s warnings.
PeripeteiaReversal of Fortune When the messenger arrives from Corinth, he tries to relieve Oedipus by telling he was adopted. This is the point where Oedipus begins to unravel the tale of his life.
AnagnorisisMoment of Critical Discovery As the play draws to a close, Oedipus realizes the terrible truth. Despite all his efforts - because of them, in fact - he has killed his father and married his mother. The prophecy he and his father had tried to avoid has come true.
NemesisFate that Cannot be Avoided Oedipus’s fate is prophesied as a newborn, he tries to escape it, but by his actions works against his own interests.
CatharsisAudience's Feeling of Pity or Fear After the Hero's Fall The audience see Oedipus, a flawed but still great man, brought low by fate. They pity his tragic circumstances and feel fear that their own hubris or anger could lead to catastrophe.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows how Oedipus can be considered a tragic hero.

  1. Identify events of the play or characteristics of Oedipus that fit into Aristotelian attributes of a tragic hero.
  2. Illustrate examples for Hamartia, Hubris, Peripeteia, Anagnorisis, Nemesis, and Catharsis.
  3. Write a short description below each cell that specifically relates Oedipus as a tragic hero.
  4. Save and submit the assignment.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Choices and Consequences in Oedipus

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Choices and Consequences play a crucial role in character and plot development within literature and Greek tragedy in particular. In Oedipus Rex, the protagonist makes a series of choices based on a prophecy. When he tries to outrun his fate, he ultimately causes it to come true. Depicting Oedipus's story in a T-Chart will help students connect characters' choices to their consequences and track the chain of events that leads Oedipus to his tragic fate.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows cause and effect relationships in Oedipus. Each cause and effect pair will be shown in the same row.

  1. On the left side of the T-Chart, illustrate events that show cause (why).
  2. On the right side of the T-Chart, illustrate events that are the direct effect of that cause.
  3. Write a description below each cause.
  4. In the description under each effect, show how the cause and effect are related.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Oedipus Rex Summary

The story of Oedipus the King (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.

Essential Questions for Oedipus Rex

  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?

Don’t Let the Fun Stop There! Check Out Other Oedipus Lesson Plan Ideas

  1. Use a storyboard to depict one act or scene at a time.
  2. Use storyboard that show precise causes and effects of events that happen in the play.
  3. Add a presentation to any storyboard project.

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•   (English) Oedipus the King / Oedipus Rex   •   (Español) Edipo el Rey / Edipo Rex   •   (Français) Œdipe le Roi / Œdipe Rex   •   (Deutsch) Ödipus der König / Ödipus Rex   •   (Italiana) Edipo Re / Oedipus Rex   •   (Nederlands) Koning Oedipus / Oedipus Rex   •   (Português) Édipo o Rei / Édipo Rex   •   (עברית) אדיפוס רקס קינג / אדיפוס   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) أوديب الملك / أوديب ريكس   •   (हिन्दी) ईडिपस राजा / ईडिपस रेक्स   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Царь Эдип / Эдип   •   (Dansk) Kong Ødipus / Ødipus Rex   •   (Svenska) Oidipus Kungen / Oedipus Rex   •   (Suomi) Kuningas Oidipus / Oidipus Rex   •   (Norsk) Kong Oidipus / Oedipus Rex   •   (Türkçe) Kral Oedipus / Oedipus Rex   •   (Polski) Oedipus Król / Oedipus Rex   •   (Româna) Oedip Rege / Oedip Rex   •   (Ceština) Král Oidipus / Oidipus Rex   •   (Slovenský) Kráľ Oidipa / Oedipus Rex   •   (Magyar) Oidipusz Király / Oidipusz   •   (Hrvatski) Edipus Kralj / Oedipus Rex   •   (български) Едип Кралят / Едип Рекс   •   (Lietuvos) Edipas Karalius / Oidipas Karalius   •   (Slovenščina) Ojdip Kralj / Ojdip Rex   •   (Latvijas) Edipa King / Edipa Rex   •   (eesti) Kuningas Oidipus / Oidipus Rex