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Oedipus the King

In Oedipus Sophocles makes powerful use of the device of dramatic irony, in which the audience knows something of which the characters are unaware. In this case the audience knows a very great deal, for the story of Oedipus is a familiar one in Greek myth.

The story begins with Oedipus, king of Thebes, announcing that every effort will be made to discover who killed his predecessor, King Laius. Only when the culprit is found and punished will Thebes be free of its present troubles, plague and famine. Oedipus himself can know nothing about this past event. He has come from elsewhere and is now the husband of Jocasta, the widow of Laius. Together they have a young family.

While Oedipus rants against anyone apparently obstructing his investigation, the painful truth gradually emerges. Many years ago a prophesy revealed that Laius would be killed by his son. To avoid this, he and Jocasta arranged for the death of their infant boy. But he was rescued and brought up by foster parents. He is Oedipus.

It is he who has unwittingly killed Laius. Since then he has married his mother (providing Freud with a name for the Oedipus complex). His children are his brothers and sisters. Discovering the full truth, Oedipus blinds himself.

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