Oedipus Rex represents one of the greatest tragedies ever written. A classical style tragedy contains six main elements within a plot. These sequences are the exposition, the rising action, the climax, the falling action and finally, the catastrophe.
Oedipus Rex begins with the exposition. The exposition usually takes place in the beginning of the story and it sets up the rest of the plot. This is usually where the audience is introduced the dramatic conflict within the story. In Oedipus Rex, it is found out that the city of Thebes is besieged by a plagued that could lead to the devastation of the city. Kreon returns from Delphi and learns from the oracle that because the murderer of the former king, Laius, has never been punished, the city will suffer from a terrible plague. The killer must be captured and then either killed or banished in order to lift the plague by the gods. This is where the reader is first encounters the dramatic conflict within the story. The dramatic conflict is the murder of the former king, Laius. Oedipus, the present king, pledges to find the murderer. Oedipus declares to his people, “You shall see how I stand by you, as I should, Avenging this country and the god as well” (33.137) “Whoever killed Laius might – who knows? – Lay violent hands even on me -and soon. I act for the murdered king in my own interest.” (33.141)
The rising action begins when the blind man, Teiresias, who is a prophet arrives. He is praised by Oedipus for his vast knowledge and then is requested the name of the murderer in order to rid the country of the plague. Tieresias professes to know nothing, which angers the king. Oedipus warns the blind man about remaining silent and even speculates whether Tieresias had a hand in the murder. This angers the old man and he states that it is indeed Oedipus who is the murderer. “I say that you are the murderer whom you seek.” (39.149) Thus is the beginning of the rising action.
Other elements in the rising action include when a messenger arrives and informs Oedipus that his father, Polybus has died. Initially this relieves Oedipus because this news dispels what the prophet has said. This overjoys the king’s wife, Iokaste. “Yet this news of your father’s death is wonderful.” (56.73) This however is short lived as Oedipus recalls the prophecy regarding his mother. A messenger overhears this and tells Oedipus the story of how Polybus and Merope are not his real parents. In the meantime, Iokaste has started to put all the pieces together and begs Oedipus to stop searching for the murderer. It appears that she now realizes that the prophecy has come to fruition and she tries to save Oedipus from coming to the same realization. Iokaste begs, “For God’s love, let us have no more questioning! Is your life nothing to you? My own is enough pain to bear.” (58.140)
The shepherd arrives but is unwilling to share the story with the king. Oedipus forces him to cooperate and the shepherd finally decides to tell the story. He tells how he disobeyed orders by not killing the young boy out of pity. He then reveals that the infant son was the son of Laius and Iokaste. “I pitied the baby, my king, And I thought that this man would take him far away To his own country. He saved him – but for what a fate! For if you are what this man says you are, No man living is more wretched than Oedipus.” (61.63) At last Oedipus knows the terrible truth regarding the murderer and realizes that the prophecies have indeed been fulfilled. Oedipus lashes out in anguish, “Ah God! It was true! All the prophecies! – Now, O Light, may I look upon you for the last time! I, Oedipus, Oedipus, damned in his birth, in his marriage damned, Damned in the blood he shed with his own hand!” (62.68) This news concludes the rising action, as the climax is about the surface.
Iokaste wanders hysterically through the building fretting over what will transpire. She then locks herself in her bedroom while the servants look on helplessly. Moments later Oedipus rushes to see what is the matter with Iokaste. He breaks down the door and then finds that Iokaste has hung herself. The climax begins when he loosens the rope and lowers her down. Oedipus then rips from her gown her golden brooches and plunges them down straight into his own eyeballs crying, “No more, No more shall you look on the misery about me, The horrors of my own doing!From this hour, go in darkness.” (65.45) He then stuck at his eyes again and again with the sharp golden brooches. This then concludes the climax of the story. From there the falling action and catastrophe begin. This is where Kreon the new king enters. He acts as a compassionate king and promises to give Iokaste a suitable funeral. Oedipus asks the king to banish him, but Oedipus refuses until he receives guidance from the oracle. Kreon then sends for Oedipus’s two young children Antigone and Ismene. The girls come in weeping and then take their father’s side. He then tells them that he hopes that they will have happier lives than he had. Kreon then tells the children, “Live where you can, be as happy as you can – Happier, please God, than God has made your father.” (71.279) Kreon allows Oedipus to say goodbye to his children before he is exiled, walking with the aid of a stick, himself acting out the riddle of the sphinx.
Oedipus Rex, regarded by many, the greatest of all Greek tragedies displays great skill in its balancing of action, characters, and philosophical content into a smooth and flawless tragedy. The story flowed brilliantly from the beginning of the exposition where we first learn about the Laius death all the way up to the final scene where Oedipus is taken away.