‘Oedipus the King’ is one of three plays written by Sophocles that highlights is based on a famous myth of Oedipus, the King of Thebes, who through a great twist of events discover that he is not only the murderer of the former king of Thebes but was also his son. The play is known to have intense twists and has earned critical acclaim for depicting a man’s struggle, who is not only burdened by the sin of murder but also of incest. On the other hand, his daughter, Antigone is no stranger to tragedy, but she is a more headstrong female that only elicits admiration from the audiences for her stand against the ruthless King, Creon. (Barnet, Burto & Cain, 2010)
I. Initial Setting
The play initially starts with an epidemic in the city of Thebes that has every one distressed. King Oedipus sends out a delegation to the prophetess at Delphi to find out the reason behind gods’ wrath over their city. It is revealed that the epidemic would only cease if the murderer of the former king is caught. At first, Oedipus is completely eager to catch the murderer but there is a thick air of mystery surrounding the former king’s death that makes all the other prophets hired by Oedipus very reluctant in telling him the truth. On the other hand, Antigone begins with the news that Antigone and Ismene; daughters of Oedipus are mourning the deaths of their brothers, who killed one another over the succession of the throne. The city is now ruled by Creon and his tyrannical rule has earned him the ire of everyone.
The main conflict is triggered by the secrecy and the unwillingness of the messenger and prophets, who refuse to tell them the truth behind the old king’s death. Their accounts slowly begin to implicate Oedipus in the murder of the former King and it is further implied that Oedipus is not only the murderer but the son of the former King. Whereas, in the play Antigone is clearly distressed by Creon’s decree that he is denying Polynices proper burial rites as he brought a foreign army against their city and clearly deserves a humiliating punishment for doing so.
The greatest twist occurs with the realization dawning on Oedipus that he had been the killer that the Prophetess at Delphi had prophesized about. As he extricates information from the messengers and other prophets, he pieces everything together in order to further highlight the complexity of his situation and though it is revealed that Oedipus is the son and murder of King Laius, but this prophecy had been made a long time ago. The aforementioned detail was only the first part of the prophecy; the second part was that the child would also sleep with his mother. Oedipus is highly skeptical of this, but does not completely rule it out and despite the constant urging from his wife, Jocasta to stop he continues with the investigation and later finds out concrete evidences that truly indicate that Oedipus had fulfilled both the prophecies.
In case of Antigone, she goes ahead and gives her brother a proper burial. Creon has the body disinterred and orders his guards to find out who was behind it. It is revealed that Antigone had gone ahead and defied the king, which as a result causes both Antigone and Ismene to be condemned with a life sentence. Haemon; Creon’s son and Antigone’s lover, is torn between the two and though pretends to side with his father, but later on reveals that he does not approve of his father’s tyrannical ways.
Oedipus’s climax is quite intense as he realized that the killer of the former king in their midst was him all along. At this shocking revelation, his wife hides inside and Oedipus, himself is revealed to be in a tumultuous state of mind. Antigone upon being discovered ferociously confronts Creon, who cedes to pardon Ismene but wants to have Antigone buried alive and locks her away.
Throughout the play, there is a thick air of mystery surrounding Oedipus’s birth and his ascension to the throne. However after the climax, Oedipus only enters his bedchamber to discover that his wife, Jocasta has hanged herself because of the mortifying revelation. Whereas, in the play Antigone, Sophocles hints that despite all there still might be hope for Antigone after talking to the blind prophet once employed by Oedipus as well. It is hinted that Antigone may still live despite her charges.
Oedipus, upon discovering his wife’s body, uses her brooch to gouge his out and then has himself exiled out of Thebes. He confesses that he is indeed the murderer of the king and he had also lain with his mother. Therefore, Oedipus turns in to a classic tragic symbol of a man’s fall from a position of power to a pauper. Oedipus hands over the Kingdom to Creon, who is then responsible for the upcoming events in Antigone. Sophocles hints that Antigone might be saved, but on their way to free her they only discover her body hanging down from a noose. His son is blinded by rage and grief that he attacks his father and misses, and eventually stabs himself to death. The play ends with Creon’s wife also committing suicide as she mourned for her son.
In the end, like typical Greek tragedies, both the plays ended with a gloomy tone. Unlike Antigone, Oedipus the king does not have any set antagonist or protagonist and depicts the life of a man that is torn apart simply because of various prophecies and unusual circumstances. As a matter of fact, even in Antigone, though Creon is given the persona of a typical antagonist but he does have a strong insight, which causes him to reconsider Antigone’s execution. Both plays are intensely tragic, but have a strong plot structures and characterization that makes it an intriguing piece of work. The chorus remains consistent throughout the play and Antigone ends by highlighting the disastrous repercussions a man’s stubbornness is likely to incite. (Barnet, Burto & Cain, 2010)
Barnet, Sylvan; Burto, William and Cain, William E. An Introduction to Literature (16th Ed.). New York: Pearson Publishing. 2010. Print. P.p 910 – 952