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Conflict in "Oedipus Rex"


Sophocles, one of Athens’ eminent playwrights, wrote 123 plays. His most famous play is the tragic drama “Oedipus the King,” also often called “Oedipus Rex.” Sophocles’ works often involve a central character with a tragic flaw and a series of circumstances that ultimately lead to that character’s demise, a formula observable through the conflict in “Oedipus Rex.”

Man Versus Fate

The entire play encompasses the overarching conflict of Oedipus versus his fate, or a more general theme of man against fate. In the beginning of the play, the oracle Apollo declares that Laius and Jocasta, king and queen of Thebes, will have a child, Oedipus, who will kill his father and marry his mother. In an attempt to save Oedipus from this fate, a shepherd takes him to the king and queen of Corinth, who adopt him. After learning he is adopted, Oedipus visits Apollo, who repeats that Oedipus is doomed to his fate. Over the remainder of the play, Oedipus does indeed succumb to his fate. While he tried to escape it, there is nothing Oedipus can do.

Oedipus Against Himself

Oedipus contributes to the completion of his fate through his actions. After Oedipus’ visit to Apollo, he flees Corinth. Before he reaches Thebes, he fights with other travelers and kills Laius, his true father. Oedipus also defeats the Sphinx, who held the city of Thebes captive, and he becomes their king. A plague takes over Thebes, which the oracle says will leave once the Laius’ killer is punished and exiled. Oedipus condemns the murderer, damning himself without yet realizing it. Since Oedipus believes he is innocent, he actively seeks out Laius’ killer, destroying himself in the process.

Argument with Tiresias

Oedipus also fights with Tiresias, a blind prophet. When Oedipus first asks Tiresias who murdered Laius, Tiresias refuses to answer. After Oedipus insults and even accuses Tiresias of the murder, Tiresias surrenders the truth that Oedipus is the real assassin. Oedipus contends that Tiresias and Creon, his brother-in-law, conspired against him.

Fight with Creon

The argument between Creon and Oedipus is another example of conflict in the play, and it catalyzes Oedipus’ thirst for finding Laius’ murderer. Oedipus threatens Creon for conspiring with Tiresias, and this fight draws out Jocasta, who tells Oedipus how Laius was killed. Oedipus begins to suspect he killed Laius, and both the shepherd who saved Oedipus and a messenger confirm Oedipus’ suspicions that he killed his real father and married his mother. Jocasta commits suicide, and Oedipus blinds himself and requests exile.

About the Author

Cara Batema is a musician, teacher and writer who specializes in early childhood, special needs and psychology. Since 2010, Batema has been an active writer in the fields of education, parenting, science and health. She holds a bachelor's degree in music therapy and creative writing.

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