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Synopsis and Characters

A man in purple robes looks angry and shocked. A woman in a gold dress stands behind him, looking surprised.
Photo of Kelvin Roston Jr. and Kate Collins by Michael Brosilow.

Review a detailed synopsis of the complex plot of Oedipus Rex, and spend some time getting familiar with the characters in the play. 


Oedipus Rex begins with King Oedipus already married to Queen Jocasta, with whom he has four children. The audience learns that Oedipus became the king of Thebes after solving the Sphinx’s riddle, thereby freeing the city from its curse and being rewarded with marriage to the queen. The play opens with a priest and the Chorus asking King Oedipus to help them with a plague that is destroying the city. Oedipus sends his brother-in-law, Creon, to consult with the oracle. Creon returns with the news that the plague will only end when the murderer of the former king, Laius, is found and brought to justice. Oedipus vows to find the former king’s murderer, to avenge him, and bring an end to the plague. 

As Oedipus investigates, the truth begins to emerge. The audience learns that years ago, Queen Jocasta and King Laius received a prophecy that their son would kill his father and marry his mother. Therefore, they sent their son to the mountainside with a Theban shepherd to be killed. However, the shepherd instead gave the baby away to a Corinth shepherd, who in turn gave the baby to the king and queen of Corinth to raise as their own.  

A painting called Oedipus and Antigone, or the Plague of Thebes, by Charles Jalabert in 1843. In the middle of the painting walks Oedipus, wearing a white, one-shoulder robe, and with his daughter Antigone, wearing a pink, floor-length robe. Oedipus’s eyes are closed, and his arm is around Antigone. As they walk through the city, other people react to their presence with anger, fear, and disgust. They point, glare, turn away, whisper, etc.
Oedipus and Antigone, or the Plague of Thebes, by Charles Jalabert, 1843, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Marseille © Bridgeman Images

Oedipus summons a blind prophet, Teiresias, who claims to know the answers to Oedipus’s questions. Teiresias refuses to speak, but after Oedipus accuses him of being involved, Teiresias tells Oedipus that he is the murderer of Laius. Teiresias leaves Oedipus with the riddle that the murderer of Laius will turn out to be both father and brother to his own children.  Oedipus does not believe him, because he left his parents behind in Corinth in order to escape the prophecy. He accuses Teiresias of working with Creon to conspire against him. Jocasta tells Oedipus not to worry; she and her dead husband, Laius, received a prophecy that Laius would be killed by his own son, but it did not come true, because Laius had been killed by bandits at the crossroads of Delphi. Oedipus gives pause to this, knowing that he had killed an old man at the crossroads at Delphi in order to save his own life. The shepherd who took Oedipus to Corinth tells him that his father, King Polybus, has died. Oedipus believes that because he is not did not kill King Polybus, he has thwarted the prophecy. 

However, the Corinth shepherd shares that King and Queen Polybus were not Oedipus’s biological parents. Jocasta, realizing the truth, urges Oedipus not to pursue the matter any further. However, Oedipus will stop at nothing to learn the truth. He summons the Theban shepherd who took Jocasta’s baby to the mountain. The Theban shepherd reveals that Oedipus was that same baby, and Oedipus has therefore fulfilled the prophecy by killing his biological father Laius, and marrying his biological mother, Jocasta. 

Jocasta has already figured out the truth and has hung herself. Oedipus then gouges out his eyes with Jocasta’s brooch. Oedipus, after requesting to see his children, is led out of the land of Thebes and his brother-in-law Creon assumes power and control.

Chronological Timeline – Oedipus’s Life

  1. Oedipus’s parents (Jocasta and Laius) receive an oracle concerning their son. Their son is to kill his father and marry his mother.
  2. Oedipus is born to Jocasta and Laius. They bind his ankles and give him to a servant (Theban Shepherd) to be exposed on Mount Cithaeron.
  3. The servant (Theban Shepherd), pitying Oedipus, hands him off to a shepherd (Corinth Shepherd), who brings the baby to Corinth.
  4. Oedipus is adopted by the Corinthian king and queen, Polybus and Merope, and grows up thinking he is their natural son.
  5. A drunk man insults Oedipus, telling him he is not his (Corinthian) parents’ son.
  6. Oedipus goes to Delphi to debunk the drunk man’s slander, but instead receives an oracle that he will kill his father and marry his mother.
  7. Oedipus willingly exiles himself from Corinth, thinking this will save him from fulfilling the prophecy.
  8. On his path of exile, Oedipus kills a stranger at a crossroads.
  9. Oedipus comes to Thebes, which is besieged by a Sphinx. He solves her riddle and saves the city.
  10. Oedipus is made king of Thebes and marries the queen, Jocasta.
  11. A plague afflicts Thebes.
  12. Oedipus launches a public inquiry to save the city from the plague.
  13. An oracle says the plague will end when Laius’s killer is found and exiled or killed.
  14. Oedipus finds out he is the killer of Laius, and that he is the son of Laius and Jocasta. He blinds himself and begs to be exiled.


  • Oedipus: King of Thebes, made king for solving the riddle of the Sphinx; husband and son of Jocasta (played by Kelvin Roston Jr.)
  • Priest/Chorus: Comes to tell Oedipus of Thebes’s suffering and implore Oedipus to save the city, as Oedipus did once before (played by Sheldon Brown)
  • Creon: The brother of the queen, Jocasta; he operates in a private and politically savvy manner (played by Timothy Edward Kane)
  • Teiresias/Chorus: A blind prophet (played by Christopher Donahue)
  • Jocasta: The queen; wife and mother of Oedipus (played by Kate Collins)
  • Corinth Shepherd/Chorus: Gave baby Oedipus to King Polybus and Queen Merope of Corinth (played by Wendy Robie)
  • Theban Shepherd/Chorus: Former slave of Laius; he was instructed to take Jocasta and Laius’s child to be killed (played by Stef Tovar)
  • Death Messenger/Chorus: Reveals the fate of Jocasta and Oedipus after learning the truth of the fulfilled prophecy (played by Kai A. Ealy)
  • Chorus Leader: Provides the Exodou (conclusion) at the end of the play (played by Mark Spates Smith)
  • Chorus: Speaks as one voice and behaves as a unit, as opposed to as individuals; the Chorus is not in the space of Thebes but of the space (played by TayLar, Jennifer Glasse, Sonya Madrigal, and Angie Shriner)
  • Antigone/Chorus: The daughter and sister of Oedipus, disguised as a boy (played by Aeriel Williams)
  • Ismene: The daughter and sister of Oedipus, sister of Antigone; does not appear in Oedipus Rex, but appears in The Gospel at Colonus (played by Ariana Burks)

Posted on November 15, 2023 in Learning Guides, Productions

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