It would certainly be tragic to exclude Sophocles' famous work from your syllabus—in fact, we might argue its inclusion is fated! With all of the customary elements of a Greek tragedy, Literary Touchstone Classic Oedipus Rex makes a great introduction to the genre. The universal themes of guilt, sorrow, justice, and family make this otherwise-daunting text accessible. Students unfamiliar with ancient Greece will benefit from our Touchstone's extensive background information on the play and Greek drama. might benefits from a background lesson on Thebes and its religious beliefs. From this contextualization, your class can analyze the role fate plays in what Aristotle called the "perfect tragedy" and whether the unfortunate events of the prophecy could have been prevented.

Motifs from Oedipus Rex probably sound familiar. That's because this play inspired countless other famous stories, characters, and tropes. In the classroom, students can break down the elements of a Greek play and then identify them in everything from Shakespeare to even modern classics like the Star Wars movies.

Oedipus Rex is one of three Theban plays by Sophocles, the others being Antigone and Oedipus at Colonus. While these plays were not written in chronological order, they can be taught together in a more in-depth unit on Greek tragedy.

Summary of Oedipus Rex

Key Facts

  • First Performed: 429 B.C.E.
  • Length: 80 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 1070
  • Recommended Grade Band: 9-10

According to Fate, the son of Laius and Jocasta, the king and queen of Thebes, will someday murder his father and marry his mother. In an effort to circumvent this prophecy, his parents cast him into the wilderness to die. However, the child is rescued and brought to the royal family of another country, who name him Oedipus. As an adult, he learns of the prophecy and, not knowing that he was adopted, leaves home in an attempt to prevent the predicted events from coming true. His travels bring him to Thebes, where, at the crossroads, he quarrels with a man and kills him. Upon entering the city, Oedipus encounters a sphinx, which has been terrorizing the citizens. After defeating the creature, Oedipus is crowned king of Thebes and marries the queen. Years pass, during which Oedipus has many children and proves he is worthy of his title. When hard times befall the city, a messenger from Apollo states that the curse will be lifted only after the former king's killer is brought to justice. It is only with the help of a blind prophet that Oedipus realizes that the prophecy he tried to avoid has actually come true: The man he killed was Laius, his father, and the woman he married is Jocasta, his mother.

Content Warning: This text contains graphic violence and incest.

What Your Students Will Love About Oedipus Rex

  • Its relatable themes
  • Its plot full of drama, twists, and turns
  • Debating the questions of justice the story raises

Potential Student Struggles With Oedipus Rex

  • Its archaic language
  • Keeping track of all the characters

Learning Objectives for Oedipus Rex

  • Identify key traits of a Greek tragedy.
  • Define tragic hero and identify its characteristics in Oedipus. Determine whether there is more than one tragic character within the play.
  • Discuss the role of fate and debate whether characters could have superseded destiny.
  • Explain the relevancy and symbolic significance of blindness, Oedipus' swollen foot, and the crossroads.
  • Compare and contrast Oedipus Rex with other tragedies.

Literary Elements in Oedipus Rex

  • Dramatic Irony
  • Imagery
  • Metaphor
  • Setting
  • Symbolism
  • Theme
  • Tragic hero

Major Themes in Oedipus Rex

Fate vs. Free Will — Though the king and queen of Thebes and, later, Oedipus try to avert the prophecy, the characters' fates are predetermined.

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Wisdom and Knowledge — Oedipus' search for the truth about the king's killer and his own identity leads to his undoing.

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Determination — Oedipus and his birth parents strive to prevent the unfortunate prophecy; it is this strong resolve that ultimately drives the prophecy.

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Other Resources for Oedipus Rex