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, 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 Edition's extensive background information on the play and Greek drama. 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.

Learn more about teaching Oedipus Rex below.

Summary of Oedipus Rex

Key Facts

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, Oedipus learns of the prophecy and leaves home in an attempt to prevent the events from coming true. His travels bring him to Thebes, where he quarrels with a man and kills him. Later, 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: Oedipus Rex contains graphic violence and incestual themes.

What Your Students Will Love About Oedipus Rex

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

Potential Student Struggles With Oedipus Rex

  • Understanding the play’s 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 the ways in which Oedipus fits this role.
  • 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 ancient and modern tragedies.

Literary Elements in Oedipus Rex

  • Dramatic Irony
  • Imagery
  • Metaphor
  • Setting
  • Symbolism
  • Theme
  • Tragic hero
  • And more!

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.

Related Works:

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

Related Works:

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

Related Works:

Other Resources for Oedipus Rex

Order Oedipus Rex Resources from Prestwick House

Resource Format
Oedipus Rex Paperback Student Edition
Oedipus Rex Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Oedipus Rex AP Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Oedipus Rex Activity Pack Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Oedipus Rex Response Journal Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Oedipus Rex Multiple Critical Perspectives Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Oedipus Rex Complete Teacher's Kit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set

This free guide was originally posted in October 2018. It has been updated as of July 2019.