“The person portrayed in a narrative or dramatic work” is a character, says J. A. Cuddon in his book, A Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. He also added everything else that comes in a piece of literature and moves the story forward is a character which includes animals and objects. Oedipus Rex characters achieve a universal status on account of their real human traits. Some of the significant characters of Oedipus Rex have been discussed below. The character has been analyzed from Oedipus Rex translated by Robert Fagles.
Characters in Oedipus Rex
Oedipus is the king of Thebes and a mythical character. He has appeared in many Greek plays as well as in literary pieces. Sophocles picked his story when Oedipus and Jocasta are already married, and leading a happy life with their children. Oedipus is unaware of the realities. During the plague, he addresses people considering them as their children. However, he is still in pride of having solved the old riddle of Sphinx and has sent for his brother-in-law Creon to bring oracle from the Apollo.
Creon returns and later Tiresias points out that the plague is caused due to Oedipus. Oedipus accuses them of plotting against him. However, a messenger from Corinth informs him that Polybus his not father. Oracle also reveals Oedipus killed his father and married his mother, Jocasta. Jocasta hangs herself, and Oedipus blinds himself after knowing the truth. His story, thus, has adopted a mythical proportion. Oedipus Complex, a popular psychological term has been named after Oedipus.
Tiresias plays second fiddle to Creon, but he is one of the important characters. He is a blind prophet and soothsayer, who interprets oracles of the Apollo. He accuses Oedipus of being the foreigner in the city, for causing the plague, and it proves true. However, he has to face the wrath of Oedipus when he is caught plotting with Creon. He does not budge from his stance and stays true to his words. He is also a religious figure who appears at the behest of the gods.
The only female character in Oedipus, Jocasta appears when Oedipus argues with Creon and Tiresias. Jocasta, as his wife and queen of the city, who cautions Oedipus as well as advise him. Jocasta is also a little skeptical of prophets but does not disrespect them. Later she stands at a critical juncture when Oedipus discovers that Jocasta is also his mother. She then commits suicide out of guilt and shame, although the sins committed by Jocasta is out of ignorance.
Creon, Oedipus’ brother-in-law, is another major important character in Oedipus Rex. Oedipus sends him to Delphi to receive the oracle about the plague that has hit the city. As Jocasta’s brother, he takes this responsibility, but when he returns, Oedipus accuses Creon of plotting against him along with Tiresias. As Creon is not power hungry, he remains patient and refuses to accept the accusations. Finally, he agrees that Oedipus must be exiled to save the city. In the end, he forgives Oedipus and promises to look after his children.
There are two messengers. The first one is from Corinth who arrives to inform Oedipus that his father, Polybus has died and that the Corinthians are waiting for Oedipus to lead them. He also revealed that Oedipus is not their real son and that a stranger brought him to the king in the past. This is perhaps the first revelation of irony that reveals how Tiresias has been correct. His role is confined to the point of the revelation of the news and identity of the herdsman.
The herdsman is taken to Oedipus and Jocasta to verify the claim made by the Corinthian messenger. When he is brought, he hesitates, but Oedipus is determined to know the truth. He then verifies that he is the same boy given to him by Jocasta and Laius and that he has witnessed the death of King Laius. He finds Oedipus on the throne and leaves the city in fear of his life. The role of this herdsman is very important, as he is the last clue in revealing Oedipus’ past.
The Priest of Zeus and representative of the people first appears in the prologue of the play. He visits Oedipus to state that the king should find the reason for the plague, as it is his prime duty. As the oracle stated that the disease is caused because of someone’s immorality, the Priest asks Oedipus to find that person. The role of Priest is critical as he fulfills his duty for safety and security of the people.
The leader is the representative of the chorus, and comments or takes part in the conversation on behalf of the whole Chorus. He appears in the first and second episode and then in the fourth and last episode, Exodos. Chorus only takes part when the situation becomes highly urgent for him not to stay a passive listener. When he sees infuriated Oedipus, he reminds him that “Apollo pressed it on us”. Chorus leader also expresses a word of caution and restraint when solving the problem of the plague.
Chorus refers to the group of people which sings choral odes when one episode ends and the next starts. Whenever an episode reaches a point, the Chorus appears and sings that choral ode in strophe and antistrophe mode, expressing dismay or happiness over the developments, and asking philosophical questions about religion, the role of kings and queens and other metaphysical issues.
Oedipus has two daughters, Ismene and Antigone. They leave the palace with Creon when the play ends. Oedipus requests Creon to take care of his children. He also shows dismay at such a sad end, saying her daughters will not find suitable matches due to his cursed life and disgraceful exit. They also appear in other Oedipus plays.