The play opens with the citizens of Thebes gathering around the Theban palace. Oedipus the king exits the Theban palace. He inquires to a priest as to why his followers are praying and lamenting. The priest explains that they are praying to the gods to end the plague; which has struck their city. This plague had rendered crops useless, wasted all the pastures, and left woman sterile and unborn children dead. The priest begs for Oedipus’ help. Oedipus tells the priest that he feels the city’s pain. He states the pain he endures is worse for he feels the pain of all the people of Thebes.
Oedipus says that he has known of the plague for a while, and has searched the ends of his mind for an answer. He tries to ease the pain of his citizens and give them hope by telling them he has sent his brother-in-law, Creon to the oracle at Delphi. Creon appears bearing good news, the oracle knows the cause of the curse. He says that Thebes houses filth and only when this filth is banished will the plague be lifted. The filth is the murderer of the previous king, Laios. Oedipus asks Creon for the details of the king’s death. Creon explains that Laios was killed as he left Thebes on a pilgrimage.
He states that the only survivor said robbers killed the king. Oedipus asks why the murder was not investigated fully, and Creon explains that the Sphinx’ song and the problems of Thebes demanded attention first. Oedipus swears to find the killer of king Laios, not only for the city’s sake but to ensure his own safety as well. It is at this point in the play that we first meet the chorus. The chorus made up of Theban elders, expresses a sense of fear for what Oedipus might uncover. They proceed to describe the plague and the misfortunes that have fallen on the city. They also cry to the gods for their intervention.
Oedipus exits the palace and asks for the help of the citizens of Thebes in finding Laios’ killer. He declares that if the killer is among them he should come forward, and his sentence will be lessened. He decrees that anyone housing the truth shall be banished, and does not exclude himself from the punishment. The chorus suggests Oedipus seek the help of Teiresias, the blind prophet who can see the future. Oedipus states that he has already sent for Teiresias on the advice of Creon. When Teiresias arrives Oedipus informs him of the oracle’s statements and asks for his help.
Teiresias says that he never should have come and asks to leave. Oedipus tells Teiresias that he will be an enemy to Thebes if he refuses to help. Once again Teiresias refuses. Oedipus is angered by the silence and lashes out at the prophet. Teiresias tells Oedipus to look within himself before placing blame on others. Oedipus declares that Teiresias is implicated in the murder of the king. Teiresias finally tells Oedipus “you yourself are the pollution of this country. ” Teiresias says ”I say that you are the murderer whom you seek. ” These words enrage Oedipus, he calls Teiresias sightless, witless, and senseless.
Oedipus charges Teiresias with fraud, and asks why a prophet could not solve the riddle of the Sphinx. Teiresias ends the scene with a riddle for Oedipus in which he states the identity of Laios’ murderer. The scene ends with an ode by the chorus, in which they reiterate these events of the scene. The second scene opens with Creon speaking to the men of Thebes. He speaks unhappily of the accusations brought upon him by the king. The chorus attempts to explain the king’s behavior by stating that the accusations were made in the moment of anger. Oedipus enters and upon seeing Creon continues his accusations.
Creon pleads with Oedipus to believe in him. He explains that he is not after his throne. He asks Oedipus to go to the priestess at Delphi to see if he has quoted her correctly. He tells Oedipus that if he is found guilty of treason to sentence him to death. Oedipus does not waver. Iocaste enters and asks them not to quarrel about private matters while the city is sick. The chorus pleads with Oedipus to respect Creon’s word. Oedipus finally gives in and lets Creon go, but swears he will hate him as long as he lives. Lady Iocaste questions the chorus about the quarrel, the chorus asks to let it rest and be done with.
She then asks Oedipus to give her the details. He explains the events, and she tries to soothe him by telling of another time when she feels that the prophets were wrong. She tells of the prediction made by the oracle concerning the death of her husband, she explains that he was to die at the hands of his son. She tells Oedipus of what the king had done to the child and explains that the fate was not fulfilled. At this point Oedipus learns more details of Laios’ murder, and realizes that he himself was the murderer. He asks that the only survivor be summoned to the palace for an inquiry.
Iocaste asks Oedipus to share his fears with her. Oedipus explains that after hearing that he was not his father’s son, he had consulted the shrine at Delphi and was given a startling prediction. He was told that he should lie with his mother, and would be his father’s murderer. He tells Iocaste that at this point he fled and came to the country were king Laios was killed. He then explains the events of a murder, which he committed, which closely resemble the facts known of Laios’ murder. At this point they wait for the survivor to come with his story. Once again the scene ends with an ode, which sheds light on the past scene.