Oedipus Rex: Characters
Oedipus – Long before the play begins, Oedipus became king of Thebes by solving the riddle of the Sphinx. His sharp mind and quickness to action have made him an admired and successful leader. When the priests come to petition him after a plague strikes the city, he has already set into motion two plans to deal with the city's crisis. Throughout the play, he makes decisions boldly and quickly, if not always wisely. In his attempts to discover the truth about the murder of Laius, he falsely accuses Creon and Tiresias of treachery, and even forces the reluctant shepherd to tell his story, which publicly reveals Oedipus to be the murderer and husband of his own mother. The same leadership skills that have brought him fame and success—decisive action, a desire to solve mysteries using his intellect—drive him to his own destruction.
Creon – Brother of Jocasta. Whereas Oedipus is the charismatic leader who speaks openly in front of his people, Creon is more political and perhaps more scheming. Creon is offended and alarmed when Oedipus accuses him of treason, but he speaks calmly and tries to show the error of the accusation by appealing to Oedipus's sense of reason. At the end of the play, however, he is more than willing to step into the power vacuum after Oedipus's terrible fate has been revealed. Even then, however, he cautiously makes sure to follow the dictates of the gods, rather than to trying to resist fate as Oedipus has done.
Tiresias – The blind prophet or seer. He knows that the terrible prophecy of Oedipus has already come true, but doesn't want to say what he knows. Only when Oedipus accuses him of treachery does Tiresias suggest that Oedipus himself is guilty of the murder of King Laius. He leaves Oedipus with a riddle that implies, plainly enough for the audience to understand, that Oedipus has killed his father and married his mother.
Jocasta – Wife of Oedipus. Also, mother of Oedipus. When the play begins, she no longer believes in the prophecies of seers. She tries to convince Oedipus not to worry about what Tiresias says. As more evidence points toward the probability that Oedipus has in fact fulfilled a terrible prophecy, she begs him not to dig any further into his past. He will not be persuaded. Realizing that her son killed her first husband, that she is now married to her son, and that Oedipus is about to bring all of this to light, Jocasta takes her own life.
The Chorus – In this play, the chorus represents the elder citizens of Thebes, reacting to the events of the play. The chorus speaks as one voice, or sometimes through the voice of its leader. It praises, damns, cowers in fear, asks or offers advice, and generally helps the audience interpret the play.
A Priest – He comes to the royal house to tell Oedipus of the city's suffering and to ask Oedipus to save Thebes once more.
A Messenger – The messenger from Corinth informs Oedipus that King Polybus and Queen Merope of Corinth were not his actual parents. The messenger himself gave Oedipus as a baby to the Corinthian king and queen. He got the baby from a Theban shepherd whom he met in the woods. Oedipus's ankles were pinned together at the time—in Greek, the name "Oedipus" means "swollen ankles."
A Shepherd – The former servant of King Laius who took pity on the baby Oedipus and spared his life. The shepherd was also an eyewitness to the death of King Laius. When Oedipus commands the shepherd to tell him what he knows about Oedipus's origins, the shepherd refuses, and only relents under punishment of death.
Antigone – Daughter of Oedipus and half-sister of Oedipus. Still a small child in Oedipus Rex, Antigone appears at the end to bid farewell to her father. She is the main character of Sophocles's Antigone.
Ismene – Daughter of Oedipus and half-sister of Oedipus. Like Antigone, Ismene is a small child and appears only at the end of the play when her father says goodbye to her.