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Oedipus Rex Critical Analysis | Critical Writing Example

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Updated: Jun 19th, 2022


Sophocles lived during a time when the Greek society excelled in theatre and drama. Art was a main attraction in the Greek society as was politics. The advancement of art in the Greek cities cannot be compared to any in the other civilizations that existed at the time. Sophocles lived in the same period with other playwrights such as Euripides and Aristophanes.

The Life of Sophocles

Sophocles wrote over 200 plays, but of these only about five are still existent. Apart from Oedipus, other famous plays attributed to Sophocles artistic genius are Antigone and Elektra. Most of Sophocles’ plays emphasize the tragedies of life and the pain inherent in the dynamics of human existence (MacCollom 231).

However; Sophocles did not live long enough to see the decline of Greek literature to which he had greatly contributed. Years after his death, the Greek city states were embroiled in conflicts that ultimately led to their fall and the decline of the arts (Leefmans 12).

Greek Theater at the Time of Sophocles

Greek theater at the time of Sophocles was markedly different from today. It was a religious occasion, a dramatic departure from today’s performances which are pastimes and occasions for entertainment. To attend the theatre was a way of worshipping and revering the Greek gods who were highly revered in the Greek society. Dionysius was the Greek deity who took centre stage during these theatre festivals.

This particular deity was said to live in the bush. The theater festivals were punctuated by much celebration and other excesses. Theater also celebrated culture. Theaters would be filled to maximum capacity and the plays were performed during the spring period. The plays were marked by their beautiful language, punctuated by songs and dances that awed the audiences with their impressive and dazzling displays (Knox 88).

Another convention t this time was the competitive nature of the performances. A panel of judges would decide winning plays from an array of playwrights who presented their works before the audience.

The presentation of the plays followed a particular pattern. A total of twelve plays would be presented for adjudication with three playwrights presenting four plays each. Three of the plays would be tragedies and one would either be a comedy or a satirical piece. Men were the main actors in these plays and they performed against a temporary backdrop.

Oedipus Rex Adaptations

Oedipus Rex has undergone a number of adaptations. The adaptations are in keeping with an emerging trend where modern playwrights are turning to ancient plays and merging them with the reality of the present circumstances. One of these adaptations was the 1967 film by Pier Paolo Pasolini which has its second part reflecting the Greek myth.

Although Pasolini’s play begins with scenes from the Italian fascist era the playwright goes ahead to use the characters in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex to create a relationship with his own life story. He relates the episodes in Oedipus Rex in a dramatic twist that fits beautifully in the story of his birth. In a way, the adaptation is autobiographical and it draws its strength from the design and picturesque landscape of the setting.

The adaptation is set in Morocco with the film maker employing beautiful scenery in the Moroccan landscape to bring to life his adaptation. He himself acts the role of the High priest of Thebes. There are many other adaptations of Oedipus Rex, but an outstanding element among most of them is the way they have emphasized on the aspects of sex and psychology evident in the Sophocles’ original work.

For example, in some of the adaptations, Jocasta has been portrayed as an intelligent, independent sexually liberated figure. In the film, Darker Face of the Earth, Jocasta’s figure comes to life in this perspective (Leefmans 134).

Oedipus Rex Perception

In writing the play, the author had various intents that he hoped to fulfill. Sophocles hoped to fill the gap that existed in Greek literature, and more so on the myths and legends that defined the Theben society. Although some of the writers of the time such as Aeschylus had explored these aspects of Theben society, their writings were not comprehensive.

Aeschylus for example did not exhaustively explore the finer details of the horror of the curse visited on Oedipus. The author was also enthralled by dynamism of the themes that his story permitted. For example on the issue of one’s responsibility after committing transgressions and people’s knowledge of their own history and lineage (MacCollom, 56).

The work was produced during the author’s time in 425 BCE. Considering the popularity of plays in the Greek society, the reception of Oedipus Rex was overwhelming. It is also important to note that the author was known for his competiveness and this resulted in the urge to emulate other Greek writers whose plays had received wide acclaim and positive receptions from the Greek audiences.

The popularity of the play has not changed overtime, considering the relevance of most of the themes to the modern world. The theme of ‘hubris’ which refers to human pride is a phenomenon which is applicable to all societies. Oedipus for example had the wrong perception that he had the cure for the afflictions of Thebes.

This pride is what we see in the world today. A case in point is in the world financial crisis where experts believe that they have the panaceas for the financial crisis but fail to realize that they too form part of the wider crisis. The author wanted to pint out the imperfections that reside in every human being.

Oedipus Rex Tone

The tone of the play is set by the fact that the myth of Oedipus was evident even before it was presented by Sophocles. The audience anticipated the tragic events that would come at the end of the play even at the beginning.

This awareness greatly affects the tone f the play. The drive by Oedipus to solve the afflictions of Thebes therefore has an ironic touch to it as the audience already knows that his actions are in vain. The play is devoid of a narrator. The chorus which forms the commentary of the play shows great understanding and expresses sympathy for the fate of the play’s characters. The commentary is also anticipatory of the upcoming events of the play.


The senses of foreboding in the face of tragedy are important factors in setting the tone of the play. The mood of the play is set at the beginning with an opening that reflects the tragedy that has befallen the people. They are in a situation of grief following the death of the king. The play opens with a sense of mourning and grief following the death of the king.


Knox, Bernard M.W. “The Oedipus Legend” Readings On Sophocles 56.2 (Sep. 2008).

Leefmans, Bert M.-P. Modern Tragedy: Five Adaptations of Oresteia and Oedipus the King. , 1974. Print.

MacCollom, William G. Tragedy. New York: Macmillan, 1957. Print.

Sophocles and E H. Plumptre. Oedipus Rex: (oedipus the King). Stilwell, KS: Digireads.com Publishing, 2005. Print.

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