Aristotle regarded Sophocles' tragedy as the masterpiece of Greek drama—an unflinching portrayal of a man's descent from self-assurance and strength to shame and isolation. Though written more than 2,500 years ago, Oedipus still holds the center of Western drama and psychology—a tautly plotted, terrifyingly swift account of human pride and vulnerability that speaks precisely to our own age.
Oedipus has unknowingly fulfilled a prophecy issued at his birth by the Delphic oracle, that he would in time kill his father and marry his mother. When the play opens, Oedipus is King of Thebes. The city is suffering a great plague, and Oedipus has sent his brother-in-law, Creon, to the oracle to seek advice. The oracle reveals that Thebes is being punished for harboring the murderer of Laius, the city's former King. Oedipus determines to find the murderer, and turns to the blind prophet Teiresias for help. Teiresias informs him that he, Oedipus, murdered Laius, and Oedipus flies into a rage.
Jocasta, Oedipus's wife, comforts him, reminding him of reports that Laius was killed by thieves at a crossroads. Her son, she tells him, had been abandoned on a mountainside at birth to thwart the oracle's prediction. But Oedipus remembers that long ago he had indeed slain a man in a brawl at a crossroads.
A messenger arrives with news that the King of Corinth, whom Oedipus believed to be his father, has died. The messenger also reveals that Oedipus was in fact adopted as a child, having been raised by a shepherd. His suspicions aroused, he sends for the shepherd, who confirms that Oedipus was the son of King Laius.
Oedipus realizes that the prophecy has come true, and that he did indeed murder his father Laius and marry his mother Jocasta. Horrified, he follows Jocasta, who has already rushed into the palace, where she hangs herself. Overcome with grief, Oedipus blinds himself with her golden brooches. Creon is now named King of Thebes. Oedipus asks to be banished and, bidding farewell to his daughters Antigone and Ismene, the blind man leaves the city.